THE FLESHLY SCHOOL CONTROVERSY
The ‘Fleshly School’ Libel Action (4)
After the Trial
Daily News (3 July, 1876)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, after a long, and to the cynical looker-on an amusing, literary quarrel with Mr. SWINBURNE, has taken his grievances into court, and his wounded soul has received pecuniary satisfaction. The proprietor of the Examiner, a gentleman who perhaps was not so much as aware of the existence of the long poetic feud, has been fined 150l. because Mr. SWINBURNE’S parting shot was fired, so to speak, from his frontier. The matter being now settled, and the wronged great soul of a modern poet being appeased, it may not be uninteresting to review the field of battle, and to consider the causes which led to so great an anger in celestial minds. Quo numine læso, in what was his great spirit wronged, that Mr. BUCHANAN came to blows with Mr. SWINBURNE, while Mr. SWINBURNE showed that he could take care of himself? In the first place some untutored people may need to be told who Mr. BUCHANAN is. He has afforded the student of his life and works plenty of autobiographical material. He left Glasgow for London some time in the course of the present century; he published what he has called “Tentatives,” and a prose criticism, “On my own Tentatives,” and expressed himself in verse of various quality. Sometimes we had Mr. BUCHANAN writing on the loves and deaths of costermongers and their wenches, and on this theme he poured himself forth with a great deal of energy and feeling. His foes have called him the “lyrist of the gutter,” but there is no point in that sneer. It would be just as fair and as futile to say that VICTOR HUGO has written, in “Les Misérable,” the epic of the gutter. Mr. BUCHANAN was, perhaps, scarcely so fortunate in his “Book of Orm,” a rather mixed and misty series of rhapsodies, and in his “Napoleon Fallen” or some similarly named tragedy, he did not quite succeed in proving that a man can always be sublime if he is not afraid of being ridiculous. Now while Mr. BUCHANAN was touching the tops of all these various quills, Mr. SWINBURNE had made a great name by his “Atalanta in Calydon,” and a great scandal by his “Poems and Ballads.” The two bards seem to have shone in quite different circles, and they might apparently have gone on making spheral music without any deplorable collision. But the atmosphere of the poetic world became obviously charged with noxious vapours. Mr. BUCHANAN appears to have published, under a nom de plume, a piece of verse called “The Session of the Poets.” In this production there seems to have been a good deal of allusion to real or supposed personal traits of Mr. SWINBURNE. Shortly afterwards the acute amateur of the poetic ring must have observed that Mr. SWINBURNE had come up to the scratch, and was putting in some neat hits in the foot notes of his essays, and in casual and contemptuous remarks scattered here and there through his criticisms. A poet of more established fame said things about “art, with poisonous honey stolen from France,” and this was believed to be meant for a reproach to singers who were known to like M. GAUTIER and his friends and accomplices.
Relations between Mr. BUCHANAN and contemporary poets were thus obviously strained, and in August, 1871, the Scottish critic drew the sword, without, however, throwing away the scabbard. Who shall tell in words sufficiently sonorous the heroic squabble about “The Fleshly School?” It appears as far as mortals can make out, “for we hear but a rumour, and know nothing”—it appears that in the autumn of 1871 Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN could stand it no longer. Not only was Mr. SWINBURNE’S name in every one’s mouth, but Mr. ROSSETTI, too, had written a successful volume of verses, while Mr. MORRIS was publishing that series of delightful stories in verse, the “Earthly Paradise.” England was being rapidly corrupted. Mr. SWINBURNE’S own scandalous work was at least five years old, but Mr. ROSSETTI also had published sonnets to which, we think, a pure, a simple, or a manly taste can never be reconciled. The pure, manly, and simple taste of Mr. BUCHANAN was up in arms. He was then at Oban, or more properly speaking, and to quote the title of his work—published when the ARGYLL family was a good deal spoken of—he was in the Land of Lorne. From Selma’s resounding caverns, or from his yacht, the wanderer sent to London a criticism called “The Fleshly School,” which appeared in the Contemporary Review, under the signature of THOMAS MAITLAND. This article was a violent attack on the taste, morality, and artistic merit of several writers, but was chiefly directed against Mr. ROSSETTI. Mr. BUCHANAN spoke of “a school with spasmodic ramifications in the erotic direction,” and to this school he said that Mr. ROSSETTI belonged. He showed his knowledge of Mr. DARWIN’S “great chapter on Palingenesis,” and he said that “in petticoats or pantaloons,” the object of his wrath “is just Mr. ROSSETTI, a fleshly person,” and so forth. These compliments are mere trifles. Mr. BUCHANAN had the assurance to add that one of Mr. ROSSETTI’S poems “bore signs of having been suggested by Mr. BUCHANAN’S quasi-lyrical poems, which it copies in the style of title.” Mr. ROSSETTI is better known as a student and imitator of early Italian than of modern Scottish poetry. Let the sensible heart imagine his feelings, any man’s feelings, on being told that he copied—Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN. Now, it is clear that it would not have been easy for one poet to sign his name to these charges against another poet. And so it came about somehow—it is not easy to say who was to blame for it—it came about that “The Fleshly School” appeared under the protection of a pseudonym. The sensitive organ, however, soon detected Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN in Mr. THOMAS MAITLAND. Then the war of words and pamphlets began with vigour, and, October being a dull time of year, a good deal of attention was drawn to Mr. BUCHANAN.
The next movement was a spirited reply by Mr. SWINBURNE. In a pamphlet called “Under the Microscope,” he vivisected Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN with circumstances of great cruelty. Any one who likes the quarrels of authors will be pleased with this performance. The author combined the noise and bluster of the fine old Latin controversialists with the tact for inflicting pain which accompanies a sympathetic nature, and to the overwhelming and humorous fluency of RABELAIS he added the stinging malice of VOLTAIRE. The pamphlet is said to have found its way into German catalogues of scientific works, and natural philosophers at Berlin or Heidelberg must have been amused when they found out the real nature of the work. The object of this persistent scrutiny uttered a cry of pain in a little copy of verses called the “Monkey and the Microscope,” and this seemed to be the farewell shot which the foe was sullenly firing. Possibly a little skirmishing may have been done in odd holes and corners of journalism, and it is certain that some critics began to treat Mr. BUCHANAN like the village donkey, so to speak, of song. Many a one threw a stone at him in passing, out of mere lightness of heart, as he went forth to his task of reviewing the work of others. These amenities are the safety-valves through which the pent-up and bubbling passions of literature find vent. When the Examiner, in December last, contained a letter signed THOMAS MAITLAND, the style of which letter no man could say he did not know, it seemed to the reader to be the only playful pebble of literary hatred. Taking occasion from the report of a rumour that some one thought Mr. BUCHANAN had written a book called “Jonas Fisher,” THOMAS MAITLAND II. chaffed Mr. BUCHANAN. The chaff was not pleasant, but then pleasantries had not been the order of the day for a long time. Mr. BUCHANAN brought his action, he gets his 150l., and there, we sincerely hope, is an end of it. One of Mr. BUCHANAN’S plays concludes, we believe, with the mystic words, “A Voice—IRENE!” Let peace be, indeed, everyone’s motto, whether they express it in Greek, or English, or in the language of OSSIAN. SCOTT says, in the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” that it is a pity when “tuneful hands are stained with blood,” and of course every one would be sorry if Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN had encountered Mr. SWINBURNE with pistols. In France the fiery pair would have blazed away at each other; neither, we think, would have been hurt, and there would have been an end of the matter. We cannot tolerate that way of settling disputes here, but surely monetary damages stain tuneful hands in a way that is not too glorious. We have no sympathy with the unedifying part of Mr. SWINBURNE’S verse, which Mr. BUCHANAN has managed to drag into public notice and into a court of justice. But it is just as hard to sympathise with the proceedings which satisfy the honour and confirm the self-respect of Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN. A pitiful and petty quarrel has been brought to a conclusion worthy of it and of the miserable passions which sometimes discredit names great in the greatest of the arts.
The Pall Mall Gazette (3 July, 1876)
BUCHANAN v. TAYLOR.
[Samuel Perkins expoundeth the moral thereof to his son, Dudley James Perkins.]
HERE he comes! The paper, Mary. Ah, good morning, Dudley James.
’Ave you read this libel haction—this ’ere case of—what’s their names?
Oh, Buchanan vussus Taylor—there’s a lesson, lad, for you
In them singerlar proceedins; take and read ’em, Dudley, do.
You who’ve caused so much disquiet both to me and to your ma,
Not to say your Aunt Jemima, where your expectations are.
Yes, you know you ’ave, my boy; it’s gettin’ on for nigh a year
Since you took to dress in velvet and knocked off your dinner-beer,
Took to wear your collars lower and assoomed a moody stare;
’Ad a row with Snipp’s assistant when he come to cut your ‘air;
Took to moonin’ round the counter, muttrin’ “lines to” doose knows what,
Hodes and sonnicks, songs and balleds—and the other rhymin’ rot;
Changed you short black cutty for a dangling German chaney pipe
And refused to join the fam’ly at the evenin’ meal of tripe;
Wouldn’t take your ma o’ Sundays to the “Welsh Harp” in the shay,
But remained at home to finish your “Romaunt of Pegwell Bay.”
Yes, my laddie, I have watched you—I have seen your little game,
I’ve observed your haspirations after a poetic fame—
“Fame himmortal,” if you please—for nothin’ short of that will do.
Trade is low and butter vulgar—poetry’s the line for you!
Now, my boy, just read that haction—that’ll tell you what they are,
These ’ere poets that are soarin’ o’er our ’eads so jolly far.
Parts of it I ’ardly follered, but its English seems to be
Messrs. Swinbun and Buchanan can’t agree to disagree.
Mr. B. he wrote a satter,—droppin’ down on Mr. S.,
And complainin’ as his werses were a little too “undress.”
Well, this put, you may imagine, Mr. S. upon his mettle.
“What! you call my werse indecent? Gammon! it’s the pot and kettle.”
So he ups and slates Buchanan, calls him all the ’orrid names
He can take and lay his tongue to—which is plenty, Dudley James—
Treats the hother as a hinsect, looked at thro’ the microscope
By a far superior being—which is funny, let us ’ope.
That, of course, annoys Buchanan, and he “counters” with a will,
Calling Mr. S. a “monkey”—which, let’s ’ope, is funnier still.
Then they drops it for a season (this occurred in ’71).
But you don’t know much of poets if you think the war was done.
Last year comes out “Jonas Fisher,” pokin’ up the “Fleshly School”
Once again: “Oho!” says Swinbun, keepin’ very calm and cool,
“Here’s that hodious Buchanan at his dirty game again
Sure as death. There can’t be no one else among the race of men
Who could think my werse indecent.” So he lets him ’ave it ’ot;
Shied the mud he’d shied before, and shied some more that he had not.
When Buchanan’s all bespattered, then—most ’orrible of sells—
Lo be’old yer! “Jonas Fisher” proves to be by summun else.
’Ence the haction which that plucky Mr. Peter Taylor fights.
That you see’s what comes of printin’ what a hangry poet writes.
Lor! what larks to see them lawyers overaul Buchanan’s lines,
Dippin’ in their scoops to try ’em like my cheeses, through the rines!
Tastin’ this and smellin’ t’other. “Isn’t this a little strong?”
“Call that pure?” “Well, what of this now, for a hammatory song?”
Yes, by George, I never laughed so ’earty, nor I never shall,
As at ’earing Mr. ’Awkins read about that Injin gal,
And the cuddlin’ in the forest! Well, per’aps it meant no harm,
Still the author owned hisself the scene was just a trifle warm.
Then, of course, Buchanan’s counsel—he was not a goin’ to fail;
So he dropped upon the “fleshlies” right and left and tooth and nail!
“Grossly senshal,” “most indecent,” “hanimal passion consecrated.”
Says the judge, “A style of poitry ’ighly to be deprecated!”
Well, the upshot was Buchanan gets his verdic safe and sound,
And he comes on Mr. Taylor for a hundern-fifty pound.
But, Lord loves you, my dear Dudley, what a foolish price to pay!
What a terrible exposy for the poets of the day!
I dun know about their poems, which is dirty, which is clean;
As to Mr. Swinbun’s “Ballids”—blowed if I know what they mean!
So I gev my Jane a copy on her birthday last July
Bound as natty as you please in blue morocker—for, says I,
If my gal finds them corruptin’, as some people says they are,
She’s a doosed sight more ’andy guessin’ riddles than her Pa!
But to think of them two poets showin’ up each other’s lines
For the benefit of us the—what d’you call it?—Philistines.
Passion, fancy, light and sweetness—well, maybe they’ve got ’em all;
But they’ve one thing undeweloped—gumption: that’s uncommon small!
Why, when Briggs in hopen westry cheeked me—you remember, Dud,
Makin’ insolent allusions to my butter as Thames mud—
Did I go to lawr about it—hugly-tempered as I am?
Did I sue old Briggs for libel, defamation? Not for Sam!
No, I knew old Briggs’s counsel—he’d contrive to ’ave his fling,
And my butter—well mud’s ’umbug, but—t’aint always quite the thing!
And although I know a thing or two about old Briggs’s tea,
“Boshy butter” don’t get nicer by denouncin’ “dirt-Bohea.”
What’s the good of each exposin’ tother’s tricks of trade on hoath?
Plaintiff wins, or p’raps defendant, but the neighbours laugh at both;
Yet you find the “’igher intleck” blind to facs as plain as this—
Facs which any common tradesman’s too much common sense to miss.
Yes, my boy, this ought to cure you—reverlations such as these.
You will stick to butter, Dudley—butter, bacon, heggs, and cheese,
Rather than become a poet like them two as lately fought,
Bringin’ out their little wash-tubs, stupid-like, in hopen court;
And—to dab each other’s faces with the soapy froth and foam—
Washed their dirty clothes in public, which they might have washed at ’ome!
The Western Mail (3 July, 1876 - p.4)
POETS IN THE LAW COURTS.
Poets have by long tradition acquired the reputation of being an irritable race, and no one who has taken the trouble to study the interesting chapter of the quarrels of authors can say that the imputation is undeserved. They have, however, up to the present time been in the habit of fighting one another by means of pen and ink, and through the comparatively harmless medium of the publishers and the press. It has been reserved for a minor poet of our own day, Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN, to introduce into the literary tilting ground an element of an altogether different character, and, with the result now before us, it cannot be denied that in a substantial pecuniary sense he has triumphed by means of his invention. Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN, who has now for some years been trying to induce the British public to place him as a poet upon a level with WORDSWORTH, if not with SPENSER, and who has the very best possible opinion of himself, has not unnaturally become the subject of the sharp criticism which usually falls to the lot of a man of his temperament. In the true spirit of a minor poet he has resented these supposed wrongs and remarks, which, if they had been uttered with reference to the genuine successor of our great English bards would have been allowed to pass with little or no notice—have irritated him to the pitch of literary madness. Not content with writing mild poetry, and with amusing himself by criticising his supposed critics, he has thought proper to fall foul of the gentleman who may be considered his personal rival in the field of poetry in the present day, namely, Mr. ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE. Twelve years ago, when he had no personal acquaintance with Mr. SWINBURNE, Mr. BUCHANAN wrote a poem in which that gentleman was accused of the vice of drunkenness, and since then Mr. BUCHANAN has never allowed an opportunity to pass of impugning, under an anonymous form, the morals of his brother poet, whose real crime is that he surpasses Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN as a writer of English verses. The personal antipathies of the two poets have lately resulted in articles under assumed names in the Contemporary Review and in the Examiner, and it was in respect of a letter written by Mr. SWINBURNE to the Examiner that Mr. BUCHANAN thought proper to appeal to a court of law.
Like the kettle in DICKENS’S Christmas story, Mr. BUCHANAN may be said to have begun it. Irritated by the tone which a certain school of criticism adopted with regard to his own poems, he conceived the notion of crushing his enemies by means of an epithet, and this idea, it must be conceded, he has worked out with a great deal of genius, for the epithet has stuck. He denounced his rival and his critics as belonging to the “fleshly school of poetry,” an expression which was meant to convey the idea that their works were unfit to be read by those people who confine themselves to the perusal of pure literature, and that there was nothing like the real and genuine leather produced by ROBERT BUCHANAN. The name given to the school was one which even the vulgar were capable of comprehending, and therefore it had the greater effect in irritating Mr. BUCHANAN’S opponents, who knew perfectly well that it was impossible for them to enter into a defence of their method of writing without soaring into the classic region, where the uneducated would be unable to follow them. Mr. BUCHANAN had made his attack upon Mr. SWINBURNE had his friends under the assumed name of “THOMAS MAITLAND,” and his enemies appear to have awaited their opportunity to give Mr. BUCHANAN a taste of the same kind of medicine as that which he had administered to them. They accordingly chose to attribute to him the authorship of a poem called “JONAS FISHER” which, it has been proved, was not written by Mr. BUCHANAN, but by Lord SOUTHESK, and upon this foundation they, or rather Mr. SWINBURNE, based an elaborate criticism upon the whole of Mr. BUCHANAN’S works. Among other things, he was described as the idyllist or lyrist of the gutter, and it was imputed to him not only that he had written poems which could be described as belonging to the “fleshly school,” but that he had gone to a great deal of trouble to assist the American poet WALT WHITMAN, portions of whose works he admitted were a great deal too pronounced to be read even in an English court of justice, which is not easily shocked. At this point Mr. BUCHANAN, instead of sticking to his gun and firing away—as a poet of the good old school would have done—goes in sorrow and tears to submit his injuries to the arbitrament of a British jury. It must be confessed that he was, from a money point of view, wise in his generation in taking this course; for the British jury— notwithstanding the fact that he had anonymously attacked his brother poet, and attempted to bring him and his poetical school into disrepute among persons so sensitive upon matters of morals as the British public—have awarded him the solatium of £150 as damages.
We do not grudge Mr. BUCHANAN the poor triumph which he has achieved in a court of justice, but we do think that both he and Mr. SWINBURNE should cast their minds back to the times when poets had backbone enough to bear scathing criticism, and to expend their wrath in indignant verse. It seems altogether a lowering of the poetical function to find two poets—who aspire to a name in the literature of their time—fighting out their quarrels by means of a jury. When POPE was assailed by the army of critics hailing from Grub-street and the rules of the Fleet prison, he never thought of invoking the laws of his country to remedy his wrongs. It is true that upon one occasion he, with Dr. ARBUTHNOT, cited that scoundrelly publisher EDMUND CURLL in the Court of Queen’s Bench for pirating their letters, when they had the satisfaction through the efforts of MURRAY—afterwards Lord MANSFIELD—of making that disreputable publisher feel that it was not a good thing upon the whole to steal other men’s brains. But with regard to his literary and poetical critics POPE took a very different course. He never thought of serving a writ or of estimating damages, but he simply set to work and wrote the Dunciad, in which he placed the whole of his enemies in a pillory of everlasting infamy. In another recent and quite as celebrated a case, Lord BYRON, instead of bringing FRANCIS JEFFERY into court for his article in the Edinburgh on his early poems, sat and wrote “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” Surely this is a much more noble way of settling differences between poets and their friends than that of dragging poetry into a court of justice to be turned into ridicule by facetious and unsympathetic counsel. As it is, the quarrel of Mr. BUCHANAN and Mr. SWINBURNE ends with a verdict in favour of the former of £150, but if they had followed the illustrious examples with which both of them must be perfectly well acquainted we might, as to the result, have had the pleasure of reading a couple of vigorous satires in an age which seems altogether to have forgotten the art of writing satirical poetry.
The Glasgow Herald (3 July, 1876 - p.5)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S case against the Examiner for libel has ended in favour of the poet, who claimed £5000 as damages, but to whom the jury awarded only £150. As it is probable, however, that Mr Buchanan didn’t so much want to get the money as to vindicate his character, we may presume that the result will completely satisfy him. It seemed to us from the first a foolish thing on the part of Mr Buchanan to drag his critics into Court; and now that the exhibition is over, we retain our original opinion. The story brought out during the trial is far from being so diverting as many people gleefully anticipated. Hamlet was not, indeed, left out of the play; but we missed several characters who, had they appeared, as most people expected, would have given to the action considerably more sparkle and go. It was believed that Mr Swinburne and Mr Rossetti would have been called as witnesses, but they didn’t appear, and the only person besides Mr Buchanan himself was the Earl of Southesk, who testified that he alone was the author of the poem entitled “Jonas Fisher.”
Mr Buchanan’s wrongs had, as it seems to us, their origin in one of his own acts. At all events, they took their date from the article which he contributed to the Contemporary Review on what he called “the Fleshly School of Poetry.” According to Mr Buchanan the masters of that school were Mr Swinburne, Mr Rossetti, and Mr Morris, whose misdeeds the critic painted in the most sensational colours. Very easily could Mr Buchanan have imagined that his criticisms would not be allowed to pass without ringing responses. Poets, like lesser men, are mortal—sometimes exceedingly mortal; and when they are touched on a raw place, they are not above roaring or the desire for revenge. That being so, it seemed quite natural that the assaulted poets should have a fling at their assailant. Mr Swinburne performed that duty in a pamphlet called “Under the Microscope,” in which he described Mr Buchanan’s poetry by a variety of epithets which would have made the blood of a saint boil into fury. If we are not mistaken, the poet himself was spoken of as little better than a poetaster—the most galling word to a poet in the vocabulary of criticism. As applied to Mr Buchanan the name was, of course, not truth, but abuse, as doubtless Mr Swinburne knew and intended it to be. Mr Buchanan must himself have known so much; but that didn’t sweeten his temper; and he thereupon wrote some lines upon “The Monkey and the Microscope,” which came down slap upon Mr Swinburne. Of course, those lines were not true as applied to Mr Swinburne; Mr Buchanan wrote them in a rage, so that practically they were nothing but abuse. Then, after a slight interval in the inky battle, Mr Buchanan wrote some verses entitled “The Session of the Poets,” in which the chief poets of the day are described by the statement of certain characteristics which belong to them. Tennyson presides, and is spoken of as having his “tresses unbrushed, his shirt-collar undone,” and as lolling at his ease “like a good-natured bear.” Buchanan also describes himself; and he refers to Swinburne as jumping up “with his neck stretched out like a gander,” as being “tipsy,” and as being removed in consequence:—
“They carried the naughty young gentleman out.”
Then appeared the poem called “Jonas Fisher,” round which at once gathered in the pages of the Examiner wicked clouds of libel from which Mr Buchanan at last sought protection and redress in a Court of Justice. Towards the end of November last the Examiner, speaking of “Jonas Fisher,” said that “this anonymous poem is said by the London correspondents to be the work either of Mr Robert Buchanan or the devil,” sand concludes the sentence by saying that “the weight of probability inclines to the first of these alternatives.” In the next sentence the writer states “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 having been said by renegade natives.” It is true that London correspondents, in trying to guess who wrote “Jonas Fisher,” had given the credit of it, among others, to Mr Buchanan. But the idea of its diabolical parentage was the invention of the Examiner. Mr Buchanan sent a note to the Echo denying that he was the author. Then, shortly afterwards, a curious letter appeared in the Examiner, dated “St Kilda,” and signed “Thomas Maitland”—the signature which Mr Strahan had appended to Mr Buchanan’s article on “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” This letter, which turned out to be the work of Mr Swinburne, was regarded by some people as an excellent piece of humour. It certainly contains humour; but it contains something more, and it is clear enough that its purpose was to torture Mr Buchanan. In fact, Mr Swinburne had got another innings, and he took full benefit of it. We can only quote a couple of passages. In reading the first bit, it should be remembered that Mr Buchanan had lived in the Highlands, and had written a book en titled “The Land of Lorne:”—
“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.”
It will be seen that the point of the next extract is the assumption that Mr Buchanan, who is called a “poly-pseudonymous lyrist and libeller,” is in the habit of reviewing his own works under assumed names:—
“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 Bævius 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 windows of Horace or of Virgil.”
he is also referred to as “the multifaced idyllist of the gutter.” In a postscript, Mr Buchanan is, by clear implication, accused, as his counsel put it, “of skulking, shuffling, and falsehood.” Of course, it is not easy for poetic flesh and blood to stand such public assaults upon his personal conduct; and although we still think that Mr Buchanan could have amply afforded to treat them with [rest of sentence missing]
If there is one thing which we should sincerely desire for a poet, it is never to see him put in the witness-box to defend either his personal conduct or his works. It is quite conceivable that, had a lawyer like Mr Hawkins got Shakespeare or even Milton under his cross-fire before some London Justice, he could have made sad havoc both of their writings and their conduct. Mr Buchanan has won his case, as we believe he had some good right to win it; but what has the world learned from the result? Not merely that Mr Buchanan is a sharp critic, who does not hesitate to drive his dagger up to the hilt when occasion calls, b ut that there are still sharper critics than himself, whose thrusts he is incapable of bearing without shouting for help from the Law Courts. Will the favourable verdict, with its £150, pay him for the trouble, which can’t have been agreeable, of appearing in Court to answer the questions put to him by Mr Hawkins? It is difficult to imagine what he has gained; for it is quite certain that not one in ten thousand was in the least affected by the criticisms of the Examiner or the bitter wit of Mr Swinburne. Perhaps he has gained one thing—a splendid advertisement for his writings. But in that respect the poets of the Fleshly School are equal with himself; and it is perhaps not too much to say that the main result of the trial will be that the works which Mr Buchanan so severely condemned in his Contemporary article will be sold in greater numbers than ever. Can that be any consolation to Mr Buchanan? It was, perhaps, the duty of Mr Hawkins to show that at least some of Mr Buchanan’s poems were as bad as those of the Fleshly School; and if they are so — which we don’t believe — what a torrent of poetic sewage will be poured over the country during the next few weeks, polluting the imagination of the tender and the fair!
We should not like to restrict the sphere of the poet; and we don’t see why Mr Buchanan should be scowled at for picking up jewels from the gutter, which loftier souls have disdained to touch. But then, what is the practical difference between an English gutter and a Greek gutter? If Mr Buchanan is to be justified, how can we condemn Mr Swinburne for having an occasional wallow in Greek sewage? We can’t justify either of these eminent poets for swimming in mud—if they ever do so—but it should be remembered that the vital tissue of life is so full of the mud principle, that no preacher or poet can deal with living subjects without danger of being howled at as deliberately immoral singers. Mr Buchanan, in one of his own essays, says that the sincere thinker ought to speak out his thought fearlessly, and let the gods take care of the rest. We hope he doesn’t think that he has a monopoly of poetic sincerity; and it certainly would, as we think, have been better if he had been content, to speak and sing sincerely, and leaving the rest in the keeping of the gods, who would hardly have advised him to rush into a Law Court to make an exhibition of himself for £150, and in order to disprove what nobody in his senses believed.
The Edinburgh Evening News (3 July, 1876 - p.2)
THE “Fleshly School” libel case has come to an end, and Mr Robert Buchanan gets damages of £150. Whether that amount will administer the requisite amount of solatium, it is as yet of course impossible to say; though his next poem or essay will, no doubt, convey the information. It is perhaps somewhat to be regretted that the “irritable tribe of the poets” has begun to settle its little quarrels not in the pages of journals, but in the courts of law. Mr Buchanan was no doubt attacked; and may have been struck under the belt. His antagonist was not one to tone down an adjective, or qualify a sentiment. Mr Swinburne’s chief strength, indeed, lies in the ferocious strength of his epithets, and the utter regardlessness of his general vocabulary. But Mr Robert Buchanan—under the pseudonym of “Thomas Maitland”—showed the wish if not the power to exhibit similar qualities; and, while criticising Mr Swinburne’s writings, imitated more or less feebly Mr Swinburne’s style. As a consequence of which, that Bohemian bard impaled him in “Under the Microscope;” and the pangs inflicted by the (metaphorical) pin which held him wriggling on that occasion, Mr Buchanan appears to hold yet in lively recollection. Now, it entered some time ago into the mind of an otherwise innocent aristocrat to publish anonymously a poetical work not remarkable for strength, called “Jonas Fisher:” and this lucubration the Examiner clique—between which and Mr Buchanan there is no love lost—was cruel enough to father on the great enemy of the “Fleshly School.” Mr Buchanan, still writhing from his sub-microscopical torments, found that Mr Swinburne was the author of the objectionable article, and at once haled him before Mr Justice Archibald. He has won a pettifogging revenge. When Mr Swinburne was libelled by him—in “The Session of the Poets”—that gentleman chose to inflict a literary retribution: Mr Buchanan prefers a legal one, and amerces Mr Taylor in the sum of L.150 sterling. The summing-up of the Judge, the tone of which is very sensible, goes distinctly against the plaintiff. He has procured his trifling success wholly through the soft-heartedness of a sympathetic jury. Mr Buchanan can scarcely be happy—especially knowing that the “Fleshly” critics have got their eyes upon him, and that he is now (in a literary sense) a marked man.
The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (3 July, 1876 - p.5)
THE literary squabble, which, for three days last week, occupied the attention of Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD and a special jury, was brought to a close on Saturday. Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN sued Mr. TAYLOR, the proprietor of the Examiner, for £5,000 for libel. The libel was contained in a series of criticisms or essays upon the plaintiff’s writings, and was of an unmistakeable character, The plaintiff had set himself up as a critic of what is known as the “fleshly” school, and had attacked with extreme severity Mr. SWINBURNE and others. In the strictures which he penned there was an assumption of virtue which was not warranted. The criticisms themselves were smeered and bedaubed with the offensiveness which Mr. BUCHANAN pretended to loathe and condemn. The comments which appeared in the Examiner upon these works were exceedingly indecorous and severe. Mr. BUCHANAN was called a lyrist of the gutter, a libeller, a shuffler, and so on, and when he appealed to a court for damages there could be no doubt that, technically at all events, he had the law on his side. In the course of the trial there was a raking together of literary nastiness. Some of the extracts read in court were too vile and scandalous for reproduction in the columns of the newspapers in which the proceedings were reported. It is on this, if on no other account, to be regretted that the trial ever took place; and with reference to much of the poetry that was read to the jury, the Judge offered a very sensible criticism when he said it would have been better if it had never been written. The wounded feelings which Mr. BUCHANAN asked for £5,000 to relieve, the jury thought £150 sufficient to assuage, and returned a verdict for that amount accordingly. Both plaintiff and defendant have the satisfaction of knowing that they have had a patient and careful hearing. It cannot be said that in this case, at all events, judgment has been pronounced after a bustling examination of the facts of one side only. Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD and the jury have spared neither pains nor trouble to arrive at a righteous conclusion, and it is to be hoped both parties are satisfied.
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (4 July, 1876 - p.2)
A WAR OF THE POETS IN THE COMMON PLEAS.
—Just now the atmosphere of the Law Courts at Westminster is heavily tainted with the malodours of newspaper libels. From M.P.s and minor poets alike the cry of wounded feelings goes up, and judges and special juries are kept for days together holding their nostrils as well protected as they may while the most capacious buck-baskets of foul linen are washed under their noses. In some of these cases there is, possibly, reason sufficient why good justice should be demanded and had by the plaintiffs; but there are some others in which the reasons are not so well assured, in which the administration of strict justice rather provokes a feeling of discontent than one of satisfaction. The case of BUCHANAN versus TAYLOR is even worse than that, for while the quality of the justice is of so doubtful a kind that we think it savours strongly of that injustice which London juries are prone to commit, it provokes in addition a feeling of irritation to remember that three whole days have been devoted to the settlement of a literary squabble not worth three hours’ attention by any human being, much less by a great court of law, the doors of which are all the time being besieged by a crowd of suitors, with interests a hundred, or it may be a thousand, times greater. Of what account are the professional vanity and sensitiveness of a third or fourth rate poet that they should block the way upon which so many people, with better right, are waiting to get forward? The question is one which, unfortunately, we cannot answer in any more satisfactory manner than by saying that properly, in the eye of English justice, the meanest and most contemptible of men are, equally with the greatest and most admirable, free to claim legal redress of injury with all due means of establishing their claim. Such great waste of the public time as the case of BUCHANAN versus TAYLOR has led to is the penalty we pay for the excellence of our legal system as a whole. An explanation may be complete, however, without being consolatory; and it is eminently so in the present instance. It is only necessary to read a passage or two of Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD’S charge to the special jury who tried the case of Mr. BUCHANAN’S griefs, to understand the difference between the legal rights of a suitor and those of a higher justice of which the law cannot take cognisance.
The charge brought against the Examiner newspaper, of which Mr. P. A. TAYLOR, the member for Leicester, is proprietor, was that of having libelled Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN in three articles, which the defendant pleaded were fair reviews of the works of the plaintiff and his conduct as a critic, and in no way referred to his private character. There is a feature to be remarked in regard to the early stages of the plaintiff’s legal action. When he gave the proprietor of the Examiner notice of his intention to commence an action for libel against him, Mr. P. A. TAYLOR, under arrangement with the actual writer of one of the alleged libels, furnished Mr. BUCHANAN with the name of his real antagonist—Mr. ALGERNON SWINBURNE—and proposed that the action should be brought against him; but Mr. BUCHANAN’S attorney, with the consent of his employer we may assume, declined to adopt that proposition, among other reasons because Mr. P. A. TAYLOR was in a better position to pay damages and costs than the man who had really given the offence for which those damages were being sought and those costs incurred. Mr. BUCHANAN has been awarded £150 as a solatium for his mortified feelings; but subject to a very considerable moral discount, if we do not greatly mistake the bearing of Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD’S remark to the jury in regard to the prosecution of Mr. P. A. TAYLOR in preference to Mr. ALGERNON SWINBURNE. The suggestion of the articles in the Examiner has been that Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN, while attacking and condemning the work of most of the prominent living poets, has always laboured towards the advancement of his own interests as a poet, and his choice between Mr. SWINBURNE and Mr. P. A. TAYLOR, mainly on the ground of the latter—though admittedly liable only in a legal sense for the alleged libel—being the better able to “pay,” will, we apprehend, be generally thought to tally with the Examiner’s appreciation of its antagonist.
But while we say this, we do not defend the sort of criticism for which the proprietor of the Examiner has been adjudged to pay the sum of £150 besides the costs of this three days’ trial. We admit that if anything could warrant such criticism it was fairly provoked by the author of “London Lyrics”—a “lyrist of the gutter,” the Examiner called him—by his course of literary conduct in attacking other authors in articles signed with various names, and in particular by his direct attack upon Mr. SWINBURNE in a poem signed “Caliban,” in which he dealt with Mr. SWINBURNE’S private and personal character, and publicly charged him with being a drunkard. This attack upon the author of “Chastelard” he admitted to have been perfectly unprovoked, the personal references in it to be founded on no personal knowledge of Mr. SWINBURNE, whom at that time he had never met. Not content with making this wholly gratuitous attack upon Mr. SWINBURNE, he afterwards enlarged his battery of abuse and condemnation, and turned it upon what he chose to call the “Fleshly school of poetry,” of which he made Mr. SWINBURNE the chief offender; accusing them all round of writing indecent and immoral poems for the sake of gain. In the cross-examination to which he was mercilessly subjected by Mr. HAWKINS, it was made perfectly certain that at the very time Mr. BUCHANAN was thus denouncing these authors, he was, under an assumed name, writing in praise of his own works, as examples of every good quality wanting in the works of the “Fleshly school” of poets. It may be safely assumed that such conduct is entirely exceptional, and that Mr. BUCHANAN’S defence of it in the Court of Common Pleas will find no sympathy or acceptance in the minds of honourable literary men; and it will pretty generally be conceded that the exponent of such a practice was deserving of sharp reproof. The misfortune, as far as the Examiner was concerned, was that it suffered that reproof to be administered by Mr. SWINBURNE, smarting as he was under the gratuitous abuse of Mr. BUCHANAN, when it might have been better delivered by a more dispassionate judge. A critic, said Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD, referring to Mr. BUCHANAN, should be a public person, who should rebuke such writings as those of Mr. SWINBURNE and others of the same type, in a tone of remonstrance that would carry weight with it; but certainly such a subject should not be taken up for the purpose of writing a sensational essay upon it. Now, said the Judge, “How has the plaintiff dealt with the matter? There is a mode of reviewing such writings which makes the reviewer as sensational as the articles reviewed.” And then he went on to observe that it was for the jury to decide whether, under the circumstances, the plaintiff had, by his conduct, disentitled himself to damages, or how far his conduct had diminished the damages to which he was entitled. Assuming to be better than anybody else aware of the value of his literary reputation, and hence better than anybody else able to appraise the money value of any injury done to it, Mr. BUCHANAN modestly named £5000 as the sum he would be content to recover, not from the man who had injured him, but from another, legally responsible for his act, and more certain to pay. The jury, however, declined to take Mr. BUCHANAN’S, estimate of himself, and thought that £150 would sufficiently salve the wounds sustained by his peculiarly delicate literary susceptibilities, and in all probability would have considered one farthing equivalent to the damage done had not the editor of the Examiner made the mistake of putting his paper in a wrong position by persistently refusing to offer any apology for language which it was not possible for him to justify if challenged in a law court. So Mr. BUCHANAN takes his £150, but with that sum—which in his eyes must look smaller than it really is by comparison with the £5000 claimed by him—he is under the mortifying necessity of taking Mr. Justice ARCHIBALD’S highly unflattering opinion, that it was “very much to be regretted that they (he and the jury) had had to decide these matters at all, for he did not think that what had happened was creditable to either party.”
The Ipswich Journal (4 July, 1876)
Literary men are rather astonished that Mr. Robert Buchanan should have got a hundred and fifty pounds damages from the defendants in his libel case. I am afraid that if there had been a jury of writers the result would have been much the other way. It is right, however, that matters like these should be judged by men outside the pale of the literary profession, and the public will no doubt think that justice is satisfied in the condemnation of such license of attack as that which formed the subject of this action. Mr. Buchanan expresses his great contempt for the conduct of the defendants in, as he puts it, instructing counsel to introduce the name of Walter Whitman into the trial, since Mr. Buchanan has pleaded for help for Whitman solely as an act of charity. The defendants, on the other hand, assured me that there was no wish on their part to introduce the name of Walter Whitman, and that this was done very much on his own responsibility by Mr. Hawkins, who was of opinion that it would very much strengthen the defendant’s case. The costs will be large, but that is not a matter of much importance since the proprietor of the Examiner, Mr. P. A. Taylor, the member for Leicester, is a very rich man; but the result must be very unsatisfactory to the editor, Mr. Minto, on whom the responsibility rests, and the more so as this is not the sort of quarrel in which the proprietor would care for his paper to be engaged in. If it were a political quarrel, in which the paper was prosecuted or persecuted in some way for the advocacy of advanced and extreme views, then would Mr. Taylor’s organ seem to him to be doing its proper work and fighting its proper battles, and he would, no doubt, gleefully pay the cost. I am told the Examiner will issue with its next edition a verbatim report of the trial. The result of the action must be some consolation to Mr. Buchanan for the failure of his new play, “Corinne” at the Lyceum. The drama and the trial got to some extent mixed up. I was at the Lyceum on the opening night, and it was clear enough that the author had enemies in the house, the enemies being described by the initiated as “the Swinburne party.” This party were ready to hiss on every possible chance. They hissed the players, the words of the piece, the scenery and effects, and in the end they so persistently hissed down the call for the author to appear before the curtain, that Mr. Buchanan refrained from coming to the front, and contented himself by bowing quietly from the box in which he had witnessed the performance. In my opinion, the play, though having some faults, was infinitely better than the acting. The piece was spoiled by the incompetence of Mrs. Fairfax as Corinne. The lady whose name appears on the play-bill as Mrs. Fairfax, is really Mrs. Bell, the wife of a military officer. She is very beautiful, and has an intense ambition to appear in a great part on the stage. In pursuance of this design she took the theatre, formed the company, and put on Mr. Buchanan’s piece, and the failure is a most serious loss to her.
The Glasgow Herald (6 July, 1876 - p.3)
July 5, 1876.
SIR,—Permit me to point to a very misleading error in one of your Monday’s leaders, for the correction of which I have vainly waited. The writer of the article on a recent literary law suit refers to Mr Buchanan’s “Session of the Poets” as his latest outrage. Precisely the reverse is the fact. The history of Mr Swinburne’s “Poems and Ballads” is peculiar. The earliest specimens of them appeared in 1862, under the severely respectable patronage of the London Spectator. When the collected-edition, with some of the most exquisite lyrics in the language, was published in 1866, Maw-worm leapt into his pulpit, terrified Mr Moxon out of his wits, and drove the Spectator to a dilemma. The “inky battle” to which you allude began in the same year with “The session.” This weed of unprovoked scurrility, appropriately signed “Caliban,” and afterwards acknowledged by the author of “The Undertones,” penitentially decked the soiled columns of the unwary patron of “Faustine.” In full knowledge of the authorship, Mr Swinburne, with characteristic magnanimity, acceded in 1869 to an urgent request to attend one of the author’s readings. Having received no offence other than this kind service, Mr Buchanan in his new capacity of censor moram issued (1872) the nauseous diatribe, entitled “The Fleshly School,” in which after the manner of Marston, the satirist, and plagued by the same passion, he snarls at the heels of his masters. Before the august award of a British jury contemporary criticism is dumb: “the jingle of the guinea helps the hurt that honour feels.”—I am, &c.,
The Southern Reporter (6 July, 1876 - p.2)
THE CASE OF BUCHANAN v. THE “EXAMINER.”
The great action for libel brought by Mr Robert Buchanan against the Examiner has been decided in his favour. He asked for £5000 damages, and the jury gave him £150. He has therefore, reckoning sordidly, gained but a nominal victory, albeit the costs of the action, which are said to be very large, will have to be paid by the defence. A number of witnesses who were subpœnaed, including the editor of the Echo, were not called. It is not felt in literary circles that Mr Buchanan has increased his professional reputation by this action. Nobody defends Mr Swinburne. Whatever the provocation received at the hands of Mr Buchanan—and that there was provocation impartial observers will admit—it in no wise warranted the coarse language used by the author of “Songs before Sunrise” in his defence. The cross- examination of the Scotch poet by Mr Hawkins was tremendously severe, and his address powerful; but the jury could not, of course, forgive Mr Swinburne’s language; hence the verdict. During the trial the court was crowded with the elite of the London literary world.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (8 July, 1876 - p.10)
ROBERT BUCHANAN V. “THE EXAMINER.”
In the Common Pleas Division of the High Court on June 29 and 30 and July 1, Mr. Justice Archibald and a special jury had before them an action by Mr. Robert Buchanan against Mr. P. A. Taylor, M.P., the proprietor of the Examiner, to recover damages for an alleged libel contained in notices of a poem which was supposed to have been written by the plaintiff, entitled “Jonas Fisher.” The defendant, in addition to a plea of “Not guilty,” justified the article as being only a fair criticism of the work. The Earl of Southesk went into the witness-box and declared that he was the author of “Jonas Fisher,” and with it Mr. Buchanan had nothing whatever to do. Mr. Buchanan also gave evidence, and, under cross-examination by Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Buchanan’s descriptions of himself and some of his contemporaries afforded some amusement:
“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.
“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.
“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 man 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’s.
“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 allusion to Mr. Swinburne was in allusion to his book having been suppressed by the publisher for indecency. The “Session of the Poets” was merely a jeu d'esprit.
“Do you think it desirable to publish to the world statements about Judges going with white hats to Epsom? (A laugh.)
“Mr. Justice Archibald: I hope it is not wrong for a Judge to go in a white hat anywhere; I wear a white hat myself (laughter).
“Mr. Hawkins: Would you call this poetry:—
When judges in white hats, to Epsom Down
Drive, gay as Tom and Jerry, folks don’t frown.
(Laughter). Is that poetry? You are a better judge than I am?—I should say it is not. What do you say about it?—I do not see anything poetical in it.”
Mr. Justice Archibald, in summing up, gave a few words of advice that might be acted upon by a few writers besides those at whom the learned Judge’s remarks were aimed. He said there was nothing more deplorable than to see men of high ability choosing degrading subjects for their themes instead of others which would not be calculated to stimulate and inflame the lowest and most degrading passions of human nature. He thought that the jury would agree with him that if a great deal of the poetry that had been read, and which had been written by persons belonging to what was called the “Fleshly School,” had never been written at all, or if it had all been committed to the flames, the world would have been much the better for it.
The jury retired to consider the matter; and, after an absence of a quarter of an hour, they returned with a verdict for the plaintiff—damages, £150.
The Examiner (8 July, 1876)
BUCHANAN versus TAYLOR.
It is not always necessary for the sinner to point the moral of his own tale. At the moment he is perhaps unprepared for the task, and competent moralists are numerous. There is reason, indeed, to believe that the family of Barachel the Buzite was a large one, and the experience of the world since the days when Elihu sought to chasten the spirit of Job proves that for every lapse from the path of virtue a qualified preacher may readily be found. But although virtue is not likely to suffer even if the delinquent is silent, it must always be very edifying when he can summon sufficient fortitude to speak. The temperance lecturer who was wont to exhibit his father as a “frightful example” of the effects of drunkenness was no doubt greatly aided in his pious labours by this close association of virtue and vice; and the association becomes closer, with results increasingly beneficial to society, when the sinner himself can stand forth with becoming humility to illustrate the vices which he seeks to denounce.
This is, of course, to use Mr. Buchanan’s phrase, only “figurative language.” The truth is, we would like, in our own modest way, to share the moral instruction to be derived from a recent trial. It is just possible that we may miss a part of the humour of the situation, but at least we are not disqualified from enjoying its more serious lessons. If, as wise men tell us, all experience must be bought, we have no reason to complain of our purchase; for we have acquired, on comparatively reasonable terms, an amount of experience that ought even now to be precious, and at some future time entertaining. But the consideration that most influences us, in touching upon the subject now, is that we may never again be in so chastened and humble a spirit. The heart soon hardens, and the force of chastisement wanes with the lapse of time. Moments of real modesty, especially in journalism, cannot be too promptly seized for the purposes of confession, and just now we feel so entirely modest and so becomingly repentant that the occasion is favourable to admit the full extent of our weakness and folly. For it must be said very frankly, and with all humility, that the public, although it knows the measure of our punishment, is quite ignorant of the depth of our imprudence. It is only the sinner himself who can recall the first departure from the path of virtue, and put his finger upon the source of all his trouble. Let us say at once that the source of our trouble has been pride. We thought, in the vanity of our hearts, that we were fit to consort with genius, and we have found at last that for dull plodding talent such companionship is perilous. Curiously enough, we erred just in the same way that Mr. Buchanan is said to have done. We imagined, with him, that the language of men of genius was figurative, and we never dreamt that inspired bards would consent to touch the lower earth of to mingle in its practical affairs. It did not occur to us that the wings made to scale the heights of heaven could just as readily alight with their burden in a law court; and although we knew that there was war above, we believed with a foolish trustfulness that the “airy navies” of Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Buchanan would be content to remain “grappling in the central blue.” Mindful of the emphatic utterance of the poet in Fielding’s novel, that it was his function “to chronicle great deeds, and not to take part in them,” we hoped, like foolish sentimentalists, that all the language was “figurative,” and we were proud to afford to our readers an opportunity of witnessing a conflict between two inspired souls who would scorn, as we thought, to use the coarse rough weapons of practical humanity. But the time came when our dream was rudely shattered, and we, the dull inert mass of prose wedged in between these gifted poets, had no wings to fly away. It was of course from the beginning our own fault, and well deserved; but it was hard thus to see a fond ideal crushed before our eyes. All the time that we thought only of an äerial conflict, with a bright interchange of abstract ideas, these young poets had been really angry with one another quite as mortals might be angry, and with the same desire of substantial redress. The language that, like Mr. Buchanan, we had thought was only figurative, was not figurative at all, but truly meant all it seemed to say, as the utterances of common men and women are held to do. Herein lay the source of our disappointment. It was difficult to realise that the spirits we had so fondly worshipped were no better or more heavenly than ourselves, and that when they spoke to one another they meant just the dull truths contained in their words and no more. It was difficult, but it was very right, that the lesson should be enforced, and we do not repine that we should have been chosen as the exponents of so serviceable and practical a truth.
The moral of all this seems to us to be very plain, and even through our tears we are able to discern its value. The plodding practical soul must not aspire to companionship with genius. Dull prose must go its own way unillumined by the presence of poetic fire, and content with the poor triumphs of its humble career. When Mr. Silas Wegg made an agreement to read to Mr. Boffin, the contract was limited to prose; but Mr. Wegg, out of the fullness of a generous heart, promised now and then to “drop into poetry as a friend.” We, too, have limited our contract to prose, but, like Mr. Wegg, we have been tempted to “drop into poetry as a friend.” The result, although not without a certain humour, is in some ways discouraging. It proves that for the average intellect, which is all we can lay claim to, even the occasional visit to the poet’s realm is full of danger. We have really no right to attempt to pin down their ideal spirits to the range of our earthly ideas, and still less have we any ground for complaint is the result is more fortunate for them than for us. When the conflict is over, they can find solace where we have none. They have beautiful ideas to support them, and splendid mansions of the mind to inhabit; and as they flit off to these mansions, Mr. Buchanan perhaps to St.Giles’s and Mr. Swinburne perhaps to the Garden of Proserpine, we, wingless and unideaed, are left to ruminate over the fortunes of the host who, in entertaining an angel unawares, finds after his departure that he has broken the window through which he has flown out to his home in the sky.
The Athenæum (8 July, 1876 - pp.50-51)
BUCHANAN v. TAYLOR.
THE verdict of the jury in Buchanan v. Taylor can hardly be accepted as satisfactory, and many will wonder how it was arrived at. Mr. Buchanan’s cross-examination scarcely helped his case. Mr. Hawkins’s address was more than usually brilliant. Mr. Justice Archibald, who cannot be suspected of any “fleshly” leanings, summed up strongly in favour of the defendant, inviting the jury to ask themselves, whether the plaintiff, after what they had heard him admit in court, was the kind of person to whom damages ought to be given. It seemed to be the general opinion, when his Lordship concluded, that there would be either a verdict for the defendant, or else, possibly, a farthing for the plaintiff. Instead of this, the jury assessed the damage done to Mr. Buchanan’s wounded feelings, honour, and reputation at 150l. Mr. Buchanan’s friends may possibly claim this as a victory. It is not a very substantial one. The verdict, in effect, mulcts Mr. Taylor heavily, while it is of very little pecuniary benefit, if any, to the plaintiff. It is amusing, however, to bear in mind what it actually was for which this solatium was awarded. We all know how Mr. Swinburne can hit out if he likes. That he was the writer of the fiercest of the three libels, ‘The Devil’s Due,’ is admitted. Now, in this choice specimen of abuse, Mr. Buchanan is accused of puffing himself, of attacking rival poets under the mask of pseudonymity, of being the offspring of an incestuous union between Dulness and his sister, Envy, and of not being over particular about the truth. He is called a skulk, a shuffler, a “godson of Jonas Chuzzlewit,” a “polypseudonymous lyrist and libeller of the gutter,” and “a multifaced idyllist of the gutter.” For being called all this, a jury has given him 150l., being exactly three per cent. on the 5,000l. which he claimed. It may be doubted whether, if Mr. Tennyson, or Mr. Browning, or any of those better known poets with whom Mr. Buchanan loves to rank himself, had been directly accused in the Examiner of dishonourable conduct and downright falsehood, Mr. Taylor would not have had a good deal more to pay than 150l. This is all the more probable when we bear in mind that the defendant “justified”—as it is called—the libels in question. His fourth and fifth pleas—or, more exactly, the fourth and fifth paragraphs of his statement of defence—added injury to insult by declaring that every word which the Examiner had said of Mr. Buchanan was substantially true:—
“The defendant says that the articles alleged as libels in the Plaintiff’s Statement of Claim were written and published for the public good, and are fair and bonâ fide comments on the critical and other writings of the plaintiff, and on his conduct as a critic, and in no way refer to the plaintiff’s private character or conduct in private life. The defendant says that, before the publication of the said alleged libels, the plaintiff had, as a critic, written under certain assumed names divers criticisms on well-known authors, which criticisms were unfair; and that the plaintiff had under such assumed names referred to his own, the plaintiff’s, works, and written of himself as amongst writers of the highest repute; and that the said alleged libels refer solely to the plaintiff’s conduct herein, and in other such matters, and not to his character or conduct in private life, and that they are fair and bonâ fide comments on his conduct herein, and in other such matters, and were published for the public good.”
As we have quoted the defendant’s pleas, it is, perhaps, only fair to Mr. Buchanan to quote from his original statement of claim. After setting out ‘The Devil’s Due’ in extenso, this extraordinary production of the pleader’s art, which is touched up with a finish that suggests the revising hand of a poet rather than a mere draftsman, goes on to say, that
“The plaintiff says that the said letter was written, printed, and published with the malicious intention and purpose of injuring the plaintiff’s position and reputation as a writer, and of defaming, vilifying, and abusing his personal character; and the plaintiff further says that the said letter was written, printed, and published in pursuance of a wicked and malicious scheme made and devised against the plaintiff as hereinafter described; and with reference to the postscript to said letter above quoted, the plaintiff says that in the year 1871 the plaintiff prepared and handed to the editor of the Contemporary Review a criticism upon a certain school of poetry in England, with a request to the said editor to publish said criticism without any name, as the plaintiff was desirous of not introducing any personal feeling into a question of purely public and general interest. Immediately thereafter the plaintiff left London, and the editor of the said Contemporary Review, with the view of meeting the wish of the plaintiff, and at the same time preserving the uniformity of his magazine, in which a name is appended to each of the articles, printed plaintiff’s said criticism with the name of Thomas Maitland appended thereto. This the editor did without the knowledge and without the consent of the plaintiff. The plaintiff afterwards explained the circumstances as aforesaid under which the name of Thomas Maitland had been thus appended to his paper aforesaid, and by said postscript the plaintiff says that it was intended and was understood by those by and to whom it was published to accuse the plaintiff of skulking, shuffling, and deceitful conduct with reference to said article, and of falsehood in his explanation aforesaid.”
Turning over a page—for the document is a little volume in itself—we further find:—
“And the plaintiff says that in the course of his public duty as a critic and writer, he has had occasion to examine the works of certain writers of English verse, and to point out that some of the works of those writers were obscene, indecent, and offensive to sound moral and religious taste; and the plaintiff says that in revenge for said criticism, and for the purpose of injuring and destroying, as far as in them lay, the influence of the plaintiff as a writer, author, and critic, though the plaintiff had in said criticism confined his remarks to the works of said writers, and carefully avoided any reference to their private character, certain persons, both the said writers of verse and their friends, instigated and incited by the said writers of verse, have for a long time past, in several numbers and in several parts of many numbers of the said Examiner, persistently, unjustly, and maliciously abused, libelled, and defamed the plaintiff in his professional and personal character; and the defendant has deliberately, knowingly, and maliciously lent himself and his review, the Examiner aforesaid, to this malicious and wicked scheme for the purpose of abusing, vilifying, and defaming the plaintiff as aforesaid, to the plaintiff’s great annoyance, hurt, and damage.”
People who are interested in this quarrel may perhaps remember that Mr. Buchanan wrote in our columns, on the 16th of December, 1871,—Mr. Strahan “is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.” It would now seem that there was no “inadvertence” at all in the matter, and that when Mr. Buchanan wrote to us, he knew perfectly well that he had given Mr. Strahan positive “instructions” to publish his article “without any name.” But enough of this little discrepancy.
The trial itself was excessively amusing. Mr. Buchanan explained, or attempted to explain, that certain passages in Walt Whitman, which, on account of their excessive filthiness, were not read in court, but only shown to the jury, were quite consonant with the belief that that poet is a “colossal mystic,” and essentially “a spiritual person.” The jury read the passages in question—which are only to be found in the unexpurgated American edition—and it is to be hoped they were edified. Mr. Buchanan also declared upon his oath that when he wrote, in the ‘Session of the Poets,’ of Mr. Swinburne that that gentleman had a “neck stretching out like a gander,” and that he had to be carried home drunk, he was referring solely to Mr. Swinburne’s writings. To this statement he adhered, and Mr. Justice Archibald made some strong remarks upon it. Those, however, who like an exhibition “under the microscope,” will find Mr. Buchanan’s cross-examination reported fully in the Standard and Daily Telegraph. Of the speeches of the counsel there is but little to be said, the most memorable incident being Mr. Russell’s statement that “polypseudonymous” is “a Latin word”—a fact probably as new to philologists as it is to Mr. Swinburne that Phædra was a woman who conceived an incestuous passion for her son, and that the theme was first handled by Racine. The defendant was at a great disadvantage throughout. Wishing, for obvious reasons, to have the last word to the jury, Mr. Hawkins was unable to put in any evidence, and could only make use of such portions of Mr. Buchanan’s works as were put in by his own counsel, amongst which, however, were the ‘Session of the Poets’ and ‘White Rose and Red.’ The jury were thus unable to judge of Mr. Buchanan by his letters to the Athenæum, or to form any opinion on the merits of his ‘Little Milliner,’ and his other “quasi-lyrical poems” or “tentatives.” The defendant was ill advised to have a special jury. A common jury would possibly have found for him. The jury which actually tried the case was no doubt influenced by some such general considerations as that Mr. Swinburne has written a book of poems which scandalized many respectable people; that Mr. Taylor is a Radical who wants to abolish flogging; that Mr. Buchanan was a poor man fighting a rich; and that the Examiner is a Radical paper, suspected of Deism, if not, indeed, of something much worse. Guided by all these sage reasons, they gave Mr. Buchanan 150l. as some compensation for having been called a liar; and if that gentleman thinks such a result creditable, either to literature or to himself, he probably stands alone in his opinion.
The Saturday Review (8 July, 1876 - pp.44-45)
A LITERARY SQUABBLE.
JOURNALISM has of late years threatened to become as perilous a calling in England as in France, the danger being, however, of a different kind. The Frenchman who speaks severely of some one whose works or person he dislikes will, if he is a wise man, have taken lessons from Prévost before taking up the pen which he may presently have to drop for a sword. The Englishman’s fighting is both in the first and second stage of the combat confined to words, but in the second a champion is engaged to appear for him in a court of law. The substitution of winged words for pointed steel, and the readiness with which the followers of all kinds of art fly to obtain redress for their injured dignity, through the glorious and constitutional weapons of a solicitor, may both be regarded as products of that æsthetic gentleness and fine feeling which belong to modern civilization. In former days quarrels were settled with greater expedition when they arose; but people who served the Muses were also less eager to convince the world that they were unjustly attacked by making their assailant, if they could, heal up the wound he had inflicted with a plaster of damages. One need go no further back than the days of Christopher North to see how hard words were given and borne with or without grinning. “Impudent little blackguard,” “bandy-legged dwarf,” were among the descriptions which the writer of the Noctes gave of an artist whose conduct he did not approve. And in those days probably little would have been thought of phrases which now stir the blood of the person to whom they are applied, and impel him to take instant and unfaltering vengeance in her Majesty’s courts of law. We have happily arrived at a more sensible and courteous style of criticism in these days than prevailed in the days of our forefathers; mediocre works no longer excite savage bursts of abuse; certain things bad in intention and execution will command a certain public whatever the wiser sort. may say against them; and it has been found needless to crush with a sledgehammer midges which will in course of time die a natural death. So, when some writer, feeling that he is like Archilochus in his injuries, carries out the likeness by the expression of his rage, his proceedings may very well attract some attention; and thus have been brought before the public various literary quarrels and some undignified squabbles, not the most dignified of which is the case that was last week decided of Buchanan v. Taylor.
For the origin of this combat, which might have given Isaac Disraeli another chapter for his Quarrels of Authors, it is necessary, as it was for the origin of the Trojan War, to go back some way. In 1871 there appeared an article in the Contemporary Review upon “The Fleshly School of Poetry” written by Mr. Robert Buchanan, who has “followed literature as a profession for about fifteen years,” and signed “Thomas Maitland.” We learn from Mr. Buchanan’s evidence that this signature was put against his wish to the article, which he had intended to publish anonymously. He further said of this article:—“Very little comment was made upon it until it was discovered that I was the author. I then distinctly avowed being the author.” The avowal was perhaps needless after the discovery; however, when it was known that Mr. Buchanan was the author, certain criticisms were published on the article by Mr. Swinburne, to which Mr. Buchanan replied by republishing his article, “with additions, which were chiefly criticisms upon Mr. Swinburne.” Five years before this “Fleshly School of Poetry” appeared Mr. Buchanan had published “The Session of the Poets,” in which he said of himself that he looked moony, conceited, and narrow, and had, when foolish and young, found Apollo asleep on a coster-girl’s barrow; and of Mr. Swinburne that he jumped up with his neck stretched out like a gander. He also represented Mr. Tennyson as saying of Mr. Swinburne, “To the door with the boy; call a cab, he is tipsy.” Tipsy, that is, according to Mr. Buchanan’s evidence, in a literary point of view. “He was drunk to publish such a book. . . . I meant only to refer to Mr. Swinburne’s literary character.” If this were so, it must be admitted that there was an unfortunate vagueness in Mr. Buchanan’s way of expressing himself; it is, however, held by some people that obscurity is an essentially poetical quality. In one thing we are entirely disposed to agree with Mr. Buchanan—in his condemnation of what he called “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” and his regret that a man of Mr. Swinburne’s poetical genius should have printed or written many things which he has printed. Nothing can be more justly reprobated, nothing in literature can call for sterner rebuke, than the desire in a poet “to reproduce” (to quote from Mr. Buchanan’s article) “the sensual mood,” and that with a careful “choice of epithet to convey mere animal sensations.” Shortly after a passage from Mr. Buchanan’s article directed against the pandering of poets to a vile taste had been read in Court, an extract from Mr. Buchanan’s verses entitled “White Rose and Red” was quoted. These verses, we learn from another part of the evidence, had been previously read with success before a duchess and other persons of distinction. Many people who read or heard the particular passage which Mr. Hawkins quoted will think that the works of Mr. Robert Buchanan might well have been included among those which were attacked for their evil tendencies in “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” And it is instructive to note in the report of the trial, that some ladies who were in Court left it very quickly “at periods when counsel were quoting copiously from Swinburne, Rossetti, Walt Whitman, and the plaintiff himself.”
All this about the Fleshly School, however, as far as the case of Buchanan v. Taylor is concerned, was, to use a legal phrase, mere matter of inducement. Mr. Swinburne appears not to have been stirred to speech by “The Session of the Poets”; and he would perhaps have pursued a more dignified and better advised course if he had made no reply to “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” One would have thought indeed that he might not have wished to draw yet more attention to certain works which were there mentioned. What is certain is, that he would have been less wanting in dignity and good taste if he had not written a letter headed “The Devil’s Due,” which appeared on December 11th last in the Examiner, of which paper Mr. Taylor is the proprietor. In this letter, and in an article which preceded it in the same paper, were contained the libels of which Mr. Buchanan complained. Both the article and the letter seem to have been written under a mistaken impression that Mr. Buchanan was the author of a book called Jonas Fisher, and the article stated that the book was said to be the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil. Mr. Buchanan appears to have thought that this conjunction of names was not complimentary, and he was wounded by the phrases applied to him in Mr. Swinburne’s letter. This was signed “Thomas Maitland,” the name which was put to Mr. Buchanan’s own article on “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” Mr. Justice Archibald observed that it was difficult to discover any meaning in certain parts of this letter, and it is indeed more than tolerably involved. It is, however, easy to understand such phrases as “multifaced idyllist of the gutter,” and to perceive the insinuation conveyed in the statement that “Thomas Maitland” was away on a cruise in his steam yacht the Skulk (Captain Shuffleton, master). Such names are hurled and such insinuations are directed at each other by schoolboys every day, and it is perhaps not harder to invent them than it is to say of a person against whom you have “a very strong literary ill-will,” that he jumped up with his neck stretched out like a gander, or that he was carried away tipsy (in a literary sense) in a cab. Whether such an exchange of vituperation, when carried on by two grown men, of whom one has followed literature as a profession for fifteen years, and the other has produced poetry of a very high, as well as some of a less desirable, order, is another question. It may also be doubted whether it is an act of wisdom, or shows due consideration for the dignity of the profession, for a writer to drag a squabble with another writer which has lasted some years, and contained much interchange of hard words, before the public, even for the sake of proving that by such hard words his character can be damaged. In the course of the trial the name of Walt Whitman, the so-called American poet, turned up; and we may gain some estimate of the value of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s criticism by being reminded that he said Walt Whitman was “in the highest sense a spiritual person. Every word he utters is symbolic. He is a colossal mystic.” In that case the fewer works by colossal mystics and spiritual persons the world sees in future the better it will be for the cause of decency. It may be also worth while to remember that when Mr. Buchanan some time ago appealed to the English public to aid Whitman in his distress, he proposed to carry out his plan by procuring an increased circulation for Whitman’s works.
The case of Buchanan v. Taylor resulted in damages of 1501. being awarded to Mr. Buchanan, who claimed 5,0001. Mr. Hawkins, counsel for the defendant, in the course of his speech observed that when Mr. Gladstone granted Mr. Buchanan a pension, he had perhaps not read various works of Mr. Buchanan’s to which reference was made. And perhaps the most curious things in the whole case are that Mr. Buchanan, a man in the flower of his age, apparently able-bodied, and, in the estimation of some people, notably of Mr. Buchanan, a poet of very considerable abilities, should find the support of public charity necessary for the development of his talents; and that a writer who, though he venerates Whitman, took upon himself to rebuke “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” should resent having something thrown back at him in return for what he has thrown at other writers.
The Illustrated London News (8 July, 1876 - p.18)
[The following was written by George Augustus Sala.]
ECHOES OF THE WEEK.
A sad, a truly sad, case has been that of “Buchanan versus P. A. Taylor, M.P.;” or, rather—seeing that the energetic member for Leicester and proprietor of the Examiner had no more to do with libelling Mr. Robert Buchanan than with maligning the Great Sea Serpent—the dolorous lawsuit of last week might more appropriately, perhaps, have been called “Buchanan v. Swinburne.” The trial was of a nature to make everybody miserable, “all round.” Although the plaintiff has got a verdict, with a hundred and fifty pounds damages (what are a hundred and fifty pounds?—the sum won’t buy a tolerably handsome pair of Sèvres vases, as the price of the china market goes), he must be fain to acknowledge, with Mr. J. L. Toole, in “Aladdin,” that “still he is not happy.” Mr. Swinburne cannot be very contented, since he has been roundly told by a learned Judge that he has written a quantity of poetry that had much better be put in the fire; Mr. P. A. Taylor has no very great reason to be pleased, for he has the damages and a swingeing bill of costs to pay; and even Mr. Justice Archibald (whose summing up was simply admirable) had a right, at one stage of the proceedings, to feel nettled, when a quotation from the poems of Mr. Buchanan was read out disparaging to Judges who wore white hats. Mr. Justice Archibald wears a white hat. To aggravate the general despondency arising from this ghastly business the Pall Mall Gazette came out, on the Monday following the trial, with a desperately dreary copy of verses, bantering both plaintiff and defendant, and which, I suppose, the editor and the author deemed to be funny. The dismal crambo brought tears into these old eyes, but the tears were neither of joy nor of hilarity.
I have a kindly remembrance of Mr. Robert Buchanan, since I believe that, as conductor of a magazine called Temple Bar, in 1861, I was instrumental in enabling him to make his first bow to a London audience. I have a most fervent admiration for the genius of Mr. Swinburne; and, quite apart from his poetic gifts, I venture to think that his “Under the Microscope” is one of the finest examples of English prose extant. I have read it through two or three times; but, until the trial of “Buchanan v. Taylor,” I had not the remotest idea of what Mr. Swinburne was aiming at; for I had never read “Thomas Maitland” on the “Fleshly School,” and the term “Fleshly School” itself presents to my mind, even now, no kind of definite idea. It seems, however, that the supposed demerits of that school warranted a wordy barrister in holding up to public odium in a court of justice not only Mr. Swinburne and a certain mysterious Mr. O’Shaughnessey, but likewise Mr. Morris, the author of the “Earthly Paradise”—the Ariosto of our age—and Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the wondrous painter of “Mary Magdalen at the House of Simon the Pharisee” and the author of a number of exquisite sonnets which, I should say, “Time will not willingly let die.” But the dismal case is at an end; and now, I hope, everybody will shake hands and be friends. Poets ought not to quarrel. There are too few of them; and if a bard were to be slain in a squabble, whatever should we do? Let us talk about something more pleasant.
. . .
Berrow’s Worcester Journal (8 July, 1876 - p.4)
There is an epidemic of actions for libel just now. Not only city financiers whose susceptibilities are most cruelly disregarded by the Hour, but people of quite another sort indulge in that misguided passion. Lord Byron made bitter merriness over broken hearts that could be healed with damages; what would he say to poets who could not be solaced in the same way for pungent criticisms? “British Bars and Scotch Reviewers” ought never to have been written; Jeffery ought to have been dragged before a “special jury;” Keats, instead of dying under the literary lash, should have retorted that his critic was a “drunkard, a cur, and a Caliban.” That is the modern way—at least, in this country. In America, the tweaking of noses or the application of a stout blackthorn, in France the interchange of shots, are methods resorted to by injured authors and others. Of course ours is a higher stage of civilisation, and the law of libel with all its meshes and pitfalls is set in motion against those who dare to shoot wrong-doing or “folly as it flies.” Have we so much to thank civilisation for in this respect? Those who think so should read the cause of Buchanan against Taylor, which has been determined within the last few days. Mr. Taylor is the member for Leicester, and has become possessed of the Examiner. When we say that it is all but Republican, and shares many of the silly crotchets of its proprietor, we say enough to show that we deplore its attributes, and turn with affection to the days of Fonblanque. Still, we cannot but admit that, compared with Mr. Buchanan’s style and works, the Examiner of to-day is watery and colourless, and for him to complain of freedom of comment is about as reasonable as it would be for Mr. Chamberlain to denounce want of politeness. He has won £150 by his suit, but we cannot believe he is satisfied with the indirect results. No public writer ever displayed greater licence of remark, and Mr. Swinburne might well meet him with a tu quoque and drag him before the same jury. If that were done the £150 would not go far. “The loves of the poets” is a well-known subject, but the “quarrels of the poets” are humiliating and pitiful beyond anything ever before witnessed. Mr. Robert Buchanan has determined for himself his own place in the world of letters, and illustrated his qualities of mind and soul. Fancy Byron, Shelley, or Keats “vindicating their character” in a court of law, and seeking a cross-examination at the lips of Mr. Hawkins!
The Era (9 July, 1876)
TOPICS OF THE WEEK.
. . .
THE literary dignity of Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN, which was supposed to have been so sorely wounded by ALGERNON SWINBURNE and other writers in The Examiner, is supposed to be healed by the award by a British Jury of £150. The awards by Juries in libel cases are the most curious in the whole range of legal history; but it becomes very like a farce when Judges and Jurymen solemnly put their heads together, and deliberately give their opinion on this or that poet, this or that dramatist, this or that journalist, or this or that writer. Now, in matters of law, all sensible people would gladly take the opinion of so eminent a Judge as Mr Justice ARCHIBALD with or without his white hat; in the matter of butter, cheese, soap, or tallow candles, the average British Jurymen could, no doubt, speak with confidence, but we have yet to learn that Mr Justice ARCHIBALD, or the Jury he directed, have shown the slightest familiarity with, or capacity for, literary criticism, or that their opinions on the rival merits of SWINBURNE and BUCHANAN have any value whatever. The question before the Court did not appear to be whether SWINBURNE or BUCHANAN were good or bad poets, moral or immoral writers, but whether BUCHANAN had or had not been libelled; in point of fact, whether the articles complained of exceeded the limits of fair criticism. The argument that SWINBURNE is not a genius, because he has written much which many people justly condemn, is as feeble as the implied idea that, because a man has once written a foolish thing, he is to be denied justice until the end of time.
The Examiner (12 August, 1876)
FROM OUR SPECIAL COMMISSIONER IN NEW GUINEA.
. . .
... Rumtifoo, as interpeter, advanced to the front, carrying with him, as presents for King Kolliwob, two knives, two Plimsoll medals in bright bronze, two oroide watch chains, and a second-hand copy of the collected works of Thomas Maitland and Walter Hutcheson. In adding valuable books to the presents customary on such occasions, I am, as the proprietors of the Examiner will recognise, only following the gracious example of our beloved Prince. ...
[The rest of this rather strange article is available on the ‘Fleshly School’ Libel Action - additional material page.]
From the Diary of Edmund Gosse
June 30th 1876.
I saw B. For the first time today in the Court of Common Pleas where the case “Examiner” x Buchanan was being tried. I heard the whole of Hawkins’ speech, B. Being opposite to me and rather close. Dobson was with me. We could not help remarking his appearance. A pale dissipated-looking man, with reddish-yellow hair, moustache & whiskers, attired in a dirty white waistcoat & loud trowsers, altogether shabby-genteel and anything but gentleman-like. He wriggled under Hawkins, alternately burying his face in his hands & glancing up at the ceiling. When Hawkins denounced Whitman, B. Laughed and shook his head; as soon as the reading of his own poems began he hurried out of court.
I hear that Buchanan is extremely cock-a-hoop at his gaining £150 and his case. It is said that at a party to-night he turned his back on Mrs. W. Black. Black & he have quarrelled. The party was at Gowing’s, the Editor of the “Gentleman’s Magazine.” Every one avoided B., and Malcolm Lawson sang one of Rossetti’s songs. B. professed to have never heard of it, “Oh! Is that by Rossetti?”
“Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said,
They answered with one voice, “Rossetti.”
Embarassed, shuffling, pale and red,
“Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said;
They laughed till they were nearly dead,–
This affectation seemed so petty.
“Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said,
They answered with one voice “Rossetti!”
5. 7. ’76.
W. B. Scott communicated the above-given triolet of mine to Rossetti, telling him at the same time the anecdote. He sent back the message “Give Gosse my love, and the triolet is great fun!”
March 30. 1878.
Buchanan has written to ask Dobson to write for “Light”, a new social paper he is editing. Dobson refused.
[Gosse, Sir Edmund, "Robert Buchanan" [2 pages of contemporary notes], 1876-1878, in: Original Manuscripts, John Alexander Symington Collection, MC 918, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.]
In ‘Volume IV: From the Age of Johnson to the Age of Tennyson’ of English Literature: An Illustrated Record (London: William Heinemann, 1903) by Edmund Gosse, the name of Robert Buchanan does not appear. In the section devoted to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the ‘Fleshly School’ controversy is described as follows:
“... the Poems were at last published. They created a sensation, and Rossetti took his place at once as one of the leading poets of the day. His undiluted satisfaction, however, lasted but a few months; towards the end of 1871 a writer of the day, under a false signature, attacked the poetry of Rossetti with extraordinary fury and some little wit. “These monstrous libels.” Rossetti wrote, “cause me great pain;” other attacks followed, the importance of which the poet vastly overrated.”
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