ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

Home
Biography
Bibliography

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

Essays
Reviews
Letters

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

Links
Site Diary
Site Search

THE ‘FLESHLY SCHOOL’ IN THE PRESS

 

The Examiner (7 October, 1871)

     Literary criticism is particularly abundant in the magazines this month. Blackwood gives nearly a third of its space to reviews of several English and American books. In the ‘Fortnightly’ Mr Sidney Colvin reviews at length Mr Browning’s ‘Balaustion’s Adventure.’ and the ‘Dark Blue’ has the first of a series of papers by Mr Dickenson West, on “Browning as a Preacher.” In the ‘Dark Blue’ there is also the first part of “A Study of Walt Whitman,” by Mr Roden Noel, who says:

     We did want some infusion of robuster and healthier blood among the pallid civilised brotherhood of our poets. If admirers arise who strive to imitate Whitman’s gait and form, they will probably make themselves ridiculous, puff themselves out and collapse; yet will he certainly give our jaded literature the prick and fillip that it needed. He, at any rate, is no closet-warbler, trilling delicately after the music of other singers, having merely a few thin thoughts and emotions only a quarter his own, and a clever aptitude for catching the tricks of another man’s manner.
     He bears, however, a marvellous resemblance ( I often think) to Oriental prophets. He is in manner of life, as well as in manner of thought, feeling, temperament, marvellously like a reincarnation over there in the West of that special principle of personality which has been so much more frequently manifested in the East—in Dervishes, for instance, and Sufis. He has so thoroughly assimilated Bible poetry on account of his profound personal identity with the writers of it. Yet is her very un-Hebrew after all. He is more Egyptian, Persian, Indian. Pantheist is he to the backbone; a nature worshipper, seeing God everywhere—God in all, even the meanest thing; bowing before good and evil as integral and correlative elements in the universal scheme of things, all going (as Hegel demonstrates) by the principle of identity in contraries. He is a desperate and shameless asserter of the sacredness of the flesh, the body, beauty of form and colour, and the fleshly instincts. This he is (let us freely admit and regret) wantonly, inartistically coarse in asserting; unutterably shocking, of course, to those who are unutterably shocked with nature for making us of flesh at all, and who hold that the only way to remedy her immodest mistake is to hush the fact up altogether.

     Mr Ruskin says in the new number of his Fors Clavigera, “There was an article—I believe it got in by mistake, but the editor, of course, won’t say so—in the ‘Contemporary Review,’ two months back, on Mr Morley’s Essays, by a Mr Buchanan, with an incidental page on Carlyle in it, unmatchable (to the length of my poor knowledge) for obliquitous platitude, in the mud-walks of literature.” Many will be disposed to say nearly the same of an article in this month’s ‘Contemporary,’ by a Mr Thomas Maitland, who commences a series of strictures on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” with seventeen pages about Mr Dante Rossetti. It opens thus, and the whole essay is in keeping with the first paragraph:

     If, on the occasion of any public performance of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, the actors who perform the parts of Rosencranz and Guildenstern were, by a preconcerted arrangement, and by means of what is technically known as “gagging,” to make themselves fully as prominent as the leading characters, and to indulge in soliloquies and business strictly belonging to Hamlet himself, the result would be, to say the least of it, astonishing; yet a very similar effect is produced on the unprejudiced mind when the “walking gentlemen” of the fleshly school of poetry, who bear precisely the same relation to Mr Tennyson as Rosencranz and Guildenstern do to the Prince of Denmark in the play, obtrude their lesser identities and parade their smaller idiosyncrasies in the front rank of leading performers. In their own place, the gentlemen are interesting and useful. Pursuing still the theatrical analogy, the present drama of poetry might be cast as follows: Mr Tennyson supporting the part of Hamlet, Mr Matthew Arnold that of Horatio, Mr Bailey that of Voltimand, Mr Buchanan that of Cornelius, Messrs Swinburne and Morris the parts of Rosencranz and Guildenstern, Mr Rossetti that of Osric, and Mr Robert Lytton that of “A Gentleman.”

___

 

The Morning Post (13 October, 1871 - p.2)

THE OCTOBER MAGAZINES.
_____

. . .

To members of “The Fleshly School of Poetry” we particularly commend the Contemporary Review, in which they will find themselves “noticed” to an extent even they, petted poets that they are, perhaps never dreamed of. But, instead of the fast and furious praise to which they have been accustomed, they will find criticism of a very different kind—criticism that shows up not so much their weak points as the mental garbage which disfigures all their writings and the uncleanliness which is the characteristic of their poetry. It is high time that these productions of “the Felshly School” were checked, for already they have sullied the history of 19th century literature to an extent that the sensational novelists of the period could never have done.

___

 

The Hampshire Advertiser (14 October, 1871 - p.7)

LITERATURE OF THE WEEK.
_____

THE MAGAZINES, &c.
___

     The Contemporary Review opens with a paper by the Rev. Principal Tulloch on “Benjamin Whichcote,” a Cambridge Professor under the Commonwealth, who exercised no little influence as a theologian in his day. Mr. Thomas Maitland severely criticises what he calls “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” the poet, who is the principal theme of his animadversion, being Mr. Rossetti. Admitting his talent, we think the estimate formed by the reviewer of Mr. Rossetti’s writings to be tolerably correct, what is beautiful in them being marred by morbid sentiment. “The Journeyman Engineer” (Thoms Wright) puts forth his views respecting the relationship of the people to political power, and the article is well worth thoughtful perusal, as an expression of working-class opinion on some of the great problems of the day. The remainder of the contents embrace essays of much merit on various topics of interest.

___

 

The Academy (15 October, 1871)

     A curious instance of the obsolete vituperative style in criticism appears in the October number of the Contemporary Review, a periodical happily less known for such eccentricities than for very respectable services in the field of latitudinarian Christianity. The paper in question, called “The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti,” by a Mr. Thomas Maitland, shows more acrimonious personal discourtesy, founded on more grotesque literary misapprehension than it would have been easy to suppose possible. Until the writer has learned to correct his manners he cannot expect a hearing for his opinions.

[Note: This was written by Sidney Colvin.]

___

 

Glasgow Herald (17 October, 1871)

THE MAGAZINES FOR OCTOBER.
_____

[SECOND NOTICE.]

     The Contemporary Review.—Among the most interesting articles of the present number is one on the “Prospects of the New German Reformation.” . . .
     “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” as represented by Mr D. G. Rossetti, receives a well-merited castigation in an article of which the following is the concluding passage:—
     “The great strong current of English poetry rolls on, ever mirroring in its bosom new prospects of fair and wholesome thought. Morbid deviations are endless and inevitable; there must be marsh and stagnant mere as well as mountain and wood. Glancing backward into the shady places of the obscure, we see the once prosperous nonsense-writers each now consigned to his own little limbo—Skelton and Gower still playing fantastic tricks with the mother-tongue; Gascoigne outlasting the applause of all, and living to see his own works buried before him; Silvester doomed to oblivion by his own fame as a translator; Carew the idol of Courts, and Donne the beloved of schoolmen, both buried in the same oblivion; the fantastic Fletchers winning the wonder of collegians, and fading out through sheer poetic impotence; Cowley shaking all England with his pindarics, and perishing with them; Waller, the famous, saved from oblivion by the natural note of one single song—and so on, through league after league of a flat and desolate country which once was prosperous, till we come again to these fantastic figures of the fleshly school, with their droll mediæval garments, their funny archaic speech, and the fatal marks of literary consumption in every pale and delicate visage. Our judgment on Mr. Rossetti, to whom we in the meantime confine our judgment, is substantially that of the North American Reviewer, who believes that ‘we have in him another poetical man, and a man markedly poetical, and of a kind apparently, though not radically, different from any of our secondary writers of poetry, but that we have not in him a new poet of any weight;’ and that he is ‘so  affected, sentimental, and painfully self-conscious, that the best to be done in his case is to hope that this book of his, having unpacked his bosom of so much that is unhealthy, may have done him more good than it has given others pleasure.’ Such, we say, is our opinion, which might very well be wrong, and have to undergo modification, if Mr. Rossetti was younger and less self-possessed. His ‘maturity’ is fatal.”
     Principal Tulloch contributes another sketch of the Broad Church divines of the Commonwealth period. “The People in Relation to Political Power and Opinion” is an artisan’s exposition of the opinions of his class. The remaining articles are—“What is Matter?” “The Burlesque and the Beautiful,” “Fraternity,” and “The Idea of God; its Genesis and Development.” The number is quite an average one.

___

 

The Guardian (13 December, 1871)

TABLE-TALK.

. . .

     A strongly worded controversy has been excited in several quarters by the discovery that the very trenchant criticism in a recent Contemporary Review on the “Fleshly School” in poetry was written by Mr. Robert Buchanan, under the pseudonym of “Thomas Maitland.” The most painful result of the discovery has been a letter in the Athenæum written by a well-known Art critic, in which the following among other sentences occurs:—“Say that you, a disinterested reader, came across, in a periodical adopting the rule of signature, a critical effort, which you feel at once to be reprehensibly tempered—what then?” To which we find ourselves replying “Why then—we should break our jaw, if we read any further.” The question at issue, putting aside this letter, which is unreadable, or, when read, incomprehensible, seems chiefly to turn on, whether or not it is allowed to a critic to mention his own works. But in the article on “Spiritualism” in the last Quarterly, Dr. Carpenter repeatedly mentions himself, and in one place, if we mistake not, betrays himself by an incautious use of pronouns; and we have some recollections of a passage in Vivian Grey in which the hero talks of the “elder D’Israeli.”

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (19 December, 1871)

     Two months ago a violent attack on some living poets, and especially on Mr. Dante Rossetti, appeared in the Contemporary Review. The article was entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” and signed “Thomas Maitland.” The public was therefore asked to accept it as the production of some unknown writer bearing that name. The Athenæum, however, informed its readers a fortnight since that Maitland was a nom de plume for Mr. Robert Buchanan, and by implication that a review which is in the habit of printing articles with authentic signatures had departed from its rule in producing this fierce onslaught of a poet upon his brethren of the craft. This charge has been met by the publishers in a brief note to the editor of the Athenæum, which sounds like a distinct denial of the statement. “You might,” they say, “with equal propriety, associate with the article the name of Mr. Robert Browning, or of Mr. Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert.” Unfortunately for Mr. Buchanan’s publishers, that gentleman, as if to stultify them, sends a letter at the same time on his own account, in which he owns that he did write “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” and adds that “the publisher is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression” of his name. Mr. Buchanan has never lacked boldness, and we are glad to see that, while confessing to the authorship of the article, he is able to add that he had nothing to do with the signature. We suppose, therefore, that he either did not see a proof sheet of the paper, or that the name of Thomas Maitland was accidentally substituted for his own after the proof had left his hands.

___

 

Birmingham Daily Post (20 December, 1871)

     A very pretty literary quarrel is being waged in the columns of the Athenæum. It began thus:—Two months ago a slashing, coarse, and in many respects vulgar, article appeared in the Contemporary Review, on the “Fleshly School of Poetry.” Like all the articles in this high-class magazine, the article was signed by the author, a Mr. “THOMAS MAITLAND.” It was a severe attack on Mr. D. ROSSETTI, not only as a poet and painter, but as a man;; and, it must be confessed, was quite unworthy of the Contemporary. It soon transpired that there was no such person as “THOMAS MAITLAND,” and it was openly stated that the real author was a rival poet—no other than Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN. Strange to say, in last Saturday’s Athenæum there appear two communications which, read in the light of each other, place Mr. BUCHANAN and the publishers of the Contemporary in a very awkward position. Messrs. STRAHAN and Co. write: “You might with equal propriety associate with the article ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ the name of Mr. ROBERT BROWNING, or of Mr. ROBERT LYTTON, or of any other Robert.” Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN himself writes: “I certainly wrote the article, but I had nothing to do with the signature. Mr. STRAHAN, publisher of the Contemporary Review, can corroborate me thus far, as he is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.”

___

 

Glasgow Herald (20 December, 1871)

A PRETTY quarrel is just now being performed on the literary stage. In a recent number, the Contemporary Review published an article entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” under which succulent designation was specially singled out for exposure and denunciation a volume of poems published some time ago from the hand of Mr Dante Rossetti. That volume attracted a great deal of attention, and a number of singularly favourable opinions were expressed by the ablest organs of criticism regarding it. Indeed, the critics could not have spoken more loudly if they had been paid twice for their labour, or if the poet had been their most excellent friend. But there was one person who could not conscientiously join this cry of triumph; so he wrote the article in the Contemporary, and signed himself “Thomas Maitland.” Now, this piece of work was undoubtedly a spicy performance, and some people went so far as to think that a second Daniel had actually come to judgment. But who was “Thomas Maitland?” For a time the answer was just “Thomas Maitland,” and nothing more, the proof being that the Contemporary Review had from the first adopted the principle of authenticating each article by the genuine signature of the writer. Still, as “Thomas Maitland” was a new name in criticism, many persons were anxious to know something about his personal identity. There were a few unusually shrewd persons who entertained doubts as to the genuineness of the name, and set themselves to study the style of “Maitland,” to see if they could discover whether he was the “true Thomas”—on the theory, we presume, that a critic may be known by his bite, as a dog is known by his bark. These investigators must have succeeded, for very soon it began to leak out that “Thomas Maitland” was an impostor, had stolen somebody’s article, and sent it to the publisher as if it were his own. It was naturally assumed that the Contemporary would not change its wholesome habit of letting each contributor receive the credit and glory of his own work. To whom, then, did the article on “The Fleshly School of Poetry” belong? Gossip replied, in its usual knowing whisper—“Mr Robert Buchanan, the Poet.” For a moment this announcement was received with blank amazement. It seemed difficult to believe that, in this singularly honest and humane age, one British Poet would assault another British Poet as fiercely as the article in question had assaulted Mr Rossetti. All the more difficult was it to credit the theory that Mr Buchanan could be the author of an article, in certain passages of which Mr Buchanan was himself rather favourably spoken of. Was Mr Buchanan not a modest man? Public opinion shook a dubious head; and it was quietly hinted that Mr Buchanan had once before, if not praised, at least reviewed, Mr Buchanan’s own poetry in one of his own essays. It was further insinuated that Mr Buchanan, in assailing Mr Rossetti, was simply repaying an old debt; for, it was asked, had not Mr Rossetti, in defending his friend Mr Swinburne from the onslaughts of Mr Buchanan, called Mr Buchanan by the most hateful of all names, a “poetaster?”
     These hints and whispers became at length quite unendurable; and it was a great relief when the inky battle entered upon a more authentic phase. A bit of gossip having crept into the Athenæum, to the effect that Mr Sidney Colvin was preparing an answer to “The Fleshly School of Poetry” article, Mr Colvin wrote denying the accuracy of the statement, and adding a few pungent remarks on the general question—on the fact that the Contemporary should have departed from its deliberately adopted system of open signature, and on the unseemly circumstance that Mr Buchanan should condescend to imitate the Fenians and shoot at Mr Rossetti, his fellow-singer, “from behind the shield of a putative Thomas Maitland.” The battle now waxed hotter and fiercer. In the last number of the Athenæum appear three letters—one from Mr Rossetti, one from Messrs Strahan, and one from Mr Buchanan himself. The latter two make each other look exceedingly awkward. One or the other of them ought certainly never to have been written. Regarding the authorship of the article on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” Messrs Strahan say that the Athenæum “might with equal propriety associate with the article the name of Mr Robert Browning, or of Mr Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert.” Whatever this was intended to mean, it certainly seems to mean either that Mr Buchanan was not the author of the article or that the Athenæum had no right to an opinion on the subject at all. The latter view is absurd, as it turns out the true “propriety” lay in associating Mr Buchanan’s name with the article, and it would have been highly improper to associate any other “Robert” with its authorship. In his letter, Mr Buchanan confesses himself to be the author, and lays the responsibility of the fictitious “Thomas Maitland” upon Mr Strahan. He says, at least, that he “had nothing to do with the signature,” and that Mr Strahan is “best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.” We can understand how the omission of Mr Buchanan’s name might be an inadvertence, but we cannot see how the suppression of it could be so, especially in connection with the fact that there could not possibly be any authority for affixing to the article a name which the real writer does not bear, and apparently did not intend to assume. It is not easy seeing how there could be any inadvertence in the matter.
     Mr Rossetti’s letter is a defence of his own poetry and poetic theories against the alleged misconceptions of Mr Buchanan. As the latter has resolved to republish his article separately, “with many additions, but no material alterations,” it may be as well to postpone anything like a discussion of the controversy until the article lies before us in its complete form. It may be permissible to say, however, that if Mr Rossetti writes fairly in his letter, as he seems to do, he undoubtedly convicts Mr Buchanan of something very like misunderstanding; unfair, because incomplete, quotation; and, therefore, of misrepresentation. Mr Rossetti says that “the primary accusation on which this writer [Mr Buchanan] grounds all the rest, seems to be that others and myself ‘extol fleshliness as the distinct and supreme end of poetic and pictorial art; aver that poetic expression is greater than poetic thought; and, by inference, that the body is greater than the soul, and sound superior to sense.’” “It is true,” adds Mr Rossetti, that “some fragmentary pretence at proof is put in here and there throughout the attack, and thus far an opportunity is given of contesting the assertion.” Mr Rossetti examines the “fragmentary pretence at proof” of the frightful accusation, and succeeds in showing, as we think, that Mr Buchanan, in doing what seems enormously less than justice to his brother poet, has perpetrated upon himself a wrong which, had any other person done it, would have galled him to madness. He exhibits himself as if he were actuated by very inferior motives—with no higher aim, apparently, than to damage the reputation of a Poet whose poems have been applauded by the acutest of modern critics. Indeed, Mr Buchanan, in that unfortunate article of his, looks like a person who is haunted by the suspicion that there exists a person who is probably greater than himself in his own domain. He accuses Mr Rossetti of plagiarism from various other poets, and, worst of all, from Mr Buchanan himself. This, however, is an impossibility, as Mr Rossetti declares that he has never read his assailant’s works. Mr Buchanan charges Mr Rossetti with “bad blood” and “insincerity;” and Mr Rossetti, in paying this back, says that “every word” on Mr Buchanan’s tongue (in this controversy) “is covert rancour, and every stroke from his pen perversion of truth.” These are stinging words; but Mr Rossetti puts his own name to them, and his address is well known in London.
     “Yet, after all,” adds Mr Rossetti, “there is nothing wonderful in the lengths to which a fretful poet-critic will carry such grudges as he may bear, while publisher and editor can both be found who are willing to consider such means admissible, even to the clear subversion of first professed tenets in the Review which they conduct.” It may be said for Mr Buchanan that he has a right to his opinions, such as they are. The public have a right to expect, however, that opinions so violent, and having the appearance of personal rancour, should not be shot in the dark, but in the open daylight of an honest signature. Plain people like ourselves, who have not been blessed with poetic inspiration, will naturally, and perhaps stupidly, be of opinion that had the article in the Contemporary been wholly fair and just, the name of the writer would not have been inadvertently suppressed. There is an air of scandal in the whole affair. It reminds one of the time, in the barbarous days of Pope, for instance, when poets were in the habit of attacking each other anonymously in pamphlets like so many masked assassins. let us hope that those evil times are really not about to return, and that the present outbreak of an old disease is due merely to a temporary aberration of temper and judgment.

___

 

The Week’s News (23 December, 1871)

“What People are Saying.”
_____

     Something very curious is to be found in the pages of last week’s Athenæum. It must be premised that the Contemporary Review is conducted on the principle of open signatures, that an article appeared in October, signed “Thomas Maitland,” criticising severely writers who “extol fleshliness as the distinct and supreme end of poetic and pictorial art.” The criticism was severe, and some of the authors have replied; but who is Mr. Maitland? The Athenæum manages to link Mr. Robert Buchanan’s name with the article, and, rather hastily, Messrs. Strahan and Co., the publishers, write, under date December 12, to the Athenæum, to ask how ever the editor came to associate the name of Mr. Robert Buchanan with the article entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry, by Thomas Maitland.” You might with equal propriety, say Messrs. Strahan and Co., associate with the article the name of Mr. Robert Browning, or of Mr. Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert. Alas! for the security of the nom de plume, Mr. Robert Buchanan himself wrote to the Athenæum on December 12:—“I certainly wrote the article on ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ but I had nothing to do with the signature,” and the Athenæum publishes both letters together, with a note to the effect that Mr. Buchanan’s letter is an edifying commentary on Messrs. Strahan’s, and that it may be only a matter of taste, but they prefer to know that an article is written by Mr. Buchanan when he praises his own poems. This is a little piece of mischief that people in the book world can hardly be expected to refrain from talking about.

___

 

The Sun & Central Press (23 December, 1871 - p.12)

     I have already alluded to the new chapter which has been added to “the quarrels of authors,” by two scarcely brother poets—Messrs. Buchanan and Rossetti. The quarrel has gone to pretty lengths, and shews no signs of abatement. One fact I may add to the story. Mr. Buchanan was engaged by Mr. Strahan to write a series of articles for the Contemporary and other magazines, some of them to be signed by the author himself, some to be published under other signatures lest there should be “too much Buchanan.” This article on “The Fleshly School” the writer desired to be anonymous, in order that if any challenge were made, the real authorship might the more readily be revealed. Mr. Strahan, knowing nothing of this intention, signed the article “Thomas Maitland,” and Mr. Buchanan, who lives at Oban, in Scotland, telegraphed too late to effect an alteration. A few weeks ago the secret oozed out, and then the war commenced. Mr. Buchanan’s opponents have some excuse for styling Mr. Buchanan’s the “stealthy school of poetry,” seeing that under the guise of an impartial critic he praised his own writings. The paper which provoked all this wrath has been reprinted with considerable extensions. In the additional passages the author dwells specially upon the prurient pictorial literature at present rampant in the country, and a notorious specimen of which was brought into the law courts yesterday by the Society for the Suppression of Vice.

___

 

The Examiner (3 February, 1872)

. . . In Tinsley Mr Farjeon, the author of ‘Joshua Marvel,’ begins a new novel, “London’s Heart,” and Mr Forman is hard upon Mr Robert Buchanan for his famous or infamous essay on “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” In St Paul’s Mr Buchanan patronises Dickens as “The Good Genie of Fiction,” and, much better reading, we have a continuation of Hawthorne’s posthumous romance “Septimius.”

___

 

The Era (4 February, 1872)

     TINSLEY’S FOR FEBRUARY is quite a brilliant number, having for the piece de resistance a new story called London’s Heart, by Mr. Farjeon, who writes a very lively story, somewhat in the Dickens school. Musical Recollections of the Last Half Century are full of interest; and, for a tale of adventure, The Red Dragon, by Mr. Grant, will assuredly be welcome. Mr. Forman breaks a lance with Mr. Robert Buchanan, in which that not very remarkable poet comes off second best. Mr. Buchanan should devote his time to better purpose than abusing more popular bards. Two or three very agreeable poems are to be found in this number, Under the Linden Trees being one. Fiorella, a waif, and Home, Sweet Home, are continued; and there is a lively paper on The Influence of Travel, by Mr. Henry Kingsley.

___

 

Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (11 February, 1872 - p.5)

MAGAZINES.
[SECOND NOTICE.]

. . .

     “London’s Heart” is the name of Mr. Farjeon’s new novel in Tinsley’s Magazine. The three chapters which form this month’s instalment are admirable studies of London poor life. We are sure our readers would appreciate Mr. Farjeon’s graphic description of the White Rose music-hall—but we have no room for quotation. James Grant’s spirited and inspiriting novel is progressing; and we find that the second part of that obvious translation, “Fiorella” is more un-English in style, even than the first. We have no possible objection to translations, except when they are unacknowledged. An article on “The ‘Fleshly School’ Scandal,” fully bears out our opinion, that Mr. Buchanan has done not only no good, but much harm, in prowling and raking about among what he considers the improprieties of modern poetry, and calling people’s attention in a loud voice to points which they would not otherwise have perceived. Henry Kingsley’s article on “The Influence of Travel” should be read on all sides. It is carefully written and is diverting, and embodies most sensible and intelligent unconventional views. Some of the poems are graceful, for instance, “Unrest,” and the “Modern Version of the Classics.”

___

 

The Derby Mercury (14 February, 1872)

MAGAZINES FOR FEBRUARY.
[THIRD NOTICE.]

Tinsley’s Magazine. No. LV., February. London: 18, Catherine-street, Strand.

. . .

Mr. Robert Buchanan has given great offence to a writer in Tinsley by certain criticisms on “The Fleshly School” of poetry as represented by Rossetti, Swinburne, and Morris. We think, however, that the criticism was fully justified, and that the Tinsley writer’s defence is very weak. The fault of Mr. Buchanan was that he did not accept the responsibility of his opinions in a magazine which adopts the plan of appending the writer’s signature to the various articles, but wrote under a nom de plume.

___

 

The Graphic (17 February, 1872)

THE FEBRUARY MAGAZINES.

. . .

     We have not till now read any of Mr. B. L. Farjeon’s novels, but we are bound to say, judging from the first instalment in Tinsley’s, that “London’s Heart” promises to be a very attractive story.

. . .

—Lastly, we note a severe castigation of Mr. Robert Buchanan for his article in the Contemporary of last October, on “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” Mr. Buchanan deserves sharp rebuke for masquerading under the apparently real name of “Thomas Maitland,” and for professing afterwards that the suppression of his own name was an “inadvertence.” Curiously enough the same number of the Athenæum which contained Mr. Buchanan’s confession, contained a letter from the publishers of the Contemporary, virtually denying that he was the author. But the reprehensible character of these shifts and evasions does not affect the question of the soundness of the critique on Mr. Rossetti’s poems. In spite of a great deal of exaggeration and needless personality, an impartial observer cannot but admit the general reasonableness of the pseudonymous critic’s complaints.

___

 

Glasgow Herald (29 May, 1872)

MR SWINBURNE.

                                                                                                                         Glasgow, 25th May, 1872.
     SIR,—In the criticism upon “Hillside Rhymes,” which appears in your issue of to-day, the Reviewer makes it a special commendation of that work that there is nothing in it which “would remind any reader of the efforts of Mr Swinburne.” This, if I mistake not, is by no means the first time that an attack has been made upon that poet in the columns of the Herald. Now, Sir, I am no unreasoning admirer of Mr Swinburne, but I must say that I think the outcry which has been made about the artificiality of his expression, and the so-called immorality of his sentiment, is a gigantic sham. The fact is, that as all his poems are dramatic (with the exception, perhaps, of some of his “Commune” verses), they may have appeared unreal and insincere. But has any critic found unreality or insincerity in Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics? I certainly have not. And if there be any difference in dramatic sincerity between his “Kentish Sir Byng” and the “Hymn to Proserpina” of Swinburne, it is by no means unfavourable to the minor poet. The sooner, then, that the critics cease to maltreat Mr Swinburne the better. The Herald at least should be very chary of making an attack upon him, which, if not so coarse, is at anyrate as unjust as that of Robert Buchanan.—I am, &c.,
                                                                                                                                                               R.

___

 

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin) (22 October, 1872)

LONDON GOSSIP.
_____

                                                                                                                                     London, Saturday.

...

     So much time has been devoted of late to the frivolous study of social politics that none has been left for the study of poetical human nature of which, nevertheless, the finest opportunity has been offered us. Some time ago Robert Buchanan, a poet of some little renown, undertook the castigation of some few men of letters who had attained to greater fame than he. It was what he was pleased to call the “fleshly school of poetry” that he was bent on crushing under-foot, and out of an odd kind of delicacy, and, perhaps, to ward off suspicion of his identity, he assumed the signature of Thomas Maitland. He began his strictures by that of the great Dante. So far no harm was done. Every modern scribbler of verses agrees in the opinion that Dante was nothing at all, totally undeserving of the immortality he has achieved, and, therefore, “Thomas Maitland” rather pleased than offended the poets of the day by the bitterness of his criticisms. But when it came to the same attack upon Swinburne and Rossetti, both of them passing rich in every illustration of wickedness, then the literary fray began in right good earnest. The mask was torn from Thomas Maitland’s face, and he became plain Robert Buchanan. No screaming farce, no drollery of burlesque, has ever furnished more amusement to the town than this strange quarrel. Ample proof is given that those whose hands are hardest in wielding the lash have still more tender skins when it is applied to their own backs. The poor country gentleman in whose garden once grew that famous mulberry tree supposed to have been planted by Shakspeare, had to bear with the most opprobrious epithets, such as “vulture-clawed” and “carrion-fed,” whereas the poor old gentleman who had probably never read Shakspeare, and very likely would not have thought much of him if he had, was simply annoyed at having his privacy broken in upon by the shoals of tourists from all parts of the world who came to clasp and weep and maunder around the tree which its own proprietor undervalued as being too old to bear fruit and too stunted to give shade. But the fine gentleman who bestowed these ignoble epithets cannot bear the smallest castigation himself, and stands up, stripped to the buff, dealing heavy bruisers right and left, merely because the one who is considered the head of the fleshly school is called a “clever monkey, who can squeak, scream, bite, munch, mumble—all but speak.” Thereupon the said clever “monkey” takes the “insect” Buchanan under a microscope, and examines and dissects him without mercy. Needless to say what name the insect bears in natural history, nor yet what fearful, what terrific, scalpel is used by the dissector.—Correspondent of Evening Telegraph.

_____

 

Back to The Fleshly School Controversy

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
Site Diary
Site Search