The Fleshly School Controversy
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Harriett Jay

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A ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ Timeline - continued











‘The Latest Development of Literary Poetry’ by W. J. Courthope appears in The Quarterly Review attacking Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris. Buchanan later includes an extensive quote from the section on Rossetti’s ‘Jenny’ in the pamphlet version of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’.

‘Among the Hebrides’ (Parts 1 - 3) - ‘by An Idle Voyager’ - and the poem, ‘The Last of the Hangmen’, published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.


13 January

The Graphic prints a dismissive review of Buchanan’s The Drama of Kings and follows it with a laudatory review of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives, which begins:
“St. Abe and his Seven Wives, a Tale of Salt Lake City” (Strahan and Co.) belongs to a very different class of poetry. The author has one advantage over Mr. Buchanan, that his muse deals in realism unmixed, and that nobody need be in any doubt as to what he means.”



The February issue of The Saint Pauls Magazine contains three important contributions from Buchanan. His essay on Dickens, ‘The “Good Genie” of Fiction’, and two of his most popular poems. His name appears under the essay, but ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’ is ‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’, and ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ is anonymous.

Tinsleys’ Magazine publishes an article, “The ‘Fleshly School’ Scandal” by “The Author of ‘Our Living Poets’” - Harry Buxton  Forman. A straightforward attack on Buchanan and defence of his friend, D. G. Rossetti. As Murray points out it includes the prophetic statement that due to the scandal Buchanan “has now gained for his name an unenviable notoriety that is likely to stick to him for the rest of his career”.

Second edition of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives advertised.

Another poem, ‘Supreme Love’ is by ‘John Banks’, the pseudonym under which Buchanan’s essay, ‘Wintering at Etrétat’, was published in The Argosy in 1866.

I think it is worth mentioning Buchanan’s contributions to The Saint Pauls Magazine since it shows that he is no longer the exile of Oban, brooding over his epic poems, he is now living in London, producing varied work to a deadline, and aware that he has a best-selling book of poetry (Saint Abe) and some degree of financial stability at last. This is the context in which he wrote the pamphlet version of ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’. I also find it interesting that ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ (the ultimate outsider seeking forgiveness and redemption) and ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’ (which, beneath the cowboy surface has a similar theme) were both published at this time.

24 February

The Saturday Review publishes an article, ‘Coterie Glory’, referring to the articles in The Quarterly Review and Tinsleys’ Magazine, and comparing the Pre-Raphaelite poets to the Della Cruscan school - “a little circle of mutual admiration contrived, by ingenious devices of criticism, to create in the outer world what for awhile looked like real fame.”

Buchanan also quoted from this article in his pamphlet version of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’.

This article has been attributed to Buchanan but it is very unlikely, despite the mention of the Della Cruscans (which figure in Buchanan’s ‘Faces on the Wall’ sonnet- sequence). Murray rejects the attribution and it is very doubtful that Buchanan would have written anything for The Saturday Review following their (admittedly very funny) demolition of The Drama of Kings.

27 February

Buchanan and family witness the Queen’s procession to St. Paul’s on the Thanksgiving Day for the Prince of Wales’s recovery.

Mentioned in Isabella Fyvie Mayo’s Recollections of Fifty Years. This seems to indicate that the whole Buchanan family had ‘wintered’ in London.


‘Tennyson’s Charm’ (which included more criticism of Rossetti and the ‘Fleshly School’) published in The Saint Pauls Magazine. This issue also included another poem, ‘Colonel Shark’, ‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’.


4 March

Buchanan writes to Browning enclosing a cutting from the article in Tinsleys’ Magazine which mentions Browning:
“It appears that the friends of Mr Rossetti, not content with every diabolical attempt to blacken my character, are diligently endeavouring to make out that I have tried to injure you ...
     Strahan’s use of a pseudonym was a blunder, tho’ honestly enough meant. The necessity for the flaying these men have recd is shown by their diabolical private conduct. Instead of taking their punishment like men, they are using every effort to blacken their critic.”

Buchanan writes another letter to Browning (dated ‘March’) responding to Browning’s reply to the one above:
     “I am delighted to hear you say what you do say, & have only to ask forgiveness for troubling you with a matter so contemptible. Of one thing I was certain: that these men would poison even your mind if they could.
     My pamphlet is just ready, & be its literary merit what it  may, I am convinced that it will do good— most good of all to the men criticised, perhaps even saving them from going headlong to Hell. You will see the whole matter there put in its perfect form of simple & unspoken truth, & you will moreover see other allusions to yourself. In this matter of the Fleshly School, I know every great-minded & honest man will stand on my side; and, come what may, a Snake is scotched effectually & his entire scheme ruined.
     In the whole
morale of the affair, I will only plead guilty to one instinct of recrimination. When these men, not content with outraging literature, violated the memory of the poor boy who went home from me twelve years ago to die, I made a religious vow to have no mercy; & I have had none. Thus far I have been revengeful. The main cause is nevertheless righteous & good.”














The ‘poor boy’ is, of course, David Gray and Buchanan is alluding to Swinburne’s mentioning him in his essay, ‘Matthew Arnold’s New Poems’, published in The Fortnightly Review in October, 1867. This letter does give some weight to Buchanan’s later claim that this was the fons et origo of the whole affair.


The April edition of The Saint Pauls Magazine contains the poems, ‘The Asrai’ (‘by Robert Buchanan’), ‘Seraphina Snowe’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’), ‘Mazzini’ (‘by B.’) and the essay, ‘Criticism as One of the Fine Arts’ (by ‘Walter Hutcheson’).

The pseudonym, ‘Walter Hutcheson’ was known to Sidney Colvin, and thus to D. G. Rossetti, and it does contain a couple of gibes at the ‘Fleshly School’:

“The Mutual Admiration School of Poetry is scarcely read out of London, and produces no impression whatever on the public; the fact being that sensualists and spooneys are not so common as some critics persist in telling us. Luckily, we say, criticism can only do mischief up to a certain point, and cannot do that mischief long. It may delay a reputation, but it cannot kill it. The public, in the long run, will have its own way, and choose its own favourite, and will choose according to the direct impression made by the favourite in question.”

And the following passage in a paragraph which was omitted when the essay was republished in Buchanan’s 1873 collection, Master-Spirits:

“We have lately had the spectacle of a group of drawing-room poets undertaking to blow the trumpet for each other till the world should ring again. And why not? There was no “editorial” deception. The thing was not criticism, but it was Fine Art, and everybody enjoyed the self-revelation of Mr. Swinburne as a man totally without perception of the meaning of words and the right measure of flattery, and the self-revelation of Mr. Swinburne’s friends as gentlemen gone mad with secret emotion-hatching. The knowledge so acquired is invaluable. We can hardly, in fact, grumble at any nonsense if it be signed, and if the signer shows us the sort of man he is.”


27 April

Sidney Colvin writes to D. G. Rossetti:
“the scoundrel Buchanan trumpeting himself in an ornamental cover designed by the author. Instantly I have set rods in pickle in the Fortnightly Review, Athenaeum, Saturday, Daily  News, and Pall Mall and there shall not be a whole bone left in the Buchanan-Maitland-Hutcheson skin”.



The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day (an extended version of the October, 1871 ‘Thomas Maitland’ article) published by Alexander Strahan.

‘Faces on the Wall’, a sequence of 12 sonnets, published in the The Saint Pauls Magazine. Also, ‘The Capture of Eureka Hart’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’ - an extract from White Rose and Red) and another essay from ‘Walter Hutcheson’, ‘Pity the Poor Drama!’


‘Novelties in Poetry and Criticism’ in the May issue of Fraser’s Magazine, discusses whether the new school of poetry (Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris) threatens the old school (Tennyson, Browning etc.) concluding that it does not.



The 1874 edition of The Poetical Works, Vol. 2, included a revised version of ‘Faces on the Wall’. The sonnet to Browning was omitted and the sonnet, ‘To The Della Cruscans’ was renamed ‘To Triflers’. This sonnet, especially in its original form, was obviously aimed at the poets of the ‘Fleshly School’.

Murray suggests D. G. Rossetti may have seen this as another attack, adding to his paranoia about a conspiracy forming against him.

2 May

Buchanan writes to Browning, enclosing a copy of The Saint Pauls Magazine (with ‘Faces on the Wall’ including the sonnet to Browning), and says he is leaving London.


3 May

W. M. Rossetti records in his diary that Swinburne has returned to writing Under the Microscope and “he has read [it] to Gabriel”, who “thinks it talented, but its tone somewhat exceptionable, as showing too intimate an acquaintance with the minutiae of the hostile writings”.


15 May

D. G. Rossetti has read Buchanan’s pamphlet and takes it to his brother. W. M. Rossetti writes in his diary:
“[Gabriel] seems sufficiently untroubled by it—save as regards one phrase on Page 1, ‘cowards’, which is intended to apply to him more than anyone else. As to this he had scribbled a denunciatory letter to be sent to Buchanan, which he showed  me. I advised him not to send it: indeed I consider that this word ‘cowards’ has, where it comes, almost as little meaning as relevancy, and cannot be understood to convey any substantial charge of want of courage, physical or even moral.”

The reference to cowards occurs in Buchanan’s Preface:

I have only one word to use concerning the attacks upon myself. They are the inventions of cowards, too spoilt with flattery to bear criticism, and too querulous and humorsome to perceive the real issues of the case.”

Later, in Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters W. M. Rossetti, writes:

Certain it is that, when the pamphlet-edition appeared (which was towards the middle of May 1872), with its greatly enhanced virus of imputation and suggestion, he received it in a spirit very different from that with which he had encountered the review-article, and had confuted it in The Stealthy School of Criticism. His fancies now ran away with him, and he thought that the pamphlet was a first symptom in a widespread conspiracy for crushing his fair fame as an artist and a man, and for hounding him out of honest society.”

18 May

‘Fleshing the Fleshly’ is published in The Echo.

The Rossetti brothers and Joseph Knight believed that this review of the ‘Fleshly School’ pamphlet was written by Buchanan. Murray agrees and offers evidence, including the fact that it “has recently been confirmed by Professor A. Q. Morton using modern stylometric analysis”.

I must admit I’m not sure about this at all. When I first read ‘Fleshing the Fleshly’ (thankfully appended to his essay by Murray) I didn’t see why Buchanan would write what is essentially an attack on himself and his pamphlet. The attribution by the Rossetti brothers can probably be disregarded since it seems that anything they didn’t like they blamed on Buchanan and there is no real evidence that he did write it. Murray’s case seems to hinge on the fact that Buchanan had mentioned himself in a deprecatory fashion in The Session of the Poets and the ‘Hamlet bit’ in the original ‘Fleshly School’ article, so writing a bad review of his own work would be an obvious next step. Given the number of bad reviews of Buchanan, how many then might have been written by Buchanan himself? The words ‘slippery’ and ‘slope’ spring to mind. On the other hand, Buchanan must have been in a rather playful mood at this time, evidenced by his riff on the ‘Leg-disease’ in the ‘Fleshly School’ pamphlet. Swimming in a sea of pseudonyms and anonymity in The Saint Pauls Magazine, what greater joke than to write a bad review of his own pamphlet and undermine all of his contentions, while at the same time having a few more swipes at Rossetti and Swinburne, and maybe even drumming up sales by hinting at the “absolutely filthy” things in the pamphlet. Buchanan, of course, could not write a good review of his own pamphlet, but a bad review? Or maybe the fact that this appeared in The Echo, a cheap newspaper for the masses, not in one of the literary journals (or, for that matter, The Saint Pauls Magazine) could just mean that the whole ‘Fleshly School’ affair was of no import whatever to the average man or woman, or the average journalist, and was, after all, just a bit of a joke.

Buchanan did have a connection with The Echo, but it was twenty years later when he wrote a series of pieces under the title ‘Latter-Day Leaves’. However, I think it worth noting that George Barnett Smith, who was on ‘puffing’ duty for Buchanan in November, 1873 with his article in The Contemporary Review, was from 1868 to 1876 on the editorial staff of The Echo. Perhaps he is a more likely candidate as the author of ‘Fleshing the Fleshly’.

21 May

W. M. Rossetti writes in his diary:
Gabriel came in the evening; somewhat perturbed by an article wh. (as he tells me) has appeared in the Echo, reviewing Buchanan’s book. Without exactly adopting B.’s views, it restates them with enhanced unpleasantness of phrase & says that, if Swinburne & Rossetti don’t take some notice of the attack, they must be “mere simulacra of humanity.” I strenuously urged G. to think & see as little of these matters as he can; & above all to take no steps at all in the matter – whether by writing anything for publicn., treating the attacks as libels, or otherwise. He tells me that [Ford Madox] Brown has drawn up a letter to the Editor of the Athenæum, with some view of sending it for publicn.: the gist of it being that the whole affair on B.’s part is a matter of personal spite, founded on my having called him (in the Criticism of Swinburne wh. I published in or about 1865) “a poor & pretentious poetaster.” I wd. myself much rather that Brown shd. not send this letter; 1st. because I consider it to be one more symptom of that camaraderie or coterie feeling wh. Buchanan in especial denounces, not without some reason, & as such impolitic; and 2nd. because it wd. tumble me willy nilly into the fray. However, rather than thwart G. in case he shd. finally favour Brown’s idea, with a view to his own part in the controversy, I said nothing about these counter considerns. – I incline to think (& so informed G.) that, if Swinburne makes up his mind to publish the pamphlet he has been engaged on – expressing some general critical views, & taking up Buchanan’s attack as well, but without saying anything directly or in detail about G. – this wd. be a good move: it wd. be the latest word in the dispute, & wd. give reviewers something to talk about more novel than Buchanan’s rechauffé, & at least as pungent. G. seems to agree in this opinion to some extent: he has himself enjoined Sw. to say little or nothing about G. himself.”


23 May

W. M. Rossetti writes in his diary:
Gabriel called again. He has been round to Swinburne’s, wishing to know what he mt. be doing with regard to his pamphlet; but learned that S. is again very unwell (thro’ the usual cause), & not capable of attending to any business. I had heard much the same yesterday from Solomon. ... G. understands that Sw.’s father is at present in Italy, where Sw. ought to be joining him soon.”

D. G. Rossetti writes to Ford Madox Brown:
     “I write this late from Wm’s & wouldn’t come to keep you up again. His calmness induces me to think that I probably may have been making too much of this matter.”


25 May

Sidney Colvin’s review of Buchanan’s pamphlet is published in The Athenæum.


27 May

W. M. Rossetti writes in his diary:
Brown called ... wishing more particularly to consult with me as to the Buchanan pamphlet. He was thinking of writing a letter to the Athenæum, vindicating Gabriel from attack, on general grounds: as I told him, it seems to me that these are the very arguments that ought to be put forward, not by personal friends, but by outsiders – while on the other hand I deprecate anything like a personal defence by friends, wh. wd. only the more go to confirm one of the more substantial heads of Buch’s attack – viz: that G., Swinburne, &c, hang together as a coterie for mutual support – Br. seemed to acquiesce in my views to a certain extent; tho’ he is evidently much displeased at what he regards as a dead set against all the artists and men of our connexion, & thinks that “something ought to be done” if they are not to be scouted out of society &c: all wh., in my opinion, goes  considery. beyond the real conditions of the case. Much serious talk about matters connected herewith. – Gabriel also called in the evg: he has not yet succeeded in seeing Swinburne, but learns that the latter is again about as usual. If Sw. resolves to produce his pamphlet, Ellis, it seems, is not willing to be the publisher: but he wd. put Sw. in the way of publishing with some one else. Brown does not (& as far as I can trace, never did) propose to write to the Athenæum to the effect referred to under 21 May.”

D. G. Rossetti writes to Joseph Knight:
“You may be sure that these monstrous libels—both the pamphlet and its press results—cause me great pain, but I have been in doubt what course to take till this evening, when it seems clear to me that I have the right to adopt a tone raising me above the question. I have no part in insult or violence, and cannot be involved because their atmosphere is raised around me.”



Third edition of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives advertised.


1 June

The Saturday Review publishes a review of Buchanan’s pamphlet.

The Saturday Review was one of the journals Sidney Colvin had claimed to have secured for a harsh criticism of Buchanan’s pamphlet but this was not the case and, although it criticised Buchanan for writing the pamphlet, it also agreed with some of his claims regarding the ‘Fleshly Poets’. Murray thus suggests the possibility that Buchanan may have written this one too, and that Rossetti may have thought the same, leading to his collapse the following day.

2 June

D. G. Rossetti suffers mental breakdown.

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters by William Michael Rossetti:

On 2 June 1872 I was with my brother all day at No. 16 Cheyne Walk. It was one of the most miserable days of my life, not to speak of his. From his wild way of talking—about conspiracies and what not—I was astounded to perceive that he was, past question, not entirely sane. ...
On that fatal 2 June, and for many days and months ensuing, I was compelled to regard my brother as partially insane, in the ordinary sense of that term. It was only after an interval of time, and as I had opportunity to compare and consider the opinions expressed by medical men and others well qualified to judge, that I came to the conclusion that he never had been and never became thus insane at all, but was on the contrary the victim of chloral, acting upon strained nerves, mental disquiet, and a highly excitable imagination—all these coupled with a grievous and fully justified sense of wrong. For many years past my conviction has been that hypochondria, consequent upon the over-dosing with chloral and alcohol—this, and not anything dependent upon constitutional unsoundness of mind—was the real secret of my brother’s frenzied collapse.”

5 June

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel (from ‘Yacht “Ariel”, Tobermory’):
“You will I know defend me from calumny, but as to broaching my little secret, tis not worth while. I set no value whatever on the good opinion of the men you allude to.”

Presumably the ‘little secret’ refers to Saint Abe and His Seven Wives.

7 June

D. G. Rossetti is taken to Dr. Hake’s home at Roehampton.


8 June

D. G. Rossetti attempts suicide.

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters by William Michael Rossetti:
Having go
ne to bed on the Saturday night, my brother heard (this was of course a further instance of absolute physical delusion) a voice which twice called out at him a term of gross and unbearable obloquy—I will not here repeat  it. He would endure no longer a persecution from which he perceived no escape. He laid his hand upon a bottle of laudanum which, unknown to us all, he had brought with him, swallowed its contents, and dropped the empty bottle into a drawer. Of course his intention was suicide; but it was a case in which suicide was prompted not only by generally morbid and fallacious ideas but by a real hallucination, and one therefore in which the constant verdict of “unsound mind” would have been both admissible and necessary. How he had obtained the laudanum I never knew. Maybe he had long had it about him as an opiate, even before he began the nightly course of chloral.”

W. M. Rossetti’s account of the ‘Fleshly School’ affair and its effect on his brother is available here.

W. E. Fredeman’s essay, ‘Prelude to the last decade: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Summer of 1872’, published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Part I: Vol. 53, Issue 1, pp. 75-121, Part II, Issue 2, pp. 272-328, 1971) gives a very detailed account of this period.


Swinburne’s attack on Buchanan, Under the Microscope, is published by D. White.
Reviewed in The Examiner, 6th July, 1872.

W. M. Rossetti tells Swinburne not to have any more contact with his brother.

In the July edition of The Saint Pauls Magazine:
The poem, ‘John Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado’ (Part 1) (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’) - which was never included in any of Buchanan’s later collections.
‘The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol: A Yachting Episode’ - ‘by An Idle Voyager’ - which would form part of Buchanan’s second novel, A Child of Nature.
And the essay, ‘The Laureate of the Nursery’.



From a footnote on page 484 of The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti Vol. 4 edited by William E. Fredeman:
‘According to Lang, the end of both contact and correspondence between them is marked by a letter from ACS, dated 5 Jul 72 (Lang 2: 421 & n1), responding to WMR’s request that he not try to meet DGR again. ACS protested, “no man can love his friend more than I love Gabriel,” but agreed to be “debarred.” Although social intercourse between them was never resumed, DGR in later years often sent friendly and even jocular greetings through WMR & TWD  to “The Bard” in Putney. ACS attended DGR’s funeral at WMR’s invitation (FLM 402).’


‘The Monkey and the Microscope’, Buchanan’s reply to Under the Microscope is published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.

The August edition also includes ‘St. Laurence and the Gnomes: A Northern Legend’ (‘by B.’) and ‘Birds of the Hebrides’.


‘John Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado’ (Part 2) (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’), ‘Prose and Verse’ (by ‘Walter Hutcheson’) and
‘The Ballad of the Wayfarer’ (by ‘T. M.’) published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.


After the September issue, Buchanan’s contributions to The Saint Pauls Magazine begin to tail off. ‘John Mardon’ is concluded in the October issue and Buchanan’s poem, ‘The Song of the Shealing’ is his only (anonymous) contribution to the November issue. In December The Contemporary Review publishes his essay on Bjornsterne Bjornson.

20 October

Swinburne complains about the lack of recognition for Under The Microscope to Joseph Knight:
     “How is it (if I may ask without impropriety) that you have never given the least notice of my ‘microscopic’ pamphlet? I was particularly anxious that some one should point out that it was not, as the scum of comic & other journals asserted, a reply to or an attack on that son of a Scotch bitch who was merely noticed at the end, but an essay on criticism embodying some of my most carefully thought & expressed opinions on some of the most important & most hotly debated poetical questions of the age. I confess its reception or rather non-reception has disappointed me.”


6 December

Swinburne writes to Theodore Watts, discounting the possibility of his being published by H. S. King, on the grounds that he has purchased Strahan’s stock and is planning to publish Buchanan’s Collected Works. Swinburne explains:
For example, in the very improbable case of the admission into the Fortnightly Review—the only periodical to which I occasionally contribute—of such a writer as Mr. Buchanan—if that be his name—I should at once protest against the disgrace of such fellowship by withdrawal of my own name form the list of contributors. This of course may be of very small moment to editors or publishers; but I think it would be well that all who do not desire to be partakers of such men’s disgrace should feel and show that they feel it a duty incumbent on them to discharge—as I do. No honourable man in the days of Johnson and Goldsmith would have taken in public or private the hand of Kenrick the libeller; no honourable man in the France of our own days would allow his name to be linked with that of Jacquot alias Mirecourt, the pseudonymous ‘biographer’ of his ‘contemporaries.’ The same rule ought surely to hold good among ourselves with regard to the same vermin.”


11 December

Theodore Watts replies to Swinburne:
As to “Buchanan’s poetry”, you have no more to do with that than you have to do with Hotten’s ocean of ineffable trash. And, with regard to the Contemporary Review, Strahan, & not Knowles (the editor) was answerable for the insertion of Buchanan’s libel. Strahan always exercised a dictatorship over that review, and B. being a brother Scot who had come to London <as ragged and lousy as himself> for the express purpose of pushing better men off their stools, nothing is more likely than that the “Maitland” article, never passed through Knowles’ hands at all. (Or rather, I have been told, I recollect, that Knowles strongly objected to it). Still, it appeared in the “Contemporary,” and I can understand your refusing to become at any time during Knowles’ editorship, a contributor to it, and if Buchanan instead of Knowles were the editor I could even conceive your refusing to have any business dealings with the man who published it. But B. is not the editor, and neither Mr King nor anyone else will, I should imagine, long continue to publish the “works” of the perpetrator of the “Drama of Kings.” It is impossible to conceive even a British public tolerating this Barnum of literature after that last astounding production. With regard to Buchanan himself I have always felt that clever as “Under the Microscope” was, you wronged yourself somewhat by throwing yourself into the attitude of antagonism towards such a very poor creature. I can fancy the delight of that superlative cad at finding himself in actual respectable warfare with the author of Atalanta. When a common bully throws down the glove before his superior it should not be picked up or noticed, save to be contemptuously trampled in the mire. Otherwise, we shall have all the bullies pitching their dirty gloves at our feet. All the Buchanans in Scotland could not injure you or Mr Rossetti by all the coarse calumnies they might choose to print – while dunces craving for fame can only live when genius consents to write a Dunciad.’


12 December

Swinburne to Watts:
     “With regard to my ‘Microscopic’ pamphlet you may be right in thinking that the touch of my hand—or foot—conferring as it did some distinction on the cur who received it, must have entailed upon myself some proportionate degradation; but I have ever since been trying to make my friends see ... that the outer satirical husk of that little essay is not the kernel of it; the serious part, to which the rest is but mere fringe and drapery, is in the body of the work and consists in the examination of certain critical questions of the day regarding Byron, Tennyson, and Whitman ... I confess also that I felt some satisfaction in administering to a scurrilous liar and coward such a public castigation (my father calls the pamphlet by the naval name of ‘the cat-o’-nine-tails’) as should make it next to impossible for the dog ever again to hold up his bemired head in sight of other dogs or men; but probably, as you say, the creature thrives upon such notice and feels all the better for having been compelled in public to swallow the lie direct and accept without attempting to rebut them the charges of slander, theft, mendacity and poltroonery. I think I may add that you are quite right in attributing the attention I gave (such as it was) to the matter, rather to my affection for a friend than to personal irritation. To me, who can truthfully say (though evidently the criticasters would rather die than believe or at least admit that they believe it) that no attack ever gave me a quarter of an hour’s vexation or deprived me of five minutes’ rest, it is simply incomprehensible and indeed somewhat provoking to find that others can suffer from the bite of such reptiles as have no sting for me; but (between ourselves) both from what I saw with real pain myself and yet more from what Brown told me I could not but recognize the deplorable truth that the vilest of living scribblers had power to inflict grave annoyance and serious suffering on one of the noblest and to me dearest among men and poets.”






The Great Snow’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’ - an extract from White Rose and Red) published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.


1 February

Buchanan writes to Alexander Strahan:
‘I enclose “Kitty Kemble” for next month’s St Pauls. It is quite new and very strong. “Poetry & the Drama” by “Walter Hutcheson” in a day or so; and a St “Abe”.
Can you let me have some cash to-day? Answer per Bearer.’

This letter (in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library) has the proof sheets for ‘Kitty Kemble’ attached. However, I’ve not yet found out when the poem was published and in which magazine. It certainly did not appear in The Saint Pauls Magazine in March 1873, or any subsequent editions. The same applies to the ‘Walter Hutcheson’ essay. The other ‘St. Abe’ could be ‘The Ship of Folly’ which was published in the February, 1874 issue of The Saint Pauls Magazine ‘by the author of White Rose and Red’ although by this time Buchanan’s authorship of the ‘American’ poems was widely known.

The final, regular, contribution of Buchanan to The Saint Pauls Magazine was another extract from White Rose and Red, ‘The Great Snow’ which was published in the February, 1873 issue. According to the Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demor (Academia Press, 2009):
“Henry Samuel King (1817-1878), a successful banker and India agent, began publishing books in 1871. A loan to Alexander Strahan led to King’s financial interest in a number of periodicals originally published by Strahan. These were the Contemporary Review, Good Words for the Young, and Saint Paul’s Magazine. For nearly two years (c. 1872-74), these periodicals were published under King’s imprint and his wholesale network handled their distribution.”

Volume X (January to June 1872) of The Saint Pauls Magazine has the Strahan imprint, Volume XI (July to December 1872) that of Henry S. King. Whatever the arrangement was between Strahan and Buchanan for the latter to provide copy for the magazine, it seems to have ended in February, 1873.

The letter was sent from 6, Wells Road, Regents Park, possibly indicating that Buchanan had spent the winter in London again.

28 February

After consulting doctors in London, Buchanan goes to Great Malvern, Worscestershire for hydropathic treatment at Holyrood House.

Jay includes several entries from her sister’s diary (the only time she does so) about the visit to Malvern. However she only mentions the day and month, not the year, which could cause confusion since there is an entry for 29th February (1872 was a leap year). Despite this, there is enough information about Buchanan’s whereabouts in the spring of 1872, and the mention of White Rose and Red, would confirm that the dates in Mary Buchanan’s diary refer to 1873.

12 March

Buchanan finishes White Rose and Red and posts it to London.


13 March

With no improvement in Buchanan’s health, Mary advises him to leave Malvern, and “a few days later” they return to London.


29 March

Buchanan’s symptoms persist and he decides to return to Malvern to try the hydropathic treatment again.

According to Jay this second visit to Malvern “lasted several weeks”. She also quotes from a letter to Roden Noel:
“It is awfully dull and damnably dear, in fact a perfect catarrh of cash. . . . I got a lighter heart directly I had seen Reynolds and Gulley, and they to some extent dissipated my greatest dread.”

4 June

Buchanan writes to Tennyson. The letter mentions Mary Buchanan having written to Tennyson, without her husband’s approval. Buchanan then returns to the subject of James Knowles:
     “As to Mr Knowles, neither you nor any one will hear me abuse him again, since you think him worthy. Perhaps my hot blood gets into my eyes & blinds me, & I daresay you are right. Only, you are surely unjust in attributing my hostility to his rejection & censure of my article on Goethe. I referred solely to these facts:
(1) that when I met him in your company he openly sympathised with my Fleshly Article; (2) that directly afterwards, secretly incensed agt me (I dont know why, except that he was jealous of my seeing you) he communicated with Mr Sydney Colvin & others, trying with all his might to shift all the responsibility upon me; (3) that his attitude throughout seemed “cowardly” & “malignant”; & (4)—but there, let that fly stick to the wall. I have been vilely used in this matter, & you can only know half the truth; but for your sake I will only believe “some one has blunder’d,” meaning no harm.
     Nothing in the affair pains me but the pain it may cause you. My obligations to you are great, but the affection I feel towards you—since I have seen you—is over & above all such thoughts. I hope therefore that you will understand me —
     If you stay long in the Isle of Wight I should like to see you some day. I’m not well enough yet to visit, but I might perhaps see you en passant. My doctor tells me to get sea-air, & I might be in your neighbourhood.”


1 July

Prefatory Note to Master-Spirits dated July 1, 1873, Great Malvern.



White Rose and Red: a love story published anonymously (“By The Author of ‘St. Abe.’”) in London by Strahan & Co. and in Boston by J. R. Osgood & Co.
Advertised in
The Times August 11, 1873.


21 August

A review of White Rose and Red in the New York Daily Tribune includes the following:
It is written by the “Author of St. Abe,” whoever that anonymous scribe may have been. Rumor has spoken of Robert Buchanan in connection with it, but I do not agree with rumor. The book seems to me the work of an American. No Englishman would have been so familiar with the spirit of the life in the “State of Maine”.


30 August

An advert for White Rose and Red in The Boston Daily Globe includes the following:
““This charming story in verse, rumored to be the work of Mr. Robert Buchanan ...”
Reviews in various American papers mention the rumour of Buchanan being the author.


1 September

Buchanan writes to John Chapman, publisher of The Westminster Review:
“I just send this line to remind you that the copy of “White Rose & Red” was sent to the Editor of the Westminster by mistake; it should have been addressed as what it is, a private copy to you. You will agree with me that it is hardly fair to submit any work of mine to a reviewer who, on your own admission, is personally hostile to me; and I must therefore beg you to suppress any review from his pen, as he is no doubt privately advised by this time of my responsibility for “White Rose & Red.” As a rule, I treat criticism favorable or otherwise with quiet contempt; but a critic who avows a prejudice has, you will agree, no right to be heard at all.”

The tone of this letter suggests that Buchanan had no intention at this point of revealing his authorship of Saint Abe and White Rose and Red. However, the rumours in the American reviews in August would suggest that the secret was out.


The review of White Rose and Red in The Westminster Review includes the following:
“And although the author of “St. Abe” is not an American, his poetry has a wonderful likeness to that of the new American school. We the countrymen of Tennyson, Swinburne, Morris, and Rossetti, whose lines are so fastidiously correct, not unnaturally resent the wilder music of the Backwoods.”


14 October

The following appeared in The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald (and presumably other provincial newspapers):
‘When “St. Abe and his Seven Wives” first appeared, it was attributed to Mr. Lowell; others saw the peculiar cleverness of Bret Harte. “Some parts of the poem,” it was thought, “must have been written by George Browning.” Mr. Buchanan, the real author, enjoyed these praises, for some of them came from papers which had been specially hard upon previous productions bearing his name. English authors are getting fond of these tricks, to the annoyance of the critics. ... “Saint Abe” was pronounced “thoroughly American,” but Mr. Buchanan is Scotch of the Scotch. His new poem, “White Rose and Red,” is dedicated to “Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardner, with all friends in Washington.” If the theory just alluded to be correct, the new poem will not be so successful as the old, for Mr. Buchanan’s name has long leaked out, and he is a hard hitter himself. His greatest triumph would have been some words of eulogy for the anonymous author of the Mormon composition, from Mr. Rosetti, but I have not heard that he can boast of as much.’


21 October

The review of White Rose and Red in The Pall Mall Gazette includes the following:
“Making all deductions, however, for these deficiencies in finish, the poem is a very fine piece of work; and its obvious veracity of delineation is the more remarkable because the writer is evidently not an American by birth.



‘Robert Buchanan’ by George Barnett Smith published in the Contemporary Review. An overly effusive article which ‘suggested’ that Buchanan was the author of Saint Abe and White Rose and Red:
The personal chord running through this poem, ‘White Rose and Red,’ we should have considered sufficient to identify it. Besides Tennyson and Browning, there is no other person except Mr. Buchanan whose work we could consider it to be, and there are insuperable aspects which would immediately forbid us associating the authorship with the Poet Laureate, or the writer of ‘Pippa Passes.’ We shall at some future day probably receive confirmation of the views just expressed from the (at present) unknown author of the work.”

This is almost certainly a ‘puff piece’ commissioned by Buchanan to increase his profile prior to the publication of his first collection of ‘Poetical Works’ which appeared three months later.

5 November

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel from Rossport, County Mayo, Ireland:
My work this year has been nil, & my pecuniary troubles distracting. Happy man! gifted with plenty & total literary ease! —Money matters are bad enough when one is well, but when one is ill—ah! ...
     This is a wild place, breeding wild moods. There is nothing but dead waste, squalor, & the Ocean— all one sombre tint of gray. But I am happier here than in England.”

The actual date of Buchanan’s move from Oban, further into exile on the west coast of Ireland is not known. The Jay biography is not helpful, placing the move in 1874. All one can say is that it occurred some time between July (when Buchanan was in Malvern) and November (the date of this letter to Roden Noel). Jay does go into some detail about their stay in Ireland, including extracts from several letters from Buchanan to William Canton, including the following:

“I came here for economy and just now, calculating up, I find it costs me as much as London, though we only live in a tiny cottage. There are so many Poor who must and will be assisted.”

26 November

Swinburne writes to Thomas Purnell:
     “Since I got your note asking for a “Stanza” for the Athenæum I have fallen in with one among my unpublished MS. which I send you. As a rule I do not care to send any verse to newspapers or magazine under £10 or £20, not finding it worth while, and not wishing to have my name hawked about like that of a Close, Buchanan, or any other hack rhymster; and I am not yet at all in good humour with the Athenæum for joining in the marked and utter neglect of a pamphlet which I see they now find convenient to quote and borrow from, and on which as a piece of critical prose, I value myself more than I usually do on any other improvisations in that line. But as the application comes through you I send what I have.
     I am in very great want of tin just now, having overdrawn my account by half a year’s allowance, and being overwhelmed by bills and dunning notes: particularly objectionable when one is £200 worse than penniless. ...
     I see with disgust that King of Cornhill, who I was told was reputable, announces an edition of R. Buchanan’s works! Faugh—it will be impossible for men of honour and character to publish with him afterwards.”



Master-Spirits, a collection of essays, published by Henry S. King.
The collection includes two essays previously published in
The Saint Pauls Magazine under the pseudonym, Walter Hutcheson. The sentence referring to “The Mutual Admiration School of Poetry” and the paragraph naming Swinburne are omitted from ‘Criticism as one of the Fine Arts’.

Buchanan’s omission of the passages in ‘Criticism as one of the Fine Arts’ could indicate an unwillingness to provoke a resumption of the ‘Fleshly School’ feud.





The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan in 3 volumes, published in London by Henry S. King & Co. Advertised in The Graphic February 4th.

The 3 volume edition is also published in Boston by James R. Osgood and Co.

Two further volumes of ‘Prose Works’ were also advertised, but were not published.

The 3 volume set of Poetical Works did not include Saint Abe, White Rose and Red, or any of the other poems “by the author of St. Abe” which had been published in 1872 in The Saint Pauls Magazine. However it does include ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ which had been published anonymously.


The first in a series of poems, ‘Eros Athanatos’ is published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

An advert for The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Examiner of 2nd May, declares:
“‘Eros Athanatos’, a very fine poem of 180 lines (of the ‘White Rose and Red’ Series), by Robert Buchanan will appear in the May Number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, being the first of a set of twelve important works by this Poet, to appear in consecutive numbers of the Magazine.”

3 June

A review of the June edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Nonconformist included the following:
‘In last month’s Gentleman’s, Mr. Robert Buchanan joined the “fleshly school” of poets. Yes; that terrific denunciator went over to his enemies bodily, and the “fleshly school” must have had a delicious feeling of being avenged.’


6 June

George Saintsbury’s review of Buchanan’s Poetical Works in The Academy of 6th June, concludes:
     “It is no light charge to bring against a poet, that he has forgotten entirely that he is, or ought to be, above all things an artist. But this is exactly what Mr. Robert Buchanan has done. In his hurry to be prophet, seer, politician, city missionary, and what not, he has neglected—in fact, he has wilfully despised— the art which nevertheless he professes. No doubt there is in his work plenty of that vague and delusive quality which is sometimes called power and sometimes promise. But in matters poetical, and above all in poems deliberately and systematically reproduced, we expect performance, not promise. With due study and due repression Mr. Buchanan might have turned out something not wholly worthless. But he has preferred, for some fifteen years, to clothe his crude thoughts in cruder language without hesitation or reflection, and now we fear that it will take more than his own immeasurable self-confidence, and more than the unintelligent laudations of certain critics, to make of him a great, or even a tolerable poet.”


3 August

A Madcap Prince produced at the Haymarket Theatre, London, starring Mrs. Kendal and Mr. Buckstone, for one performance on the final night of the season. It then tours the provinces, including Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Despite Mr. Buckstone’s announcement that it would open the Haymarket’s next season in October, this does not occur.

This marks Buchanan’s return to the theatre. Unfortunately the lack of a London run marks the play as a failure.

8 August

The review of A Madcap Prince in The Examiner concludes with the following:
“We are sorry we cannot speak more favourably of Mr Buchanan’s first attempt at dramatic writing, because he has shown himself wonderfully accommodating in his desire to achieve success. Not only has he relinquished all possibility of his again appearing in the lofty character of a
censor morum, and guardian of public decency; but in showing himself willing to gratify theatrical taste by repeating vulgar ridicule of the Puritans and vulgar glorification of the cavaliers, he has thrown suspicion upon the honesty of his somewhat blatant professions of advanced political views. In his eagerness to succeed as a playwright, he has sacrificed literary and political consistency, and he has not succeeded. He has signified his willingness to prostitute his talents, and has revealed the humiliating fact that in this particular line he has no talents to prostitute.”



‘The God-like Love’ published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.


7 October

A review of the October edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Nonconformist included the following:
‘And will Mr. Buchanan ever write again on the “Fleshly School” after sinning a second time, as he does this month, in “The God- like Love”? Nothing more “fleshly” was ever written than the stanzas on Danae.’

One of the effects of the ‘Fleshly School’ article and pamphlet was that Buchanan acquired a reputation as a defender of public morals. He denied the charge and I think that several of his poems written after the first stage of the affair, including White Rose and Red, The Asrai, Eros Athanatos and The God-like Love, were all attempts to counter this image. In an article about Buchanan published in The Echo of 20th October,  1890, the charge was made again:

“He is self-appointed public censor-in-chief of British morals, and has assumed the office of beadle towards all vagabond French writers whom he finds on these shores, placing them in the pillory of his detestation, and pelting them with all the hard and forceful names he learned during long and dreary terms as a poor scholar at Glasgow University.”

And Buchanan countered it in a letter to The Echo of 22nd October:

“I have only one fault to find with the very good-natured picture of myself in your Portrait Gallery (Monday last, Oct. 20), and the fault is that your contributor makes me far too virtuous. Unconsciously, and I am sure unwillingly, he echoes the clamour of a clique heard loudly ever since I criticised adversely the English followers of Gautier and Baudelaire, and branding me as a severe moralist (save the mark!) he leaves me in the society of Mr. Collette and the Vigilance Committee. I know how useless it is to protest—to point out that, so far from placing French writers “in the pillory of my detestation,” I have been among the first to welcome the strong men among them; that I have defended Zola against the diatribes of Mr. Howells and the damning apologies of Mr. Stevenson; that I have expressed my sympathy for all full-blooded writers from Chaucer to Byron, from Rabelais down to Paul de Koch; that I have upheld and defended both the “Kreutzer Sonata” on the bookstalls and the posters of Zæo on the hoardings; that I have, in a word, always disapproved of the public or private censorship of literature and literary morals. All is in vain. To have expressed my objection to certain emasculated forms of Art and Poetry is to be a Puritan, and unless I do something very desperate, I shall be classed as a Puritan all my life!”

He was right, and his reputation as a Victorian prude, or a dour Calvinist Scot, has survived despite all evidence to the contrary.

Late 1874

Towards the end of 1874 Buchanan begins writing novels, originally in collaboration with William Canton.

Chapter XVIII of the Jay biography includes several letters from Buchanan to Canton detailing this collaborative approach to novel-writing.


In the early months of 1875 Buchanan is still collaborating with Canton on The Shadow of the Sword, although he will eventually dissolve the partnership in May and will continue the novel on his own. Buchanan is also working on plays - trying to interest the American producer, Augustin Daly, in A Madcap Prince and his new play, Corinne. His association with The Gentleman’s Magazine continues and he also has essays published in The New Quarterly Magazine.



Chatto & Windus publish ‘The Poems and Minor Translations of George Chapman. With an Introduction by Algernon Charles Swinburne’ and ‘George Chapman. A Critical Essay. By A. C. Swinburne’:

The following passage occurs in Edmund Gosse’s review in The Examiner (20 February, 1875):
     “We refer the discreet reader somewhat diffidently to some Landorian passages of invective on pages 54, 55, and 71, entering, as we do, fully into the humour and spirit of them, withoiut being quite sure that in an essay of this kind they are either well-timed or specially effective.”

Swinburne’s veiled references to Buchanan are seen as the start of the second stage of the ‘Fleshly School’ Controversy.

Buchanan had been quiet on the ‘Fleshly School’ subject since his ‘Monkey and the Microscope’ response to Swinburne’s Under the Microscope in August, 1872. Swinburne’s attempts to smoke Buchanan out for a second round of the conflict are understandable considering the effect that the ‘Fleshly School’ affair had had on Rossetti’s health, and, on a more personal note, their friendship. Why they occurred in 1875, over two years later, I would suggest is the gradual revelation between the autumn of 1873 and the spring of 1874 that Buchanan had managed to fool everybody with the anonymous publication of Saint Abe and White Rose and Red, both of which had received almost universal praise.


Swinburne’s Essays and Studies published by Chatto & Windus. Advertised in The Times, 14 June, 1875. The essay, ‘Matthew Arnold’s New Poems’, now has a footnote relating to David Gray.

Another obvious attempt by Swinburne to get Buchanan’s attention.


Harriett Jay’s first novel, The Queen Of Connaught, published (anonymously) by Richard Bentley and Son. Advertised in The Pall Mall Gazette August 16, 1875.
Reviewed in
The Daily News September 3, 1875, where the reviewer assumed the anonymous author was male.

I mention this, not to detract from Harriett Jay’s abilities as a novelist, but since it is highly likely that it was a collaboration with Buchanan, it could be seen as another attempt by him to fool the critics, particularly when one considers the widespread rumour that it was the work of Charles Reade.


Jonas Fisher published anonymously.
Advertised in
The Examiner October 23, 1875.


20 November

Swinburne publishes the following poem in The Examiner, obviously aimed at Buchanan:

         “Epitaph on a Slanderer.

He whose heart and soul and tongue
Once above-ground stunk and stung,
Now less noisome than before,
Stinks here still, but stings no more.”

The final sentence of Swinburne’s Under The Microscope describes Buchanan in similar terms:
“But when once we have seen the fang, though innocuous, protrude from a mouth which would fain distil poison and can only distil froth, we need no revelation to assure us that the doom of the creature is to go upon its belly and eat dust all the days of its life.”

By a curious coincidence (one supposes), Swinburne’s poem is printed below a letter from Edward Maitland, which has the heading, “A Literary Dung-fly.”

27 November

Review of Jonas Fisher in The Examiner speculates that Buchanan is the author:
‘This anonymous poem is said by the “London Correspondents” to be the work either of Mr. Robert Buchanan or of the Devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double sided supposition, the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives.’


4 December

Buchanan states in the Athenæum that he is not the author of Jonas Fisher and has not even seen the poem.
Buchanan’s denial is also reported in The Examiner, the Manchester Times and the Glasgow Herald.


11 December

The Examiner prints a letter from Swinburne, under the title, ‘The Devil’s Due’, and signed by ‘Thomas Maitland’. Swinburne refers to Buchanan as “the polypseudonymous lyrist and libeller”, “the ‘multifaced’ idyllist of the gutter”, and repeats the charge that he reviews his own work. The letter ends with a parody of the letters from Strahan and Buchanan printed beneath ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’ in The Athenæum.

According to The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne by Thomas Hake and Arthur Compton- Rickett (London, 1918 - p.120):
“Concurrently with the appearance of Swinburne’s article in Minto’s journal, The Devil’s Due was printed in pamphlet form, but suppressed immediately, for rumours of legal proceedings against the proprietor of the Examiner soon began to leak out.” The 12 page pamphlet version of the letter is now accepted as a Thomas Wise forgery from 1896.

A ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ Timeline - continued (2)








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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