ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
THE FLESHLY SCHOOL CONTROVERSY
Other Accounts of the Fleshly School Controversy - 2
BUCHANAN’S ATTACK ON ROSSETTI.
On the publication of Rossetti’s “Poems” in 1870, their originality and power at once claimed general attention, and, as a natural consequence, the envy and detraction of rival poets, and the enemies of the school with which his name and fame were identified.
“Suppose that on the occasion of any public performance of Hamlet the actors who perform the parts of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, were by means of what is technically known as ‘gagging,’ to make themselves just as prominent as the leading character, 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 Rosencrantz 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.
It was this paragraph which betrayed the author of the article, for assuredly no one but Robert Williams Buchanan would have inserted the name of Buchanan amongst, and as one of, the leading poets; and, as the Athenæum remarked, when Mr. Buchanan accused 53 Rossetti of copying him, and classed himself above him as a poet, and along with Mr. Matthew Arnold, he was really singing his own praises over an assumed name.
“Mr. Sidney Colvin is, we believe, preparing to answer in the pages of the Contemporary Review, an article which lately appeared in that magazine entitled ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ by Thomas Maitland, a nom de plume assumed by Mr. Robert Buchanan.”
But the following week Mr. S. Colvin wrote to say that it was not his intention to attack the article in question, but that he would remain contented with having pointed out that in a magazine adopting the rule of signature to its articles, one had been admitted in which the author gratified his personal spite by attacking various other authors, delivering his cowardly thrust from behind the shield of an imaginary “Thomas Maitland.”
“In your last issue you associate the name of Mr. Robert Buchanan with the article, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ by Thomas Maitland. You might with equal propriety associate with the article the name of Mr. Robert Browning, or of Mr. Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert.”
But just below this very equivocal communication, was one from Mr. Buchanan, saying:—
“I certainly wrote the article on ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ but I had nothing to do with the signature. Mr. Strahan can corroborate me thus far, as he is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name. Permit me to say further, that, although I should have preferred not to resuscitate so slight a thing, I have now requested Mr. Strahan to republish the criticism, with many additions but no material alterations, and with my name on the title page.”
To which the editor of the Athenæum appended this note:—
“Mr. Buchanan’s letter is an edifying commentary on Messrs. Strahan’s. Messrs. Strahan apparently think that it is a matter of no importance whether signatures are correct or not, and that Mr. Browning had as much to do with the article as Mr. Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan seems equally indifferent, but he now claims the critique as his. It is a pity the publishers of the Contemporary Review should be in such uncertainty about the authorship of the articles in that magazine. It may be only a matter of taste, but 54 we prefer, if we are reading an article written by Mr. Buchanan, that it should be signed by him, especially when he praises his own poems; and that little ‘inadvertencies’ of this kind should not be left uncorrected till the public find them out.”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in the same number, wrote a crushing reply to Buchanan’s article, which he styles The Stealthy School of Criticism. He refers to the unfair nature of Mr. Buchanan’s attacks upon his poetry, and shows that by extracts taken apart from their contexts, his meanings were distorted and his ideas misrepresented; and that, in fact, Mr. Buchanan had, by his selections and suggestions, rendered impure that which was chaste, and even imported indecency where none was originally to be found.
“It would be humiliating, need one come to serious detail, to have to refute such an accusation as that of ‘binding oneself by solemn league and covenant to extol fleshliness as the distinct and supreme end of poetic and pictorial art.’ Indeed, what I have said already is substantially enough to refute it, even did I not feel sure that a fair balance of my poetry must, of itself, do so in the eyes of every candid reader. I say nothing of my pictures; but those who know them will laugh at the idea.
Notwithstanding the reproofs he had met with from the contemporary press, Mr. Buchanan persisted in reprinting his article, which was published in 1872 by Strahan & Co., in a pamphlet of ninety-seven pages, having been greatly enlarged by the addition of chapters violently attacking Swinburne and Beaudelaire, the French poet, from whose Fleurs du Mal, he accuses Swinburne of stealing many of his ideas, as he had previously accused Rossetti of stealing from himself!—Of course he also accuses Swinburne of fleshliness, and of even surpassing Beaudelaire in the sensualism of his art.
“JONAS FISHER: A POEM IN BROWN & WHITE,”
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.
IN 1875, Messrs. Trübner published an anonymous work entitled “Jonas Fisher, a poem in Brown and White,” which contained several passages strongly denouncing the so-called Fleshly School, and as Mr. Buchanan had already earned a notoriety for anonymously attacking rival poets, it seemed to some critics that this work might also be safely ascribed to his pen; the more especially as passages in it appeared to convey a meaning very similar to the sentiments already expressed by Buchanan in October, 1871, in the Contemporary Review, over the nom de plume of Thomas Maitland.
“It is not that our moderns lack
“That to make simple manifold,
“‘Well, Sir,’ said I, ‘I did not know 71
“‘I did not speak so much of that,’
“‘For (blameless held some noble names
“‘How pitiful, dear Sir,’ said I,
“‘Debase himself to play with dirt!
“‘I am not one of those who howl
“‘Nay, heart and soul, I do enjoy
“‘A man’s a man, not incense smoke
“‘Nor do I shudder over-much
“‘But what my very soul abhors, 72
“‘A sick, putrescent, dulcet lay,—
“‘Excuse me—do you think it right
The Examiner gave a criticism of this poem, in the course of which it said—
“This anonymous poem is said to be the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double-sided supposition, the weight of the probability inclines to the first of the alternatives. That the author, whichever he is, is a Scotchman, may be inferred from one or two incidental sneers at the characteristics of his countrymen. The worst things said about countries have been said by renegade natives. There are other and more specific circumstances which favour the report that Jonas Fisher is another of the aliases under which Mr. Buchanan is fond of challenging criticism, rather than one of the equally numerous disguises of the enemy.
A few days after this somewhat ponderous criticism, there was a long letter in The Examiner entitled “The Devil’s Due,” this was signed “Thomas Maitland,” the name over which, it will be remembered, Buchanan’s attack on the Fleshly School in the Contemporary Review had originally appeared.
“The writer being at present away from London on a cruise among the Philippine Islands in his steam yacht The Skulk (Captain Shuffleton, master), is, as can be proved on the oath or the solemn word of honour of the editor, publisher, and proprietor, responsible neither for an article which might with great foundation be attributed to Cardinal Manning or to Mr. Gladstone, or to any other writer in the Contemporary Review as its actual author; nor for the adoption of a signature under which his friends in general, acting not only without his knowledge, but against his expressed wishes on the subject, have thought it best and wisest to shelter his personal responsibility from any chance of attack. This frank, manly, and consistent explanation will, I cannot possibly doubt, make everything straight and safe on all hands.”
Mr. Buchanan wrote a complaint to The Examiner on the tone of this article, which it was afterwards admitted was written by Mr. Swinburne, who, it was said, was prepared to take the full responsibility. But Mr. Buchanan preferred to bring an action for libel against the proprietor of The Examiner, Mr. P. A. Taylor, M.P. for Leicester, who pleaded not guilty, and also set up the defence that the alleged libels were only fair criticisms upon the defendant’s works.
* I have recently been favoured with the following communication from the Earl of Southesk, explaining his position with regard to the trial arising from the criticisms on “Jonas Fisher”:—
75 Poets,” published in 1866. At that time he had never seen Mr. Swinburne, although in the poem he ridiculed his personal appearance and manner; and he stated generally that he lavished about as much abuse on Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Rossetti, and others of the “Fleshly School,” as he could put his pen to.
“Till with passionate sensation,
And another of a still more questionable kind from a poem entitled “The Nuptial Song,” which closes thus:—
“As freely as maids give a lock away,
Mr. Hawkins, Q.C., who appeared for the defence, said to the jury:—
“I shall ask you to consider whether the works of Mr. Buchanan have made for him that mark in the literature of his country as to entitle him to make the attacks he has made upon Rossetti and Swinburne. How does he begin? He produces the ‘Session of Poets,’ and introduces Mr. Swinburne. Here is a poem written in I866, in which Mr. Robert Buchanan 76 professes to bring together the leading British poets. There are a good many of them, but if you take in the first rank a round dozen it is saying a good deal, and Mr. Robert Buchanan immediately dots himself down in the first rank of the dozen, and no doubt in the ‘Session of Poets’ he could with much greater brilliancy have taken the chair at that literary assembly than Alfred Tennyson himself.
It was also contended that Mr. Buchanan had gravely transgressed the bounds of decorum in his personal attacks upon Mr. Swinburne, notably in the lines:—
“Up jumped, with his neck stretching out like a gander,
and further on, where he accuses him of being carried out of the meeting in a tipsy condition. Then, as the judge pointed out, Mr. Buchanan’s mode of criticising the poets of the “Fleshly School” was calculated to do more harm than good, he having availed himself of the opportunity to quote much that was lewd and reprehensible in the poems, and in fact, he added, he thought it a great pity the case had ever come into court, as it was not creditable to either party.
“Your reviewer may distrust my motives, he should at least be accurate in his descriptions of my performances. He accuses me, in the first place, of attacking my ‘old friends the fleshly poets.’ Who are the fleshly poets, so-called? If your reviewer refers to Mr. Swinburne, to Mr. Morris, to Mr. Rossetti, and to those whom I once classed as their disciples, I beg leave to re-assert (in addition to the disclaimer in my Preface) that my satire concerns not them, though it may, I suppose, have a certain retrospective application to writings which were merely a phase of their genius. Mr. Swinburne has long left the pastoral region shepherded by the impeccable Gautier; he has risen to heights of clear and beautiful purpose, where I gladly do homage to him. Mr. Morris may be passed by without a word; he needs no apology of mine. Mr. Rossetti, I freely admit now, never was a fleshly poet at all; never, at any rate, fed upon the poisonous honey of French art. Who, then, remains to complain of misinterpretation? If your reviewer had said that I satirized Gautier and his school of pseudo-aesthetics, and their possible pupils in this country, he would have been within his right.
This letter appeared in The Academy, July 1st, 1882.
80 “In perfect frankness, let me say a few words concerning our old quarrel. While admitting freely that my article in the Contemporary Review was unjust to Rossetti’s claims as a poet, I have ever held, and still hold, that it contained nothing to warrant the manner in which it was received by the poet and his circle.
Just a short time before his death Rossetti had heard of Buchanan’s retractation of the charges involved in the article on the “Fleshly School,” and was strangely touched by the pathetic dedication to him of Buchanan’s romance, God and the Man:—
TO AN OLD ENEMY.
I would have snatch’d a bay leaf from thy brow,
Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
In a later edition (after the death of Rossetti), the following verses were added to the dedication:—
TO DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI.
Calmly, thy royal robe of death around thee,
I never knew thee living, O my brother!
That Mr. Buchanan means well there can he no doubt; he, at least, is on the side of the angels; if he will be a little more tolerant of others, and learn to chafe less under the lash of the critics, he will win public opinion over to his side, and then he may defy the reviewers to do their worst. But of all things the British public most dislike a man with a grievance.
The period which immediately followed the appearance of the first volume, and its general acceptance by the critical organs and by the public, was perhaps the most serene, if not the happiest of Rossetti’s life. A new future, down the vistas of which he delighted to gaze, opened out before him, and dreams of new work in the same line at once shaped themselves in his brain. Mr. Ellis, his publisher, a close personal friend, had published the book on such terms as young authors seldom obtain. With pardonable enthusiasm, accordingly, he writes to Mr. Madox Brown, “Ellis tells me that he has sold out my first thousand, all but two hundred, and is going to press again at once, and so the two editions 139 at one quarter value of a twelve-shilling book, will bring me three hundred pounds in a few weeks. Not so bad for poetry, after all, even if the public find themselves glutted with the second thousand.” To Mr. James Anderson Rose, a close and constant friend, he writes, under the date May 19, 1870, concerning his book: “Its success has surprised me. A second thousand called for in less than ten days! Poetry is likely to prove no such bad trade in England before long.” Referring to the long ballad poem he contemplates, about a magic mirror which is a crystal ball, soon to take shape and appear as the noble poem known as “Rose Mary,” he says, “I wish one could live by writing poetry, I think I’d see painting d—d.” It is possible that a few months later when the storm burst, his views as to the relative pleasantness of the two forms of art might have been found to be changed.
“Advanc’d above pale envy’s threatening reach.”
140 At once like thunder from a clear sky, to use a hackneyed figure, came an attack before which the enchanted fabric of complacency fell to the ground. In The Contemporary Review for October, 1871, appeared an article signed Thomas Maitland, and headed “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” Into the origin of this curiously unprovoked and unjustifiable attack it is futile to inquire. Some of the minor minstrels with whom Rossetti had been more or less closely associated, resented the kind of recognition awarded the volume of “Poems,” all unlike that accorded their own works. In the “fierce light” with which Rossetti’s poems were surrounded, the flickering recognition they had themselves received could scarcely be seen. With hinted disapproval of the choice of subjects accordingly, they began to disparage the work, and hold aloof from the writer.
pp. 168, 171-173
OCTOBER of 1871 having begun and ended, all of us had returned to Cheyne Walk. D. G. R.’s vigour in all things, painting, poetry, and letter-writing—the tone of the latter showing a healthy elasticity—he had left never to find again. We recommenced our whist, sometimes with Boyce or Huffer, and sometimes by ourselves with our classical friend Quartus Tacitus, but the article in the Contemporary, referred to in his last letter, was to him like a slow poison, till at last he could not follow the game, and used to throw down his cards.
. . .
At last midsummer of 1872 was drawing on. A. B. [Alice Boyd] had left us for Penkill, and I was looking forward to following her. One day I had some friends to dinner; ten used to be my number, two or three times in the season before leaving town. On this particular day one of the friends was D. G. R.; we were loitering about the drawing- room waiting for the latest man, who was Gabriel himself. At last we heard a tremendous peal at the bell, and knocking, a great noise ascended the stair, and he burst in upon us, shouting out the name of Robert Buchanan, who, it appeared, he had discovered to be the writer of the article in the Contemporary Review which was so distracting him. He was too excited to observe or to care who were present, and all the evening he continued unable to contain himself, or to avoid shouting out the name of his enemy. I was glad when the sitting came to an end, and one after another left with a private word of inquiry regarding Rossetti. From this time he occupied himself in composing a long reply, which he read over a hundred times, till the lives of his friends became too heavy to bear. But in a very few weeks the crisis came.
The Bookman (New York) (August, 1901 - p.524-526)
Buchanan and Rossetti.
Considering the violence of the personal attacks which the late Robert Buchanan, whose death was noted in the last number of THE BOOKMAN, was in the habit of making upon his literary contemporaries, the kindly notices which his death has called forth in England are little short of remarkable. Possibly this is due to the fact that of recent years he was pitied rather than feared, and because almost all the bitterness of the old sting had died away. At any rate we have seen but one English estimate of Buchanan which has done more than mention gthe notorious attack on Rossetti. The writer of the estimate in question does not sign his name, and in consequence we feel justified in saying only that he holds a very prominent and unique place among English critics. He utterly flouts the generally accepted idea that Buchanan had unusual troubles to face in his literary career. Never, he says, had a young man better prospects and better friends. To Alexander Strahan, his publisher, he owed much, and very much. This at one time he was not ashamed to confess. He made his own troubles, for he was his own enemy; and probably the growing mental unrest of his mind, an unrest which showed itself more and more distinctly as he went on writing criticisms, helped to make him the man he became. He held his ground, however, as a person to be reckoned with until, in 1871, he published his famous attack on Rossetti, entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” It is impossible to doubt, though it is hard to believe, that this article saddened the rest of Rossetti’s life. The testimony is too strong for anyone to contest it. What has not been recognised is that the article completely ruined Buchanan. It made him a confirmed mutineer. It is wonderful that he should have fought his battle with the world through thirty long years, but somehow he did it.
The article in itself was insignificant to the last degree. Whatever may be the fate of Buchanan’s poetry there can be no doubt that his prose is dead. Indeed, it hardly ever lived. He had much ability; but, on the whole, it was bold, brazen, careless, bumptious, spiteful, while often it descended to the merest twaddle. Buchanan had something of a case against Rossetti, but he did not know how to put it. Nor was he a man entitled to pose as a moralist. In a later libel case the judge said, very truly, that the attack upon the Fleshly School was couched essentially in a fleshly tone. The circumstances of the publication were eminently discreditable. The paper was published in the Contemporary under the signature “Thomas Maitland.” Shortly after its appearance, the Athenæum announced that Mr. Sidney Colvin was preparing to answer it, and revealed the author’s name. Mr. Sidney Colvin made a stinging answer. He had no intention of replying. There was “nothing instructive about these strictures except their authorship.” “Among singularities of the pages in question you have observed the name of Mr. Robert Buchanan among somewhat more familiar names introduced for damaging comparison with the objects of attack. You learn, to your edification, that the same Mr. Buchanan is himself the author of this spirited performance, only he has been too modest to acknowledge it, and has had the happy thought of delivering his thrust from behind the shield of a putative Thomas Maitland. Still, what then? Do you prepare an answer? Rather you stand off, acknowledging it out of your power to accost Mr. Maitland-Buchanan on equal terms. You admire his ingenious adaptation of the machinery of candour to the purposes of disguise. You inwardly congratulate a pertinacious poet and critic on having at last done something which your friends may quote concerning him, and you feel that his achievement need only be known to be appreciated.” Buchanan wrote: “I cannot reply to the insolence of ‘Mr. Sidney Colvin,’ whoever he is,” and declared that he wrote the article, but had nothing to do with the signature. He appealed to the publisher of the Contemporary to corroborate him, “as he is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.” Unfortunately the publisher of the Contemporary had written to say: “You associate the name of Mr. Robert Buchanan with the article ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ by Thomas Maitland in a recent number of the Contemporary Review. You might, with equal propriety, associate with the article the name of Mr. Robert Browning, or of Mr. Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert.” Rossetti had a long reply entitled “The Stealthy School of Criticism,” which is republished in his collected works. It turned out that Buchanan’s name was suppressed by the publisher, not through an inadvertence, but through his own expressed motion and desire, urgently reiterated. Later on, the article was republished, with additions, in a pamphlet, on the wrapper of which appeared “A Catalogue of Baneful Flowers from the Whip for White Wantons.” It was years before the passions aroused by this struggle subsided, and in 1876 they culminated in an action brought by Buchanan for libel against the Examiner. He obtained damages, but paid for them very dearly. After that he never recovered any real position. He wrote much—plays, criticisms, novels, verses, and obtained occasional successes. His native brilliancy and force never quite deserted him. Until very near the end there was some market for his wares. But he did nothing to redeem his early promise, and though he was ever ready for a fight few cared to fight with him. It was not because his antagonists were afraid of him, not exactly because they despised him; it was because they pitied him.
It would be worse than idle to enter at this time of day upon the painful subject of the “Buchanan affair.” Indeed, I have often thought it is a great pity that it is not allowed to die out. The only reason why it is still kept alive seems to be that, without discussing it, it is impossible fully to understand Rossetti’s nervous illness, about which so much has been said. I remember seeing in Mr. Watts-Dunton’s essay on Congreve in ‘Chambers’s Encyclopædia’ a definition of envy as the ‘literary leprosy.’ This phrase has often been quoted in reference 146 to the case of Buchanan, and also in reference to a recent and much more ghastly case between two intimate friends. Now, with all deference to Mr. Watts- Dunton, I cannot accept it as a right and fair definition. It is a fact no doubt that the struggle in the world of art—whether poetry, music, painting, sculpture, or the drama—is unlike that of the mere strivers after wealth and position, inasmuch as to praise one man’s artistic work is in a certain way to set it up against the work of another. Still, one can realize, without referring to Disraeli’s ‘Curiosities of Literature,’ that envy is much too vigorous in the artistic life. Now, whatever may have been the good qualities of Buchanan—and I know he had many good qualities—it seems unfortunately to be true that he was afflicted with this terrible disease of envy. There can be no question that what incited him to write the notorious article in the ‘Contemporary Review’ entitled ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ was simply envy—envy and nothing else. It was during the time that Rossetti was suffering most dreadfully from the mental disturbance which seems really to have originated in this attack and the cognate attacks which appeared in certain other magazines, that the intimacy between Mr. Watts-Dunton and Rossetti was formed and cemented. And it is to this period that Mr. William Rossetti alludes in the following words: “‘Watts is a hero of friendship’ was, according to Mr. Caine, one of my brother’s last utterances, easy enough to be credited.”
‘MR. W. H.’
To sing the nation’s song or do the deed
But if the fates withhold the joy from me
Enough for me who have our Shakspeare’s love
It seems to me to be needful to bear in mind these lines, and the extremely close intimacy between these two poet- friends in order to be able to forgive entirely the unexampled scourging of Buchanan in the following sonnet if, as some writers think, Buchanan was meant:—
THE OCTOPUS OF THE GOLDEN ISLES
‘WHAT! WILL THEY EVEN STRIKE AT ME?’
Round many an Isle of Song, in seas serene,
“And canst thou strike ev’n me?” the swimmer said, 149
Here we get something quite new in satire—something in which poetry, fancy, hatred, and contempt, are mingled. The sonnet appeared first in the ‘Athenæum,’ and afterwards in ‘The Coming of Love.’ If Buchanan or any special individual was meant, I doubt whether any man has a moral right to speak about another man in such terms as these.
Throughout her short married life Mrs. Rossetti was never free from sickness, though her state was never so alarming as just before her marriage. On May 2, 1861, she was delivered of a stillborn female child, but she appears to have made a tolerably rapid and satisfactory recovery from her confinement. But, in addition to the phthisis, she suffered terribly from acute neuralgia, for which she was continually obliged to have recourse to laudanum or some other opiate, and this habit led the way to the final tragedy. On February 10, 1862, Mr. and Mrs. Rossetti and Mr. Swinburne dined together at the Sablonière Restaurant in Leicester Square, after which Mrs. Rossetti, who appeared as well as usual, returned home with her husband. Dante Gabriel saw her to bed, and then went out to his class at the Working Men’s College. He returned home some time after eleven and found his wife insensible, and on the table at her bedside an empty phial which had contained laudanum. Four doctors were called in, but in spite of their endeavours she never recovered consciousness, and died about half-past seven in the morning. These are the facts, according to the best authorities, of a fatality which has given rise to so much discussion and unfounded surmise. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Mrs. Rossetti ever had a thought of self-destruction, or that her husband had anything with which justly to reproach himself. All reports tending towards such conclusions are the baseless fabrications of mean and malignant minds.
Severe as the blow undoubtedly was, it is incorrect to suppose that Rossetti was plunged into unrelieved gloom after his wife’s death. He was not so weak in character or so devoid of interests in life as to give way to futile moping over the past. Speaking of the family and friendly parties which used to assemble at Tudor House, his sister Christina, in a magazine article published after her brother’s death, wrote: ‘Gloom and eccentricity, such as have been alleged, were, at any rate, not the sole characteristics of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. When he chose he became the sunshine of his circle, and he frequently chose so to be. His ready wit and fun amused us; his good-nature and kindness of heart endeared him to us.’
At length their long kiss severed with sweet smart;
It would be more pertinent, perhaps, to condemn the excessive use of sibilants in this sonnet; but unjust as it is to label these lines as ‘shameless’ and ‘sickening,’ it is true that their voluptuousness is distasteful to many readers whose minds are steadied by the cooler blood of the north. It is not always easy to say where sensuousness ends and sensuality begins, and Rossetti at times hovers on the border line. To most British readers there is an ugly sound in lovers ‘fawning on each other,’ ‘munching necks with kisses,’ ‘gripping and lipping limbs,’ and the occurrence in these poems of such suspicious phrases lent colour to Buchanan’s accusation.
When winds do roar, and rains do pour,
To the more serious accusations brought against him, Rossetti wrote a temperate reply, entitled ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism,’ which appeared in the ‘Athenæum’ over his signature. But this reply only rekindled Buchanan’s ire, and early in 1872 he republished as a pamphlet his attack, now extended and more violently denunciatory than before, and bearing his rightful signature. After Rossetti’s death, Buchanan confessed his injustice when he ‘impugned the purity and misconceived the passion of writings too hurriedly read’; and before that he had made some amends by dedicating to Rossetti as ‘To an Old Enemy’ his dramatic novel ‘God and the Man,’ in the lines:—
I would have snatch’d a bay leaf from thy brow,
But the evil was done and irreparable. Predisposed to melancholy and suspicion by continual chloral dosing, Rossetti viewed this repeated attack as the sign of a widespread conspiracy to hound him out of society, and from this delusion he never afterwards recovered. Old friends were suspected of hostility and innocent pleasantry interpreted as studied insult. The closing lines of ‘Fifine at the Fair ‘ were construed into a veiled attack, and Browning was expunged from the list of his friends; Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark’ was conceived by his deluded brain to be a satire on himself. At last his brother, calling on him at 16 Cheyne Walk, on June 2, 1872, found that Rossetti was ‘past question, not entirely sane.’ On this day Rossetti completed the sale of The Bower Meadow for £735, and when Mr. Lefèvre called for the picture, the artist, in a high state of nervous excitement, suggested that if he did not consider it good value for the money the agreement might still be cancelled. When Dr. Maudsley was called in, Rossetti, according to his brother, ‘even went so far as to say that he was probably no doctor, but some one foisted upon himself for a sinister purpose.’ Other medical men were consulted, and it was agreed that complete cessation from all work and excitement was imperative, and since change and care were equally desirable, on the Friday (June 7) Rossetti was induced to leave Cheyne Walk and stay with his friend, Dr. Gordon Hake, at Roehampton. His mental state gave cause for great uneasiness; a number of gipsy vans seen on the Saturday was viewed by Rossetti as a disparaging demonstration, and he imagined he heard mysterious voices insulting him. This last delusion became so unbearable, that on the Saturday night he swallowed the contents of a bottle of laudanum which he had contrived to bring with him and hide from his friends. For hours Rossetti’s life was despaired of, but, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Dr. Hake and Mr. Marshall, he regained conciousness on the Monday.
IN 1870 Rossetti published his first volume of original poems. He was then and continued till his death the tenant of the house in Cheyne Walk; but he had tired of the habit of lavish purchasings to fill it, and a great deal of the brilliant joyousness was going out of his life. It was primarily a matter of ill-health; he suffered from insomnia and his eyesight was seemingly failing altogether. The ill-health, of course, arose from his mode of living, which was self-indulgent and irregular; he sat up very late at nights and in no way “took care of” himself. He had no essential feeling of the value of exercise. He “spent” his life in fact with no idea of husbanding it. Probably he saw no reason for so doing. Inevitably enough he had to pay the price and the price was a very heavy one.
ONE ASPECT OF THE MANY-SIDEDNESS OF
I HAVE often been asked by those who did not know Theodore Watts-Dunton what was the secret of the singular power he appeared to exercise over others and the equally singular affection in which he was held by his friends.
“Mr. Murray quotes evidently with appreciation Buchanan’s tribute to his ancient enemy Rossetti, I do not share Mr. Murray’s appreciation, for Buchanan’s tribute has always seemed to me more creditable to his generosity than to his judgment. He speaks of Rossetti as ‘in many respects the least carnal and most religious of modern poets.’
To An Old Enemy
I would have snatched a bay-leaf from thy brow,
Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
“After Rossetti’s death, ten months later, Buchanan added the following lines:
Calmly, thy royal robe of Death around thee,
I never saw thee living, oh, my brother,
“That this is very beautiful every one will admit, but is it true to picture those who most loved Rossetti as placing Buchanan’s lily of song in his dead hand? I think not. Nor can those who know anything of the last days of Rossetti reconcile the facts 118 with Buchanan’s imaginary picture of a sort of celestial assignation in which, by means of a lily, Rossetti and his ancient enemy and brother poet shall identify each other on the Last Day?
I knew not if to laugh or weep:
‘Here is the book wherein he read,
I sat and sat, I did not stir; 120
They talked and talked; like to a stone
“Buchanan was, as every poet is, a creature of mood, and in certain black moods he expressed himself in language that was open to an atheistic interpretation. There were times when he was confronted by the fact that, to human seeming, iniquity prospered, righteousness went to the wall, and injustice, vast and cruel, seemed to rule the world. To the Christian belief that the Cross of Christ is the only key to the terrible problem of human suffering, Buchanan was unable to subscribe, and at times he was tempted to think that the Power at the head of things must be evil, not good. It seems to me that at such times he would cry out in soul-travail, ‘No! no! anything but that! If there be a God at all He must be good. Before I would do God the injustice of believing in an evil God, I would a thousand times sooner believe in no God at all!’ Then the mood passed; the man’s hope and belief in an unseen beneficent Power returned, but the sonnet in which he had given expression to that mood remained. And because the expression of that mood was permanent, Mr. Murray forgets that it was no more than the expression of a mood, and tells us that he believes, had Buchanan lived longer, he would have become an atheist.
. . . . . .
“This is not the place in which to say it, but perhaps my editor will allow me to add how keenly I felt, as I stood by the graveside of Robert Buchanan in that little God’s acre by the sea, the inadequacy of our Burial Service, beautiful as it is, in the case of one who did not profess the Christian faith. To me it seemed little less than a mockery to him who has gone, as well as a torture to those who remain, that words should be said over his dead body which, living, he would have repudiated.
Re-reading this article many years after it was 122 written, I see nothing in it to which friendship or even affection for either Rossetti or Buchanan could reasonably object.
MY DEAR KERNAHAN,
This was followed by a wire—from Swinburne—asking me to lunch, which I need hardly say I was glad to accept, and so my relationship to the inmates of The Pines returned to its old footing.
“To Coulson Kernahan,
My unhappy connection with the “Buchanan affair” had, it will be seen, passed entirely from Swinburne’s memory, and indeed the name of Robert Buchanan, who was something of a disturbing element even in death, as he had been in life, was never mentioned among us again. How entirely the, to me, distressing if brief rift in my friendship with Watts- Dunton— a friendship which I shall always count one of the dearest privileges of my life—was closed and forgotten, is clear from the following letter. It was written in reply to a telegram I sent, congratulating him on celebrating his 81st birthday—the last birthday on earth, alas, of one of the most generous and great-hearted of men:
THE PINES, PUTNEY, S.W.
MY DEAR KERNAHAN,