ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THE FLESHLY SCHOOL CONTROVERSY

 

Other Accounts of the Fleshly School Controversy - 2

 

From The Æsthetic Movement in England by Walter Hamilton
(London: Reeves & Turner, 1882.)

pp. 51-55

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.
     Amongst these critics was Robert Buchanan, who, as “Caliban,” had already attacked Swinburne in the verses entitled, The Session of the Poets. In that poem, it will be remembered, that Buchanan mentions himself as taking part in a solemn meeting of the leading poets of the day, although at that period (1866) he was little known, and would most certainly not have been included in such a select company by any other writer.
     However this may be, an article appeared in the Contemporary Review of October, 1871, entitled, “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” being a fierce attack on the Poems of Dante G. Rossetti, which 52 were then already in the fifth edition; this article was signed “Thomas Maitland.
     It being a distinctive feature of that Review that all articles should bear the actual signatures of their authors, some speculation took place as to this unknown “Thomas Maitland” whose virulent article appeared amongst others all bearing well-known names.
     It was at once set down as an assumed name, and for two reasons was assigned to Robert Buchanan; first, because it was known that on every possible occasion he attacked the school to which he assigned the works of Rossetti, and secondly, because in the opening passage of the article where he disputes Rossetti’s right to be considered as anything but a minor poet, he inserted his own name amongst the first poets of the day.
     The article commenced thus:—

     “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.
     “Pursuing still the theatrical analogy, the present drama of poetry might be cast as follows:—
     “Hamlet by Mr. Alfred Tennyson; Horatio, Mr. Matthew Arnold; Voltimand, Mr. Bailey; Cornelius, Mr. R. Buchanan; Rosencrantz, Mr. Swinburne; Guildenstern, Mr. W. Morris; Osric, Mr. D. G. Rossetti; A Gentleman, Mr. Robert Lytton.
     “ It will be seen that we have left no place for Mr. Browning, who may be said, however, to play the leading character in his own peculiar fashion on alternate nights.”

     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.
     On Dec. 2nd, 1871, the Athenæum said:—

     “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 the same paper appeared the following singular letter from Messrs. Strahan & Co., the publishers of the Contemporary:—

     “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.
     He adds:—

     “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.
     “That I may, nevertheless, take a wider view than some poets or critics, of how much, in the material conditions absolutely given to man to deal with as distinct from his spiritual aspirations, is admissible within the limits of art,—this, I say, is possible enough; nor do I wish to shrink from such responsibility. But to state that I do so to the ignoring or overshadowing of spiritual beauty, is an absolute falsehood, impossible to be put forward except in the indulgence of prejudice or rancour.”

     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.
   After a time the pamphlet was suppressed (one may say it ought 55 never to have been published), and is now very difficult to meet with.
     In justice to Mr. Buchanan, it must be stated that he afterwards made handsome amends, admitting that he had been unjust to Rossetti, as a poet, and explaining that much of his criticism had also been unfairly construed, and misapplied.

___

 

pp. 70-81

“JONAS FISHER: A POEM IN BROWN & WHITE,”

AND

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.
     The following verses are part of a dialogue between the hero, Jonas Fisher, and Mr. Grace, in which the topics of Art and Poetry are discussed:—

“It is not that our moderns lack
     All fiery essence in their mind;
But what belongs to flesh and blood
     Appears to them so unrefined.

“That to make simple manifold,
     And clear obscure, they take much pains—
The grandsires wrote with all their hearts,
     The grandsons write with all their brains.

“‘Well, Sir,’ said I, ‘I did not know                                                  71
     That poets now took pains to be
So modest. Nay, I’ve heard them charged
     With very great indecency.’

“‘I did not speak so much of that,’
     Said he, ‘the primness that I mean,
Is hating common manly force,
     Not hating things that are obscene.

“‘For (blameless held some noble names
     And placed on pinnacles above),
The moderns chiefly write with heart
     When writing about sensual love.’

“‘How pitiful, dear Sir,’ said I,
     ‘The wanderings of the carnal man!
With such good subjects all around
     To pick and choose among, he can

“‘Debase himself to play with dirt!
     Now isn’t it a stupid thing?’
Said he, ‘I’m not so sure of that,
     The subject’s always interesting.

“‘I am not one of those who howl
     Whene’er the smallest word is said,
That might not fittingly appear
     In books to little children read.

“‘Nay, heart and soul, I do enjoy
     A good strong Rabelaisian shout
To crack my sides withal, the fun
     Rough rustics make o’er pipes and stout.

“‘A man’s a man, not incense smoke
     To haunt a church and dread rude gales
And far too much for wholesome needs
     Mock modesty of speech prevails.

“‘Nor do I shudder over-much
     (However little I approve),
When men like Byron sing too free
     Of downright, honest, man-like love.

“‘But what my very soul abhors,                                                      72
     What almost turns my blood to bile,
Is when some prurient paganist
     Stands up, and warbles with a smile

“‘A sick, putrescent, dulcet lay,—
     Like sugared sauce with meat too high,—
To hymn, or hint, the sensuous charms
     Of morbid immorality.

“‘Excuse me—do you think it right
     To read such poems, Mr. Grace?
Pray, did you ever meet with them
     In any reputable place?’”

     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.
     “There is no reason why the Devil should go out of his way to abuse the ‘Fleshly School.’ Now the hero of this poem has views on some of the tendencies of modern poetry and art which coincide very closely with Mr. Buchanan’s, exhibiting the same nicely-balanced and carefully-differentiated feelings of scorn for effeminate voluptuousness, and delight in that voluptuousness which is manly.”

     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.
     But this letter in The Examiner of December 11th, 1875, after ridiculing “Jonas Fisher,” and comparing it to an inferior description 73 of “Bab Ballads,” proceeded to castigate Buchanan, whom it styled “multifaced idyllist of the gutter,” (alluding to the number of the pseudonyms he had assumed, and to the low-life topics he had selected for his poems), on the assumption that he was its author, and to parody the letter he had written about his article in the Contemporary, in which he had stated that the nom de plume of Thomas Maitland was inserted by the publishers without his knowledge or consent, whilst he was away yachting in Scotland.
     This is the satirical postscript affixed to the “Devil’s Due”:—

     “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.
     The case was tried before Mr. Justice Archibald and a special jury in June, 1876, and resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff with £150 damages. Much amusement was caused during the trial by the cross-examination of the plaintiff and his witnesses the first of whom was Lord Southesk, who appeared to claim “Jonas Fisher” as his work, in which he admitted that he had expressed his views against the “Fleshly School,” consisting principally of the works 74 of Mr. Swinburne, Mr. D. G. Rossetti, Mr. Morris and Mr. Arthur O’Shaughnessy. The Earl of Southesk was called, and stated—“I am the author of the work called ‘Jonas Fisher.’ My work contains nothing whatever against the characteristic virtues of the Scottish people. In the poem I express my honest views of the writings of the Fleshly School I have only had Mr. Buchanan’s acquaintance since the beginning of the present year.”
     “Jonas Fisher is supposed to be a City missionary in Edinburgh, writing on the Scotch people, and visiting amongst the poorer classes. There is nothing which offends decency in my work, but it is not a poem written for boys and girls, because I speak plainly of things, but there is no immorality in it.”*
     Then came the plaintiff, Mr. Robert Buchanan, who stated that he had been a literary man for 15 years, that he had written the article entitled “The Fleshly School,” having given instructions that it should be published anonymously, to which Messrs. Strahan objected, and affixed the name “Thomas Maitland” to it, without his knowledge. When “Jonas Fisher” was afterwards ascribed to him, he had written to repudiate its authorship, although he admitted he had written other anonymous poems severely attacking Mr. Swinburne and others, as, for instance, in the “Session of

     * 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”:—
     “I am obliged by your letter; probably, should we ever meet, you would find that your own ideas and mine are not very different. Through accidental circumstances my name was prominently connected with that of Mr. Buchanan—a gentleman with whom I am but slightly acquainted—and (to my knowledge) I am supposed to be an adherent of any set or party to which he may belong, at all events to be an opponent of the Art Movement.
     “My life-long intimacy with the founder of the Grosvenor Gallery has not prevented this misconception.
     “Yet if you would once again refer to ‘Jonas Fisher,’ Part III., verses 188-225, you would see my views plainly set down, and surely without a touch of approval of anything approaching to prudery or puritanism.
     “The whole book is meant as a protest against narrowness of view.
     “It never was my intention to assail any individual or any party except on the grounds of some special offence against what seems to me good art as well as good morals—in the wide, not the puritanical, sense.
     “I do not retract one word in ‘Jonas Fisher’—my object is to remove misconception of my aims and motives.”

 

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.
     In the defence objection was taken to Mr. Buchanan asserting himself as an authority, and constituting himself the censor of the morals of England, and on the ground that he, too, had written works of questionable decency and of doubtful morality, such as “Liz,” “The Little Milliner,” “The Last of the Hangmen,” and “Nell”— from which various extracts were read in court, as also the following passage from “The White Rose and Red”:—

“Till with passionate sensation,
Body and brain began to burn,
And he yielded to the bursting,
Burning, blinding, hungering, thirsting
Passion felt by beasts and men!
And his eyes caught love and rapture,
And he held her close in capture,
Kissing lips that kiss’d again.”

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,
     She gave herself unto him;
What was the bridegroom! Clay, common clay,
     Yet the wild joy slipt through him.
He kissed her lips, he drank her breath in bliss,
     He drew her to his bosom—
As a clod kindles at the Spring’s first kiss,
     His being burst to blossom.”

     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.
     “This, gentlemen, is the poet who has made his mark in the literature of his country! Mr. Gladstone must have thought highly of him when he granted him a pension, but I do not know whether Mr. Gladstone had previously read the classic effusion I have quoted, or his “Liz,” or his “Little Milliner,” or even “The Last of the Hangmen.” Well, if you do not call this the ‘idyllist of the gutter,’ I don’t know where you will find one.
     “Thus, in one poem, I find a coster girl, who lived in the neighbourhood of St. Giles’s, and fell into a difficulty with a gentleman, who himself pursued a course of life which ultimately brought him to the gallows. Another poem is entitled ‘Liz.’ Here is the life of a wretchedly poor girl, who has been seduced by one of the low persons who inhabit the same classical locality I have already mentioned, and who has got an illegitimate child. These are the stories in which Mr. Robert Buchanan delights. He has written under various names, and has libelled other people. He has used hard words of other people, and, considering the things that he had written himself, he could hardly complain if some people thought fit also to pull them to pieces.”

     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,
     Master Swinburne, and squeal’d glaring out thro’ his hair,
All virtue is bosh! Hallelujah for Landor!
     I disbelieve wholly in everything!—there!” 

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.
77     So far as Mr. Buchanan is concerned there is little more to note. He has written some poems and novels, and is the author of two pieces, “The Shadow of the Sword,” and “Lucy Brandon,” (founded on the late Lord Lytton’s “Paul Clifford,”) both of which were withdrawn from the boards after very brief careers.
     The critics condemned “The Shadow of The Sword” as a tedious bombastic production, unworthy of serious consideration. Mr. Buchanan naturally resented these unfavourable remarks, and accused Mr. John Coleman (who produced the piece at the Olympic Theatre), of having grievously mutilated the drama, stating also that he had been personally befooled and impoverished.
     Mr. John Coleman replied that the alterations made had received Mr. Buchanan’s full assent, and that he had paid Mr. Buchanan every shilling of the purchase money agreed upon prior to the production of the play.
     Two things only are certain—that the play was a failure, and that Mr. Buchanan was very angry with the London dramatic critics, who are incapable, as he asserts, of either civility or fair play.
     As to “Lucy Brandon,” which was brought out at the Imperial, and suddenly withdrawn, the author wrote that its withdrawal “was entirely unconnected with its dramatic success or failure,” but a successful piece generally has a run of more than a few days.
     To a sensitive nature possessing highly-strung nerves, the discordant vibrations of adverse criticism are, no doubt, distressing; Mr. Buchanan appears to possess unusually susceptible feelings, and what is still more unfortunate for him, to be incapable of concealing or suppressing them.
     Hence no sooner does an uncomplimentary notice appear of one of his productions than he writes to prove that the critic is in the wrong, and knows nothing of the subject in hand.
     Critics usually are in the wrong, and, being mere mortals, cannot know, even a little, about everything.
     But the public perfectly understand all this, and make allowances accordingly, whilst every publisher knows that in so far as influencing the sale of a novel or a poem the value of a criticism is often enhanced by its being of an unfavourable description, 78 particularly if it asserts that the work contains a dash of impropriety. An historical or scientific book may be damned by one strong and ably-written condemnatory review, but not a poem, a novel, or a play, else few, even of the best would have survived, as Mr. Buchanan ought to know, for he himself has written some of the most unsparing criticisms of exactly those works which are now most popular. In his last novel, “The Martyrdom of Madeline,” he has bitterly satirised the editors of two society journals under the thinly-veiled names of Lagardère and Edgar Yahoo, the latter being described as the “social chiffonier of his age” raking for garbage in the filth of the street and in the sewers; whilst Lagardère is painted as a profligate, boastful, ignorant, lying, cowardly monster, often whipped and universally despised. Yet when this same novel was noticed in The Academy and the reviewer, in a mild manner, expostulated with the author on the tone of his book as belying the promises of purity contained in its preface, and for attacking other men of genius under transparently transliterated names, Mr. Buchanan was not content to accept a criticism which allowed him to be a man of genius and reputation, and strongly excited curiosity as to the contents of his novel, but wrote to the editor complaining that he had long been subjected to literary persecution, adding “Though rudely assailed, I have at least published a description of my persecutors.”
     He compares himself to Don Quixote attacking the windmills, but the simile is unfortunate, for we nowhere read that the chivalrous knight complained afterwards of the windmills’ treatment of him. So long as Mr. Buchanan continues to tilt at the windmills of the press, so long must he expect hard blows and heavy falls, and it would be wiser and more dignified not to complain of the wounds obtained in the fray. What, however, chiefly concerns us in this matter is the somewhat remarkable statements contained in this letter, concerning the poets of the Æsthetic School, and in justice to Mr. Buchanan I will insert those paragraphs in full, premising that the reviewer had accused him of satirising D. G. Rossetti, under the pseudonym “Blanco Serena,” and of renewing his attacks on his old enemies, the fleshly poets. On these points Mr. Buchanan’s language is clear and distinct, and is highly creditable, 79 as a handsome acknowledgment of the merits of some with whom he was supposed to be at enmity. 

     “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.
     “One word more. Your reviewer insinuates (there is no mistaking his innuendo) that a certain character in my story is a shadow-picture of the late Mr. Dante Rossetti. To show the injustice of this supposition, I will simply ask your readers to compare the lineaments of my Blanco Serena, a society-hunting, worldly-minded, insincere, but good-humoured, fashionable painter, with the literary image of Mr. Rossetti, a solitude-loving, unworldly, thoroughly sincere and earnest, if sometimes saturnine, man of genius in revolt against Society. I wish to have no mistake on this, to me, very solemn matter. What I wrote of Mr. Rossetti, ten years ago, stands. What I wrote of Mr. Rossetti in the inscription of God and the Man also stands. Time brings about its revenges. Can the least acute observer of literature have failed to notice that the so-called fleshly school, in proportion as it has grown saner, purer, and more truly impassioned in the cause of humanity, has lost its hold upon the so-called fleshly public—even on the dapper master-millers and miller’s men of the journals of nepotism and malignity? Certain of our critics said to certain of our poets—‘Go that way; there lies the short cut to immortality.’ But the poets, after going a few paces, paused, recognising, as only true poets can recognise, the easy descent to Acheron.”

     This letter appeared in The Academy, July 1st, 1882.
     As closing this unpleasant controversy, Mr. T. Hall Caine, in his “Recollections of Rossetti,” gives the following communication he had recently received from Mr. R. Buchanan:—

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.
     “At the time it was written the newspapers were full of panegyric; mine was a mere drop of gall in an ocean of eau sucrée.
     “That it could have had on any man the effect you describe, I can scarcely believe; indeed, I think that no living man had so little to complain of as Rossetti, on the score of criticism. Well, my protest was received in a way which turned irritation into wrath, wrath into violence; and then ensued the paper war which lasted for years. If you compare what I have written of Rossetti with what his admirers have written of myself, I think you will admit that there has been some cause for me to complain, to shun society, to feel bitter against the world; but, happily, I have a thick epidermis, and the courage of an approving conscience. I was unjust, as I have said; most unjust when I impugned the purity and misconceived the passion of writings too hurriedly read and reviewed currente calamo: but I was at least honest and fearless, and wrote with no personal malignity. Save for the action of the literary defence, if I may so term it, my article would have been as ephemeral as the mood which induced its composition. I make full admission of Rossetti’s claims to the purest kind of literary renown, and if I were to criticise his poems now, I should write very differently. But nothing will shake my conviction that the cruelty, the unfairness, the pusillanimity, has been on the other side, not on mine. The amende of my Dedication in God and the Man was a sacred thing; between his spirit and mine: not between my character and the cowards who have attacked it. I thought he would understand—which would have been, and indeed  is, sufficient. I cried, and cry, no truce with the horde of slanderers who hid themselves within his shadow. That is all. But when all is said, there still remains the pity that our quarrel should ever have been. Our little lives are too short for such animosities. Your friend is at peace with God—that God who will justify and cherish him, who has dried his tears, and who will turn the shadow of his life-dream into full sunshine. My only regret now is that we did not meet—that I did not take him by the hand; but I am old-fashioned enough to believe that this world is only a prelude, and that our meeting may take place yet.”

     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:—
                                                                                                                                                               81

TO AN OLD ENEMY.

I would have snatch’d a bay leaf from thy brow,
     Wronging the chaplet on an honoured head;
In peace and charity I bring thee now
     A lily flower instead.

Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
     Sweet as thy spirit, may this offering be;
Forget the bitter blame that did thee wrong,
     And take the gift from me!

     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,
     Thou sleepest, and weeping brethren round thee stand,
Gently they placed, ere yet God’s angel crowned thee,
               My lily in thy hand!

I never knew thee living, O my brother!
     But on thy breast my lily of love now lies;
And by that token, we shall know each other,
               When God’s voice saith, “Arise!”

     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.

_____

 

From Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Joseph Knight
(London: Walter Scott, 1887.)

pp. 138-144

     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.
     Meanwhile, among the old friends whose faith in Rossetti’s poetry had been firm and fervent, there was of course great rejoicing. New admirers, whom the magic of intimacy with a man such as Rossetti converted at once into friends, came around him, and he found himself the centre of a circle of worshippers, including many of those who have subsequently given direction to modern thought. No dissonant note was heard in a chorus of enthusiasm which rose around him. Widely divergent estimates were of course formed of the value of this latest contribution to poetry, but censure was at least respectful in tone, and the writer seemed to be

“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.
     No motive of past friendship, however, reduced to feeble muttering the censure of Mr. Thomas Maitland, a critic who, speaking in terms of solemn arraignment, publicly likened Rossetti to authors of whom it may be said, as Sir Thomas Browne said of “sins heteroclitical,” that there is “a sin even in their histories,” and that of them there should remain no “register but that of hell.” It was with amazement that Rossetti heard that the indignant Scot, who “came from a remote retreat in the Highlands to this great centre of life which men have named London,” with a mission to rebuke vice and to expose iniquity by linking the writings of Rossetti with the foulest outcome of depravity and disease, was himself a poet long resident in London. “What do you think?” he asks his brother, 141 under the date October 17, 1871, “—— writes me that Maitland is Buchanan.” There is little temptation to drag back to the light of day particulars, now buried, of a feud which, though in some future edition of “The Quarrels of Authors” it may move the mirth of our descendants, will always leave an ill-taste in the mouth of those who have the highest interests of literature at heart. For his imputations Mr. Buchanan had the grace ultimately to apologize. That the original offence was heightened by the publication in pamphlet form with his own signature, and with justificatory additions of the article, cannot perhaps be held. Rossetti himself wrote at some length in protest against his assailant, and “The Stealthy School of Criticism”—an unwise step which gave rise to much subsequent controversy. His friends, moreover, came to his aid, and replied in terms of no measured indignation, contempt, and wrath. Smarting under imputations of motive and lash of censure, Mr. Buchanan, after the authorship was fixed upon him, was in no mood for penitence. During some years accordingly the attitude of hostility was maintained, and it was not until the pother was over that sane reflection induced Mr. Buchanan to dedicate a work to the subject of his quondam assault, and in so doing to withdraw his arraignment. One quotation alone from a letter of Rossetti addressed to the writer of this sketch shall be given. It is to this effect. “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. 142 I have no part in insult or violence, and cannot be involved because their atmosphere is raised around me.” This letter, unfortunately dated only “Monday night,” is thoroughly characteristic, and the resolution to have no part in insult and violence, belongs to Rossetti’s innermost nature. In a letter from Mr. Buchanan, forming a portion of his amends, which is given as a note in Mr. Hall Caine’s “Recollections of Rossetti,” the writer speaks of his pamphlet being “a mere drop of gall in an ocean of eau sucrée.” That it could have had on Rossetti the effect Mr. Hall Caine has described, he can scarcely believe, and he adds, “Indeed, I think that no living man had so little to complain of as Rossetti on the score of criticism.” Not very logical is all this, though it is perhaps natural. The fact that a man has known nothing but praise does not prepare him to receive censure with equanimity. A succession of hot baths is not the best preparation for a plunge into iced water, or even for the receipt of a discharge of mud. Rossetti had obtained full recognition. His nature was robust as well as tender, and a hostile criticism would no doubt have startled him, and perhaps have acted as a healthy stimulus. There is, however, a difference between literary criticism and moral indictment. Weak spots may easily be found in the literary armour of Rossetti, from whom some important gifts are wanting. That a man, however, who had won in art and letters the praise and sympathy of all whose approval was worth having, whose bosom friends and associates in youth had risen to the topmost place in their professions, and who throughout his career had found all that was earnest in art clinging to him with 143 devotion, and appealing to him for counsel, should see himself held up to infamy as a deliberate assailant of virtue and corrupter of his age, was enough to shock and to pain. Shocked and pained Rossetti accordingly was, and his early demise is due indirectly to the disturbance thus caused. In those long nights of insomnia which grew increasingly frequent, he dwelt upon the cruelty and the outrage to which he held he had been subject, and the resort to chloral hydrate grew correspondingly easier and more constant.
     Exteriorly his life was peaceful and calm. At no time were the gatherings at Cheyne Walk more interesting or more brilliant than they were in 1871 and the first half of the following year, and never did the host, when he substituted the role of speaker for that of listener, grow more eloquent or more convincing. To a circle drawn round the fire in the studio, while the greater portion of the room remained in twilight, Rossetti would read with his unequalled voice and delivery some passage from a favourite author, and would make this an excuse to draw from some young and but half- reluctant poet his latest sonnet. The interest Rossetti took in these compositions did not cease with the words of encouragement he was ready to utter. If the poem commended itself to him, and any flaw in its perfection seemed capable of removal, letter after letter with suggestions for alteration would come to the writer at his house. So many as half-a-dozen separate letters have been written by him on consecutive days for the purpose of dealing with a crux in a sonnet. How rare is friendliness such as this, and how rarer is the sacrifice of personal vanity, must be at once obvious. 144 No less evident is it how calculated was such interest to light in the minds of those around him, the kind of devotion which attended Rossetti in life, and is still consecrated to his memory. The room, meanwhile, had other guests besides its human occupants, and the tenant of a sofa was likely enough to be startled by the appearance from under a pillow of a wood-chuck, a wombat, or some other animal equally outside the range of ordinary sympathies.

_____

 

From Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, Vol. 2
(London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1892.)

pp. 168, 171-173

CHAPTER X

1872—ROSSETTI’S ILLNESS—STOBHALL

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.
     One morning at an early hour W. M. R. came along to me—now living at hand, at No. 92—in a desponding state of mind. He wished me to accompany him at once. Swallowing a cup of tea, we hurried to No. 16, and found our friend in a condition painful to witness. Professor Marshall, and Dr. Hake, whose verses Rossetti had so admired and assisted— now doctoring his doctor in another art—were there, and agreed that the patient must change his surroundings. Where was he to go? Dr. Hake answered that question by offering to take him out with him to his house at Roehampton. A cab was brought at once; we all thought it strange to see him so willing to go, but that night it was too evident he wanted to be secluded, and for three days he lay as one dead, and only by a treatment, invented for the moment by Professor Marshall, was he cured. But as I was only at Roehampton on one visit, not to him, but to William, who was made seriously ill by his brother’s state, it does not fall to me to give any further account of my friend’s sad condition, till it was determined that he was not to return to Chelsea, but that a further change of scene would be necessary, and I volunteered to be a second with young George Hake, to take charge of him. His new retirement was to be far off, at Stobhall, near Perth, the shooting and fishing quarters of William Graham, M.P. for Glasgow, his most efficient friend, and the greatest admirer of his art. Brown and George Hake took him down, and when I was free to leave town, just two days after, I released the former and stayed with him there for three long weeks.

_____

 

The Bookman

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.

bookmanbuch

     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.

_____

 

From Theodore Watts-Dunton: Poet Novelist Critic by James Douglas
(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904.)

pp.145-149

     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.”
     That he deserved these words I think none will deny; and that the friendship sprang from the depths of the nature of a man to whom the word ‘friendship’ meant not what it generally means now, a languid sentiment, but what it meant in Shakespeare’s time, a deep passion, is shown by what some deem the finest lines Mr. Watts-Dunton 147 ever wrote—I mean those lines which he puts into the mouth of Shakespeare’s Friend in ‘Christmas at the Mermaid,’ lines part of which have been admirably turned into Latin by Mr. E. D. Stone, and published by him in the second volume of that felicitous series of Latin translations, ‘Florilegium Latinum’:—

‘MR. W. H.’

To sing the nation’s song or do the deed
That crowns with richer light the motherland,
Or lend her strength of arm in hour of need
When fangs of foes shine fierce on every hand,
Is joy to him whose joy is working well—
Is goal and guerdon too, though never fame.
Should find a thrill of music in his name;                                         148
Yea, goal and guerdon too, though Scorn should aim
Her arrows at his soul’s high citadel.

But if the fates withhold the joy from me
To do the deed that widens England’s day,
Or join that song of Freedom’s jubilee
Begun when England started on her way—
Withhold from me the hero’s glorious power
To strike with song or sword for her, the mother,
And give that sacred guerdon to another,
Him will I hail as my more noble brother—
Him will I love for his diviner dower.

Enough for me who have our Shakspeare’s love
To see a poet win the poet’s goal,
For Will is he; enough and far above
All other prizes to make rich my soul.
Ben names my numbers golden. Since they tell
A tale of him who in his peerless prime
Fled us ere yet one shadowy film of time
Could dim the lustre of that brow sublime,
Golden my numbers are: Ben praiseth well.

     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,
     With many a swimmer strove the poet-boy,
     Yet strove in love: their strength, I say, was joy
To him, my friend—dear friend of godlike mien!
But soon he felt beneath the billowy green
     A monster moving—moving to destroy:
     Limb after limb became the tortured toy
Of coils that clung and lips that stung unseen.

“And canst thou strike ev’n me?” the swimmer said,                       149
     As rose above the waves the deadly eyes,
     Arms flecked with mouths that kissed in hellish wise,
Quivering in hate around a hateful head.—
     I saw him fight old Envy’s sorceries:
I saw him sink: the man I loved is dead!

     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.

_____

 

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter & Man of Letters by Frank Rutter
(London: Grant Richards, 1908.)

 

pp. 86-88

     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.
     An inquest, of course, was inevitable, and after hearing medical evidence and the testimony of the husband, Mr. Swinburne, and Mrs. Birrell, the housekeeper, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death.’
     Rossetti was prostrated with grief, and, with the exception of Brown, appears to have been unable to see any one outside the family. Even to Ruskin he denied himself, and it is a touching tribute to the depth of his friendship for Ford Madox Brown that it was to this great-hearted man alone that Rossetti went for sympathy during the agony of the fatal night.
     On the day of the funeral Rossetti put the manuscript book of his poems in his wife’s coffin, and since so many exaggerated accounts of this painful incident have been rumoured about, it seems advisable to quote the clear and authoritative account of the affair given by Mr. W. M. Rossetti: ‘There were some friends assembled in one of the rooms in Chatham Place; the coffin, not yet close-shut, was in another. My brother, unwitnessed, deposited the MS. in the coffin. He then joined his friends and informed Madox Brown of what he had done, saying, “I have often been writing at those poems when Lizzie was ill and suffering, and I might have been attending to her, and now they shall go.” Brown disapproved of such a sacrifice to a mere impulse of grief or of self-reproach, and he appealed to me to remonstrate. I replied, “Well, the feeling does him honour, and let him do as he likes.”’
     Here Mr. W. M. Rossetti was as clearly in the wrong as Brown was in the right, in principle if not in method. It was no use arguing with a man in Rossetti’s state of mind, though any person of sense could be certain that he would later regret abandoning himself to an unthinking and semi-dramatic impulse. The kindest thing would have been to have abstracted the book from the coffin just before it was closed down, and kept the matter secret from Rossetti till the desire for publication grew again. There are times when deception is the truest act of friendship, and since no copy existed, and there was no time to make one, this was an occasion when it would have been permissible, and even praiseworthy.

 

pp. 94-108

     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 the same time it must be admitted that his dead wife was very constantly in his thoughts, and about 1864-5 Rossetti began to interest himself in spiritualism, in the hope that he might be enabled by its means to communicate with his lost one. His life at this time, if not exactly normal—and what man of genius is normal?—was hardly eccentric, if not actively happy. He was at least cheerful and as content as an artist may be. His worldly circumstances prospered, his professional earnings mounted into four figures, the average towards the end of the sixties being between two and three thousand a year. And up to the autumn of 1866, when he was thirty-eight years of age, his health remained good. But that year he became subject to a troublesome, if not dangerous, complaint, which occasionally required surgical treatment, and in the following year he began to suffer from insomnia. To speculate how this arose is idle. It is a trouble to which all highly strung, nervous temperaments are liable, a foe producing fearful results when it fastens and feeds upon an active imagination. About the same time—the summer of 1867—Rossetti’s eyes became painful, and remembering his father’s partial blindness, he feared he might lose his sight. The specialists whom he consulted assured him that his eyes were not organically injured, only weakened by nervous overstrain; but this verdict, though hopeful, was far from reassuring to a man of Rossetti’s impatient temperament. He took to wearing strong glasses, which he never afterwards abandoned, but still found his failing vision impeding his painting work, and the rest prescribed him was not easily won by a person of his restless energy.
     In September, 1868, after a short tour in Warwickshire with his assistant, Mr. Dunn, Rossetti paid his first visit to Penkill Castle, in Ayrshire, the home of Miss Boyd, an intimate friend of William Bell Scott. Here his sleeping improved, though not his eyesight, for on returning to London in November, 1868, he found himself unable to paint before the beginning of November. The difficulty he was now experiencing in painting led Rossetti to think of his other gift of poetry, and he began to make some preparation for publishing a volume of poems. He collected and revised all the original poems and sonnets which had appeared in ‘The Germ’ and other periodicals, and endeavoured to remember and complete the lost poems which lay buried with his wife in Highgate Cemetery.
     In the summer of 1869 he paid a second visit to Penkill, and here his conduct for the first time roused fears as to his mental condition. He is said to have discussed the ethics of suicide, and William Bell Scott, who was at Penkill at the  time, tells a curious story of a walk to a romantic ravine called the Lady’s Glen, where a hill-stream falls into a black and unfathomed pool. Rossetti bent fascinated over the dark water, and, as Mr. Bell Scott believed, had a strong impulse towards self-destruction, from which he only with an effort recovered. About the same time Rossetti believed himself to be in receipt of spiritual communications from his wife, and on one occasion he brought home a chaffinch, picked up in the road, which he supposed to be the spirit of his wife.
     Inasmuch as these incidents are related only on the authority of Mr. Bell Scott—whose reminiscences, written long after the event, are not always reliable and often to be taken cum grano salis—it would not, perhaps, be advisable to attach too great weight to them. And if Rossetti’s conduct was disturbing, it must be admitted that he proved himself to be in other respects intellectually vigorous, for it was during this visit to Penkill that he wrote the ballad of ‘Troy Town,’ and began ‘The Stream’s Secret’ and ‘Eden Bower.’ Moreover, his family letters during this period do not show any traces of mental disturbance, but they do reveal the fact that Rossetti’s whole energy was now concentrated on his poetry, and that he was troubled, if not actually fretted, by his inability to recall by memory portions of the lost poems. Of many of his early poems, ‘Jenny’ among them, no copy existed save that in his wife’s grave, and painful though the idea of their recovery must have been to him, Rossetti was at last brought to realise the wisdom of undoing his impulsive sacrifice.
     Of his intentions he said nothing to his family till after the event, but on October 13, 1869, he wrote an account of the matter to his brother William. ‘Various friends,’ he says, ‘have long hinted from time to time at the possibility of recovering my lost MSS., and when I was in Scotland last year Scott particularly referred to it. Some months ago Howell of his own accord entered on the matter, and offered to take all the execution of it on himself. This for some time I still hung back from accepting; but eventually I yielded, and the thing was done, after some obstacles, on Wednesday or Thursday last, I forget which. An order had first to be obtained from the Home Secretary, who strangely enough is an old and rather intimate acquaintance of my own—H. A. Bruce. . . . All in the coffin was found quite perfect; but the book, though not in any way destroyed, is soaked through and through, and had to be still further saturated with disinfectants. It is now in the hands of the medical man who was associated with Howell in the disinterment, and who is carefully drying it leaf by leaf. There seems reason to fear that some minor portion is obliterated, but I must hope this may not prove to be the most important part. I shall not, I believe, be able to see it for at least a week yet.’
     Although the opening of the grave was conducted at night and with all possible privacy, some rumour of it getting about excited gossip, and at the time and since Rossetti has been blamed for violating the secrecy of the grave to fulfil his literary ambition. Empty talk of this kind can never be wholly silenced, though the self-evident justification of his proceeding is that it hurt no one and made the world his debtor. We must all deplore the original act of morbid sacrifice, but unless we are prepared to maintain that it is right for a man to bury the talent with which God has endowed him, we cannot escape the accusation of being ourselves a little morbid if we denounce with horror its exhumation.
     Having at last recovered the exact form of his old poems, Rossetti actively pushed forward their preparation for the press. Messrs. Blackwood made him an offer as to their publication, but eventually an arrangement was come to whereby Mr. F. S. Ellis became the publisher. Previous to their publication, however, Rossetti took certain steps which must unhesitatingly be condemned. An entry in Mr. W. M. Rossetti’s diary for October 11, 1869, states: ‘Gabriel called, and talked about his intended publication of poems in the Spring. He thinks it desirable to make sure of the reviewers as far as possible, and thinks he can count upon handsome notices in various reviews. His plan, therefore, would be to send the book first to two or three papers that he can count on, and that are of leading importance; wait for the appearance of the critiques in these; and only then send the book to other papers, which it would reach having already a considerable prestige about it. This is skilful scheming; but for my own part (as I told Gabriel) I would not diplomatise at all, but just leave the book to take its chance, and feel pretty confident of the result into the bargain.’
     It is to be regretted that Rossetti did not listen to his brother and refrain from proceedings as unnecessary as they were ill-advised, for this attempt at what we should now term ‘log-rolling’ was the surest way to excite that hostile feeling which it was the author’s aim to avoid. When the poems were at length published in 1870 they evoked a chorus of praise which certainly cannot be wholly attributed to Rossetti’s doubtful diplomacy or the enthusiasm of a few personal friends. At the same time, it cannot be doubted that an influential lead was given by Mr. Swinburne’s eloquent panegyric on the volume in the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ by the article of William Morris in ‘The Academy,’ and the reviews of such friends as Mr. Joseph Knight and Mr. Sidney Colvin which appeared in other journals.
     The poems published, Rossetti returned to his painting, though his eyes still gave him trouble and his general health was far from satisfactory. He had now definitely taken to the use of chloral to relieve his insomnia, and since he disliked the taste of this drug it became his habit to take in immediate sequence a wineglass of neat whisky. That this combination must eventually have injurious results on his health Rossetti could not have been wholly unaware from the first, but in his complicated situation Rossetti thought he was choosing the lesser of two evils. ‘The fact is,’ he once wrote to Madox Brown, ‘that any man in my case must either do as I do, or cease from necessary occupation, which cannot be pursued in the day when the night is stripped of its rest.’
     To whatever extent this habitual and increasing consumption of chloral may have deranged his nervous system, to whatever delusions it may subsequently have given rise, its immediate effect was to restore to Rossetti his powers as a painter. It enabled him within the next two years or so to paint his largest and, as some think, his greatest picture, Dante’s Dream, now at the Walker Art Gallery of Liverpool, to paint a duplicate of Beata Beatrix, PandoraMariana, Veronica Veronese, and Water-willow. Into the background of this last picture Rossetti introduced the famous Manor House at Kelmscott, in Oxfordshire, of which he became joint-tenant with William Morris in May, 1871. Five months later appeared the first sign of that professional hostility which Rossetti had studiously endeavoured to  evade.
     In the ‘Contemporary Review’ for October, 1871, appeared an article entitled ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ signed Thomas Maitland, but written in fact by the late Mr. Robert Buchanan, in which Rossetti’s poems were vehemently attacked on moral as well as literary grounds. Notwithstanding the writer’s exaggerated overstatement of his case, his excessive intemperance, and his indiscriminate denunciation, his criticism contained some particles of truth, and since it was undoubtedly prompted by sincere motives and was productive of lasting results, it requires to be considered in some detail. The pseudonymous method of attack has been generally and rightly condemned. Buchanan himself maintained that he desired the article to be published anonymously, and that it was the editor who appended the pseudonym; but however modest a writer may be—and Buchanan was not of a retiring nature—he is never more bound in duty to declare himself than when he makes a personal attack. It is the more disgraceful to Buchanan that he withheld his true signature because he wished to introduce himself into the discussion, to exalt his own poetical productions, and to accuse Rossetti of imitating one of his own ‘quasi-lyrical poems.’ Buchanan was a Scottish poet and novelist of some talent and greater conceit. He was a disappointed man, and as far apart from Rossetti in temperament as the north is from the south. He appears to have been as genuinely shocked by some of the more passionate outbursts of Rossetti as a Puritan might have been at the love-carols of a Cavalier, and his indignation was stirred to fiercer wrath by the praises which Morris and Swinburne had lavished on Rossetti. It is not difficult to realise that Buchanan conscientiously thought himself called upon to unmask the ‘log-rolling’ of this trio, whom he likens to three minor characters in ‘Hamlet,’ who ‘finding it impossible to risk an individual bid for the leading business, have arranged all to play leading business together, and mutually to praise, extol, and imitate each other; and although by these measures they have fairly earned for themselves the title of the Mutual Admiration School, they have in a great measure succeeded in their object—to the general stupefaction of a British audience.’ Here we have the natural reaction to Rossetti’s ill-advised diplomacy.
     Buchanan next proceeds to the more serious impeachment of Rossetti for animalism, the shameless chronicling of amorous sensations, and cites against him the sonnet on ‘Nuptial Sleep’:—

At length their long kiss severed with sweet smart;
And as the last slow sudden drops are shed
From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled,
So singly flagged the pulses of each heart.
Their bosoms sundered, with the opening start
Of married flowers to either side outspread
From the knit stem; yet still their mouths, burnt red,
Fawned on each other where they lay apart. . . .

     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.
     At first Rossetti does not appear to have been seriously concerned at this attack, and he even appreciated as a good joke against himself some lines in which Buchanan neatly parodied his fondness for accenting weak endings:—

When winds do roar, and rains do pour,
Hard is the life of the sailor;
He scarcely as he reels can tell
The side-lights from the binnacle;
He looketh on the wild water, etc.

     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,
     Wronging the chaplet on an honour’d head;
In peace and charity I bring thee now
     A lily-flower instead.
Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
     Sweet as thy spirit, may this offering be;
Forget the bitter blame that did thee wrong,
     And take the gift from me!

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.
     After this there was some talk of sending him to a private asylum, but Madox Brown generously interfered, offering to take charge of his friend, and after a week or so at Brown’s house, Rossetti rallied sufficiently to be able to go to Scotland to recruit. By September Rossetti had so far recovered as to commence painting again, and at this time he finished a duplicate of Beata Beatrix for his patron, Mr. Graham, who had placed at Rossetti’s disposal his two houses in Perthshire, and towards the end of the month he left Scotland to join the Morrises at Kelmscott, where he stayed till July, 1874.

_____

 

From Rossetti: a critical essay on his art by Ford Madox Hueffer [Ford]
(London: Duckworth, 1914.)

pp. 71-74

VIII

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.
     The insomnia, which was of a frightful nature and an aggravated intensity, he combated by the use of chloral. And in this he seems to have been hardly used by Fate; for he was told, by the friend who recommended it, that it was innocuous. It was then a new remedy. Eventually he used it in enormous quantities. In later years he recognized well enough its ill effects and was definitely and avowedly content to abide by the results. It is a matter in which we have no right to judge; he being a man of another race and in his way clear-sighted.
     Its necessary consequence was a morbid cast of 72 thought, ending in hallucinations. Accidents made the hallucinations take a special and very lamentable form.
     It was in 1869 that, his eyesight threatening to fail permanently, Rossetti had serious thoughts of a career as a poet in the event of painting becoming impossible. This idea, it may be remembered, he had definitely abandoned in 1853.) In the spring of 1870 the “Poems” appeared. They were received, for one reason and another, with immense favour—there was, in fact, what we should to-day call “a boom.” Rossetti’s friends were very many and very influentially placed, and Rossetti’s friends were immensely enthusiastic as to the merits of the “Poems.” Rossetti himself did his best to ensure a favourable reception for his work. How much this “best” amounted to is not very material in its ethical aspect; makes the matter neither better nor worse. He was certainly not servile in hunting for notices, but he certainly expected those of his friends who could write and thought favourably of his work, to write favourably. And it is obvious enough, from the permanent popularity of the “Poems,” that they had an attraction operating quite independently of any efforts of Rossetti’s personal friends.
     The natural effect of sudden and great popularity, however gained, is the more or less effective counterblast. This is inevitable enough. In the case of the poems the damnatory article came eighteen months after the publication of the “Poems.” It appeared in the Contemporary Review, was entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” and was signed Thomas Maitland. It attacked Rossetti’s poems reasonably enough for certain technical defects or exaggerations, and wholly unreasonably on the grounds of “the sickening desire they evinced to produce the sensual mood.” The 73 second heading might have been the product of a more or less pardonable mistake as far as the article in the Contemporary was concerned. The article left Rossetti at bottom comparatively unmoved.
     He wrote a letter to the Athenæum temperately enough defending his poems from any purposed immorality of tendency. It was to have formed part of a pamphlet entitled the “Stealthy School of Criticism.” (It had in the meanwhile appeared that the “Thomas Maitland” of the Contemporary was in effect the pseudonym of Mr. Robert Buchanan.) Rossetti’s pamphlet was never published, partly for fear of giving Mr. Buchanan cause for a libel action.
     So far the matter remained merely one of those unpleasant literary incidents that must, it would seem, be perpetuated as long as Art endures and writers have zealous friends. But Mr. Buchanan, for reasons of his own, saw fit to amplify his article and republish it in the form of a really abominable pamphlet entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry and other Phenomena of the Day, by Robert Buchanan.” “He here”—the words are those of Mr. William Rossetti—“definitely identified Rossetti, as well as some other poets, with a supposed movement for the propagation of whatever is most foul in vice and most disgusting in vicious display.” Mr. Buchanan (he is dead now and his motives need no longer be inquired into) afterwards dedicated a book to “An old enemy,” Rossetti; and later, after Rossetti’s death, wrote: “I was most unjust when I impugned the purity and misconceived the passion of writing too hurriedly read and reviewed currente calamo. I make full admission of Rossetti’s claim to the purest kind of literary renown.” This was the amende honorable and the matter might rest there.
     Lamentably enough, however, the personal as distinct 74 from the literary, attack on Rossetti shaped the course of the dismal hallucinations for which chloral had already prepared Rossetti’s over-taxed and over-tired brain. It is impossible to say whether he would or would not have had other hallucinations; but it is certain that the horror of so vile and so unjustifiable an accusation made things infinitely worse and definitely caused Rossetti to think that there was in the world a gigantic conspiracy to hold him up to obloquy. This idea haunted him for a long time; under the horror of it he attempted to commit suicide; it riveted the chloral habit finally upon him and the one thing and the other sapped his life and in their effects gradually ruined his work. The whole affair is one of the most cruel and unnecessary that the history of the Arts can show, and one of the most lamentable that in life can be imagined.

_____

 

From In Good Company by Coulson Kernahan
(London: John Lane, 1917.)

pp.111-125

ONE ASPECT OF THE MANY-SIDEDNESS OF
THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON

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.
     My answer was that Watts-Dunton’s hold upon his friends, partly personal as it was and partly intellectual, was chiefly due to his extraordinary loyalty. Of old, certain men and women were supposed to be possessed of the “evil eye.” Upon whom they looked with intent—be it man, woman, or beast—hurt was sooner or later sure to fall.
     If there be anything in the superstition, one might almost believe that its opposite was true of Watts-Dunton. He looked upon others merely to befriend, and if he did not put upon them the spell, not of an evil but of a good eye, he exercised a marvellous personal power, not, as is generally the case, upon weaker intellects and less marked personalities than his own, but upon his peers; and even upon those whom in the world’s eye would be accounted greater than he. That any one man should so completely control, and even dominate, two such intellects as Swinburne and Rossetti seemed almost uncanny. I never saw Rossetti and Watts-Dunton together, 112 for the former had been dead some years when I first met Watts-Dunton, but my early literary friendships were with members of the little circle of which Rossetti was the centre, and all agree in their testimony to the extraordinary personal power which Watts-Dunton exercised over the poet-painter. But Swinburne—and here I speak with knowledge—Watts-Dunton absolutely dominated. It was, “What does Walter say about it?” “Walter thinks, and I agree with him, that I ought to do so and so,” or, “Let us submit the matter to Watts-Dunton’s unfailing judgment.”
     Here, for fear of a possible misunderstanding, let me say that, if any reader assume from what I have just written that Swinburne was something of a weakling, that reader is very much mistaken. It is true that the author of Atalanta in Calydon was a greater force in intellect and in imagination than in will power and character, but he was not in the habit of deferring to others as he deferred to Watts-Dunton, and when he chose to stand out upon some point, or in some opinion, he was very difficult to move. It was only, in fact, by Watts-Dunton that he was entirely manageable, yet there was never any effort, never even any intention on Watts-Dunton’s part to impose his own will upon his friend. I have heard his influence upon Swinburne described as hypnotic. From that point of view I entirely dissent. Watts-Dunton held his friends by virtue of his genius for friendship—“Watts is a hero of friendship,” Mr. William Michael Rossetti once said of him—and by the passionate personal loyalty of which I have never known the equal. By nature 113 the kindest of men, shrinking from giving pain to any living creature, he could be fierce, even ferocious, to those who assailed his friends. It was, indeed, always in defence of his friends, rarely if ever in defence of himself—though he was abnormally sensitive to adverse criticism—that he entered into a quarrel and, since dead friends could not defend themselves, he constituted himself the champion of their memory or of their reputation, and even steeled himself on more than one occasion to a break with a living friend rather than endure a slight to one who was gone. “To my sorrow,” he writes in a letter, “I was driven to quarrel with a man I loved and who loved me, William Minto, because he, with no ill intentions, printed certain injurious comments upon Rossetti which he found in Bell Scott’s papers.”
     It was my own misfortune, deservedly or undeservedly, to have a somewhat similar experience to that of Professor Minto; but in my case the estrangement, temporary only as it was, included Swinburne as well as Watts-Dunton. In telling the story, and for the first time here, I must not be supposed for one moment to imagine that any importance attaches or could attach to a misunderstanding between such men as Swinburne and Watts-Dunton and a scribbler of sorts like myself, but because a third great name, that of Robert Buchanan, comes into it.
     It is concerned with Buchanan's attack upon Rossetti in the famous article The Fleshly School of Poetry, which appeared anonymously (worse pseudonymously) in the Contemporary Review. Not 114 long after Buchanan’s death I was asked to review Mr. Henry Murray’s Robert Buchanan and other Essays in a critical journal, which I did, and Swinburne and Watts-Dunton chanced to see the article. To say that they took exception to what I said about Buchanan, would be no description of their attitude, for Swinburne not only took exception but took offence and of the direst—so much so as to make it necessary that for a season I should discontinue my visits to The Pines.
     And here let me interpolate that I entirely agree with Mr. James Douglas when he says in his volume, Theodore Watts, Poet, Novelist and Critic, “It would be worse than idle to enter at this time of the 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.” But when in the next sentence Mr. Douglas goes on to say, “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 am entirely out of agreement with him, as the quotation which I make from my article will show. Since Mr. Douglas has reopened the matter—he could hardly do otherwise in telling the story of Watts-Dunton’s literary life—I have the less hesitation in reprinting part of the article in which I endeavoured to clear Buchanan of what I held, and still hold, to be a preposterous charge. I may add that I quite agree with Mr. Douglas when he says that we must remember “the extremely close intimacy which existed between these two poet friends (Rossetti and Watts-Dunton) 115 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.”
     Mr. Douglas then quotes the sonnet The Octopus of the Golden Isles, which I do not propose here to reprint. That Buchanan was meant is now well known, and in fact Mr. Douglas himself says in the same chapter that Watts-Dunton’s definition of envy as the “literary leprosy” has often been quoted in reference to the case of Buchanan. My article on Buchanan is too long to give in its entirety, and, even omitting the passages with no direct bearing upon the misunderstanding which it caused, is lengthier than I could wish. My apology is, first, that in justice to Watts-Dunton and to Swinburne I must present their case against me ungarbled. Moreover, as the foolish bogey-story—like an unquiet ghost which still walks the world unlaid—that Buchanan was the cause of Rossetti taking to drugs, the cause even of Rossetti’s death, is still repeated, and sometimes believed, I am not sorry of another and last attempt to give the bogey its quietus. Here are the extracts from my article:

     “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.’
     “Here he goes to as great an extreme as when he so 116 savagely attacked Rossetti as ‘fleshly.’ About this attack much nonsense has been written. We have been told that it was the cause of Rossetti’s taking to chloral; and I have heard even Rossetti’s death laid at Buchanan’s door. To my thinking talk of that sort is sheer nonsense. If Rossetti took to chloral because Buchanan called his poetry ‘fleshly,’ Rossetti would sooner or later have taken to chloral, had Buchanan’s article never been written. But when Buchanan in the fulness of his remorse calls Rossetti ‘the most religious of modern poets’ he is talking equally foolishly.
     “Rossetti ‘the most religious of modern poets’! Why, Rossetti’s religion was his art. To him art was in and of herself pure, sacred, and inviolate. By him the usual order of things was reversed. It was religion which was the handmaid, art the mistress, and in fact it was only in so far as religion appealed to his artistic instincts that Rossetti can be said to have had any religion at all.
     “And when Buchanan sought to exalt Rossetti to a pinnacle of purity he was guilty of a like extravagance. That Rossetti’s work is always healthy not even his most enthusiastic admirers could contend. Super-sensuous and southern in the warmth of colouring nearly all his poems are. Some of them are heavy with the overpowering sweetness as of many hyacinths. The atmosphere is like that of a hothouse in which, amid all the odorous deliciousness, we gasp for a breath of the outer air again. There are passages in his work which remind us far more of the pagan temple than of the Christian cloister, passages describing sacred rites which pertain not to the worship of the Virgin, but to the worship of Venus.
     “Buchanan was a man who lived heart and soul in 117 the mood of the moment. He had a big brain which was quick to take fire, and at such times, both in his controversies and in his criticism, he was apt to express himself with an exaggeration at which in his cooler hours he would have been the first to hurl his Titanic ridicule.
     “It may seem ungenerous to say so, but even his beautiful dedicatory poem to Rossetti strikes me as a lapse into false sentiment.

To An Old Enemy

I would have snatched a bay-leaf from thy brow,
     Wronging the chaplet on an honoured head;
In peace and tenderness I bring thee now
     A lily-flower instead.

Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
     Sweet as thy spirit may this offering be;
Forget the bitter blame that did thee wrong,
     And take the gift from me.

     “After Rossetti’s death, ten months later, Buchanan added the following lines:

Calmly, thy royal robe of Death around thee,
     Thou sleepest, and weeping brethren round thee stand;
Gently they placed, ere yet God’s angel crowned thee,
     My lily in thy hand.

I never saw thee living, oh, my brother,
     But on thy breast my lily of love now lies,
And by that token we shall know each other,
     When God’s voice saith ‘Arise!’

     “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 am well aware that I shall be accused of bad taste, even of brutality, in saying this; but, as Mr. Murray himself alludes to this ancient quarrel, I must protest that false sentiment is equally abhorrent—as Buchanan would have been the first to admit. Now that Buchanan has followed Rossetti where all enmities are at an end, it is right that the truth about the matter be spoken, and this unhappy assault and its not altogether happy sequel be alike forgotten.
     “Robert Buchanan’s last resting-place is within sight of the sea. And rightly so. It is his own heart that Old Ocean seems most to wear away in his fretting and chafing, and the wearing away of their own heart is the most appreciable result of the warfare which such men as Buchanan wage against the world.
     “That he did not fulfil his early promise, that he frittered away great gifts to little purpose, is pitifully true, but if he flung into the face of the men whom he counted hypocrites and charlatans, words which scorched like vitriol, he had, for the wounded in life’s battle, for the sinning, the suffering, and the defeated, words of helpful sympathy and an outstretched hand of practical help.
     “Mr. Murray has shown Buchanan to us as he was; no hero perhaps, certainly not a saint, but a man of great heart and great brain, quick to quarrel, but as quick to own himself in the wrong; a man intensely, passionately human, with more than one man’s share of humanity’s weaknesses and of humanity’s strength, a sturdy soldier in the cause 119 of freedom, a fierce foe, a generous friend, and a poet who, in regard to that rarest of all gifts, ‘vision,’ had scarcely an equal among his contemporaries.
     “I must conclude by a serious word with Mr. Murray. Disagree with him as one may and must, one cannot but admire his fearless honesty. None the less I am of opinion that in the following passage Mr. Murray’s own pessimism has led him to do his dead friend’s memory a grievous injustice.
     “‘From the broken arc we may divine the perfect round, and it is my fixed belief that, had the subtle and cruel malady which struck him down but spared him for a little longer time, he would logically have completed the evolution of so many years, and have definitely proclaimed himself as an agnostic, perhaps even as an atheist.’
     “Mr. Murray’s personal knowledge of Buchanan was intimate, even brotherly; mine, though dating many years back, was comparatively slight. But I have read Buchanan’s books, and I know something of the spirit in which he lived and worked, and I am convinced that Mr. Murray is wrong. It is not always those who have come nearest to the details of a man’s daily life, who have come nearest to him in spirit, as Amy Levy knew well when she wrote those lines, To a Dead Poet, which I shall be pardoned for bringing to my readers’ remembrance:

I knew not if to laugh or weep:
     They sat and talked of you—
’Twas here he sat: ’twas this he said,
     ’Twas that he used to do.

‘Here is the book wherein he read,
     The room wherein he dwelt ;
And he’ (they said) ‘was such a man,
     Such things he thought and felt.’

I sat and sat, I did not stir;                                                             120
     They talked and talked away.
I was as mute as any stone,
     I had no word to say.

They talked and talked; like to a stone
     My heart grew in my breast—
I, who had never seen your face,
     Perhaps I knew you best.

     “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.
     “Again I say that I believe Mr. Murray to be wrong. Buchanan, like his own Wandering Jew, 121 trod many dark highways and byways of death, but he never remained—he never could have remained—in that Mortuary of the Soul, that cul-de-sac of Despair which we call Atheism.

.                  .                   .                 .                  .                 .

     “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.
     “Over the body of one whose voice is silenced by death, we assert the truth of doctrines which living he had unhesitatingly rejected. It is as if we would, coward-like, claim in death what was denied us in life.
     “In the case of a man whose beliefs were those of Robert Buchanan, how much more seemly it would be to lay him to rest with some such words as these:
     “‘To the God from Whom he came, we commend this our friend and brother in humanity, trusting that what in life he has done amiss, may in death be forgotten and forgiven; that what in life he has done well, may in death be borne in remembrance. And so from out our human love, into the peace of the Divine love, we commend him, leaving him with the God from Whom, when we in our turn come to depart whither he has gone, we hope to receive like pardon, forgiveness and peace. In God’s hands, to God’s love and mercy, we leave him.’”

     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.
     This was not the view taken by Swinburne and Watts-Dunton. It so happened that I encountered the latter in the Strand a morning or two later, and more in sadness than in anger he reproached me with “disloyalty to Gabriel, disloyalty to Algernon, and disloyalty to myself.”
     I replied that touching Rossetti, as he did not happen to be the King, had never so much as heard of my small existence, nor had I ever set eyes upon him, to accuse me of disloyalty to him, to whom I owed no loyalty, struck me as a work of supererogation. And, as touching Swinburne and Watts-Dunton himself, honoured as I was by the high privilege of their friendship, I could not admit that that friendship committed me to a blind partisanship and to the identification of myself with their literary likings or dislikings or their personal quarrels.
     My rejection of the penitential role, to say nothing of my refusing to take the matter seriously, seemed to surprise and to trouble Watts-Dunton. While protesting the regard of everyone at The Pines for me personally, he gave me to understand that Swinburne in particular was so wounded by my championship as he called it of Buchanan, that he would have some trouble in making my peace in that quarter, and even hinted that an arrangement, by which I was either to lunch or to dine at The Pines within the next few days, had better stand over.
123     Naturally I replied—I could hardly do otherwise, as I did not see my way without insincerity to express regret for what I had written about Buchanan, though I did express regret that it had given offence to Swinburne and himself—that that must be as he chose, and so we parted, sadly on my side if not on his; and I neither saw nor heard from anyone at The Pines for some little time after. Then one morning came the following letter:

     MY DEAR KERNAHAN,
         Don’t think any more of that unpleasant little affair. Of course neither Swinburne nor I expect our friends, however loyal, to take part in the literary quarrels that may be forced upon us. But this man had the character among men who knew him well of being the most thorough sweep, and to us it did seem queer to see your honoured name associated with such a man. But, after all, even he may not have been as black as his acquaintances painted him. Your loyalty to us I do not doubt.
                   Yours affectionately,
                             THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON.

     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.
     Since it was Swinburne much more than Watts-Dunton who so bitterly resented what I had written of Buchanan, I am glad to have upon my shelves a volume of Selections from Swinburne, published 124 after his death, and edited by Watts-Dunton. The book was sent to me by the Editor, and was inscribed:

                   “To Coulson Kernahan,
whom Swinburne dearly loved, and who
as dearly loved him.
         From Theodore Watts-Dunton.”

     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.
                                                                                                                                 Oct. 20th, 1913.

     MY DEAR KERNAHAN,
       Your telegram congratulating me upon having reached my 81st birthday affected me deeply. Ever since the beginning of our long intimacy I have had from you nothing but generosity and affection, almost unexampled, I think, between two literary 125 men. My one chagrin is that I can get only glimpses of you of the briefest kind. Your last visit here was indeed a red-letter day. Don’t forget when occasion offers to come and see us. Your welcome will be of the most heartfelt kind.
                   Most affectionately yours,
                             THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON  

_____

 

Other Accounts of the Fleshly School Controversy - continued

 

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