The Critical Response - The Dynasts
1. ‘The Immediate Source of The Dynasts’ by Hoxie N. Fairchild
2. ‘The Original Source of Hardy's Dynasts’ by John A. Cassidy
‘The Immediate Source of The Dynasts’ by Hoxie N. Fairchild
From Publications of the Modern Language Association (Vol. 67, No. 2, March, 1952 - pp. 43-64).
THE IMMEDIATE SOURCE OF THE DYNASTS*
BY HOXIE N. FAIRCHILD
IN my opinion Robert (“Fleshly School”) Buchanan’s The Drama of Kings (1871) exerted so strong an influence on Hardy’s Dynasts that it deserves to be regarded as the immediate source of that work. The contention would appear to be virginal.1 The biographies and critical studies of Abercrombie, Blunden, Brennecke, Chakravarty, Chew, Duffin, Florence Emily Hardy, Hedgcock, Holland, McDowall, Rutland, Southworth, Symons, Weber, and Webster provide, in their greatly varying degree, suggestions as to the philosophical and literary background of Hardy’s trilogy. None of them, however, suggests any relation between The Dynasts and The Drama of Kings. In fact none of them even mentions the name of Robert Williams Buchanan with the exception of Edmund Blunden, who notes the interesting fact that Buchanan dedicated to Hardy his novel, Come Live with Me and Be My Love.2 He might also have observed that Buchanan elsewhere devotes a laudatory poem to Hardy and warmly praises “Tom Hardy” in another poem.3
* The article by John A. Cassidy on “Robert Buchanan and the Fleshly Controversy,” which immediately follows, was accepted for publication on 8 June 1951, and Professor Fairchild’s article was accepted on 20 June. On 21 June a letter arrived from Dr. Cassidy asking if PMLA would be interested in considering an article on the source of the Dynasts. Recognizing an ironic coincidence, the Editor wrote on 21 June to ask that the article be sent “at once,” explaining that an article on the same subject had just been accepted. Dr. Cassidy’s essay arrived promptly and proved to be, in most essential respects, a duplication of Professor Fairchild’s argument. In view of the chronology of events—and after an agreeable interchange of letters with both authors—the Editor eventually suggested that the second article be sent to Professor Fairchild, with a covering letter from Dr. Cassidy permitting the use, with acknowledgments, of any pertinent materials not already present in the first article. This was done, with results here evident.—ED.
1 But see the Editor’s note on the interesting coincidence by which the maiden topic has divided her favors between Dr. Cassidy and me. Dr. Cassidy informs me that he became convinced of Hardy’s indebtedness to Buchanan in the fall of 1950; I stumbled upon the same fact in March 1951. Thus although, for reasons which the Editor of PMLA explains, I have been granted the privilege of making the announcement, Dr. Cassidy should be recognized as the first discoverer. I am extremely grateful for his kind permission to use his MS. article, “Buchanan’s Drama of Kings and Hardy’s Dynasts,” in revising the paper which I originally submitted to this journal. References to his findings in my text and footnotes indicate precisely the extent and nature of my indebtedness to his expert knowledge of Buchanan. They do not, however, adequately express my appreciation of the generous spirit which he has shown in this complicated affair.
2 Thomas Hardy (London, 1942), p. 95. Blunden probably gathered this fact from the description of Item 30 in the catalogue, Thomas Hardy, a Collection of Books from His Library at Max Gate (London: Maggs Bros., 1938). I have not read Buchanan’s novel. Dr. Cassidy describes it as “a downright plagiarism of The Woodlanders and Far from the Madding Crowd.”
3 Buchanan, Complete Poetical Works (London, 1901), II, 400, 403.
44 When the Hardy scholars speak of “influences” they are merely suggesting that certain works, each of them admittedly different from The Dynasts in almost all other respects, might have contributed this or that element to the masterpiece. The consensus of scholarly opinion is that the work is essentially unique. Rutland, who provides the most elaborate and by far the most fruitful discussion of the problem, asserts: “In the literature of the nineteenth century after Shelley, there is nothing to which it is even remotely related. . . . It appears then, that had England, in the three-quarters of a century before The Dynasts was written, produced no imaginative literature, Hardy’s masterpiece would still be what it is. Such independence would surely be hard to parallel.”4
The thesis of this article by no means excludes the possibility that The Dynasts was also influenced by some or all of the background works mentioned by the authorities. The situation is complicated by the fact that The Drama of Kings seems to have been influenced by Aeschylus, Goethe, Shelley, Hugo, and Swinburne—all of whom are alleged by one scholar or another to have influenced The Dynasts. Hence I must not too confidently trace back to Buchanan some element for which both he and Hardy may be independently indebted to an earlier source. Rutland says that “Hardy’s continual use of semichoruses was clearly modelled upon Shelley’s practice” in Prometheus Unbound, and that “Hardy saw in Hellas how choral poetry might be grafted on to events in history.”5 Now Buchanan uses semichoruses no less continually than Shelley, and he grafts choral poetry on to historical events which were more interesting to Hardy than the Greek Revolution. Perhaps Shelley alone is responsible for the presence of these elements in The Drama of Kings and The Dynasts. This possibility, however, does not diminish the significance of the fact that Buchanan’s work embodies in a philosophical-historical drama on the Napoleonic tradition not only these but several other features which scholars have hitherto sought up and down the centuries and all about the Western world.
Let me also note in passing that Rutland’s hesitant suggestion (not, I believe, anticipated or echoed by other scholars) of a faint similarity between The Dynasts and the work of the Spasmodics is highly gratifying to me. Buchanan was a belated Spasmodic6 and a close friend of Sydney Dobell. If Rutland had moved onward from Dobell’s Balder (1854),
4 William R. Rutland, Thomas Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Background (Oxford, 1938), pp. 284, 288.
5 Ibid., p. 289.
6 Ibid., pp. 285-286. Corroboration is supplied by Dr. Cassidy, whose MS. article shows that at least one reviewer associated The Drama of Kings with the qualities of the Spasmodic school.
45 which he mentions, to Buchanan’s Balder the Beautiful (1877), he might well have come upon The Drama of Kings.
The scholarly works consulted by me, the merest neophyte in this field, constitute only a minute fraction of all the books and articles devoted to Hardy. In answer to my appeals for guidance, however, Ernest Brennecke, Samuel C. Chew, and Carl J. Weber replied that so far as they knew the question had never been discussed. Having looked into the small amount of Buchanan material pretty thoroughly, I can say that nothing published about him between the appearance of Part I of The Dynasts and the present (May 1951) has any bearing on our problem. Here, of course, Dr. Cassidy’s agreement is conclusive. It seems safe to assume that if, in the teeth of the leading authorities, anyone had contended that Hardy was influenced by Buchanan the fact would be known to my kind advisers at Bryn Mawr, Colby, and Columbia. If the question has ever been raised, it has certainly never entered the main stream of scholarship.
Of course Hardy himself never published a word that intimated any obligation to Buchanan; and there is no evidence that he ever spoke such a word on the many occasions when pilgrims to Max Gate persuaded him to talk of The Dynasts. Buchanan, as we have seen, warmly admired his writings and said so in print on at least three occasions. Even without the evidence which will be adduced later, the antecedent probability that Hardy would have read a widely- reviewed treatment of a Napoleonic theme by this well-known man of letters is strong.
For our purposes the question of whether the two men were personally acquainted is interesting but not at all crucial. The familiar “Tom Hardy” would be good affirmative evidence if Buchanan had been a less impudent fellow. The words of the dedication of Come Live with Me and Be My Love (1892) are so formal as to suggest only slight, if any, acquaintance: “To Thomas Hardy. Dear Sir,—Will you permit me to inscribe with your name a tale of English country life, with no claim to any higher merit than that of extreme simplicity both of subject and treatment? The author of ‘The Woodlanders’ needs no tribute from me, but I venture to tender it, nevertheless, in memory of many happy hours passed in the Arcadia of your creation, and in token of my admiration for one of the few remaining masters of English fiction. I am, Dear Sir, Yours truly, Robert Buchanan.”7 In Dr. Cassidy’s opinion, “personal acquaintance is probable.” He observes that they were “almost exact contemporaries, Hardy being born in 1840 and Buchanan in 1841”; that they were both in London from 1862 to 1866; that they were both
7 I am obliged to my daughter, Anne Fairchild, who transcribed this dedication for me from a copy in the Widener Library.
46 interested in positivistic philosophy, evolution, and the humanitarian movement. Their paths could easily have crossed, but on the whole we had better say that we simply do not know and that it does not greatly matter.
Dr. Cassidy concerns himself with a more important question when he avers that Hardy made wholly legitimate use of The Drama of Kings: “Certainly he had not plagiarized; he had adopted a plan which suited his purpose and had broadened and ennobled it beyond Buchanan’s rather crude and hastily written work. And if he had any lingering doubts or twinges of conscience, he could always silence them by recalling Buchanan’s flagrant plagiarization of his novels.” On the other hand Professor Weber strongly urged me to broaden my article into what would amount to a general discussion of Hardy as a plagiarist, using The Drama of Kings as the most striking of rather numerous examples. This task I prefer to leave to Professor Weber, who has already published several articles on this wider theme and whose special field I do not wish to invade. Suffice it to say here that there seems to be a good deal of evidence against the assumption that Hardy was incapable of deliberately concealing a literary debt.
In this instance, furthermore, he would have particularly strong motives for remaining silent. Buchanan, an egotistic, bad-tempered, and jealous man, had many acquaintances but few friends in literary circles. He lost most of the latter in 1871, the year in which The Drama of Kings was published. “It was reviewed,” says Dr. Cassidy, “within a few weeks after Buchanan had won for himself almost universal disapproval by his Fleshly School article attacking Rossetti in the Contemporary. Rossetti’s friends were powerful and held positions of influence in the critical world. They were not slow to seize the opportunity to belabor the ‘scrofulous’ Scotchman who had attacked Dante Gabriel.” It would have been humiliating for Hardy, in his most ambitious work, to acknowledge indebtedness to one of the least popular productions of this unpopular second-rater.
As early as June 1877 Hardy’s intention for his Napoleonic project had shifted from his 1875 idea of a series of ballads “forming altogether an Iliad of Europe from 1789 to 1815” to “a grand drama, based on the wars with Napoleon.”8 The Preface to The Dynasts seems to imply that
8 Florence Emily Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (New York, 1928), pp. 140, 150. These and all other passages quoted from this book are used by permission of the publishers, the Macmillan Company. My statement does not necessarily imply that Hardy first read The Drama of Kings between May 1875 and June 1877. He may well have read it soon after its appearance in 1871 but tried at first not to do something that in any way resembled this work on a subject which had fascinated him since boyhood. And as late as March 1881 (ibid., p. 191) he has not quite abandoned the ballads idea, which of course is reflected in several of the Wessex Poems.
47 the work was “outlined” about 1897.9 Hardy had been gathering material and making plans for about a score of years before that, but by 1897 he may have felt that the unsuccessful Drama of Kings lay so far in the past that he could outline in good earnest. Buchanan himself had helped to dismember and bury his own Napoleonic trilogy, for Dr. Cassidy’s manuscript informs us that in the collected Poetical Works of 1874 “he cut it so drastically as to destroy its identity, publishing in the second volume some selections from it under the general title ‘Songs of the Terrible Year’ and in the third a few more titled ‘Political Mystics’.”10 As my fellow-discoverer suggests, Buchanan’s repudiation of his own work might have led Hardy to feel “that he had carved his epic out of the cast-off block of marble, and that, therefore, there was no necessity of an acknowledgment.”
In his closing years, furthermore, Buchanan was thought of as a novelist, playwright, and miscellaneous journalist rather than as a poet.11 But besides Hardy there was certainly one person who remembered the Drama, and his name was Robert Buchanan. In 1901 that obstacle was removed by death, and in 1902 we find Hardy for the first time at work on the actual composition of The Dynasts.12 I do not know in what month of 1903 Buchanan’s sister-in-law, Harriet Jay, published her memoir, Robert Buchanan, but it is extremely unlikely that she had seen the rare first issue of Dynasts I. In any case she said next to nothing about Buchanan’s writings. Hardy could safely proceed to finish his own trilogy. Since he transformed a mess of Schwärmerei into something like a masterpiece we may, if we choose, say the usual things about the privileges of genius. Or we may insist that although Hardy was fully entitled to make creative use of The Drama of Kings, he should have said “Thank you”
9 (New York, 1936), p. vi.
10 I had already observed this curious dismantling of The Drama of Kings in the Complete Poetical Works of 1901. That edition, however, is in two volumes, in the first of which “Songs of the Terrible Year” and “Political Mystics” constitute successive sections. Hence the identity of the Drama is less completely obscured than in the three-volume 1874 Poetical Works more properly used by Dr. Cassidy, where the two batches of selections are printed in different volumes. Since the Drama is a comparatively rare book, these bibliographical details may help to explain why Hardy’s indebtedness has so long remained unnoticed. Nevertheless it was a reading of the 1901 Complete Poetical Works which made me feel certain that the Drama, which I had not yet read in its entirety, would reveal a connection with Hardy.
11 Archibald Stodart-Walker, Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt (London, 1901), p. 332. This book was written when Buchanan was still alive but known to be dying of an incurable disease. Stodart-Walker devotes an entire chapter (pp. 89-111) to The Drama of Kings but hardly does more than summarize it. The title-essay of Henry Murray, Robert Buchanan: A Critical Appreciation, and Other Essays (London, 1901), was written, or at least completed, after Buchanan’s death. It does not mention the Drama.
12 Florence Emily Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy (New York, 1930), p. 100.
48 to the querulous shade of poor Robert Buchanan. I hold the latter opinion, but I am not undertaking an investigation of the professional ethics of Thomas Hardy.
So far we have been assuming what remains to be proved. It is not impossible that some Hardy experts may already have considered the hypothesis which I am about to advance but have tacitly rejected it as unworthy of serious consideration. For the differences between the two books are immense, and I do not wish to ignore them. In playing my hand I shall lead from weakness, holding back the ace.
The Dynasts, with all its faults, is a monument of English literature; The Drama of Kings is one of the least successful major efforts of a poet who always overstrained the real but limited talent which he possessed. Credibly and charitably, Dr. Cassidy suggests that the faults of this particular work may be ascribed partly to the conflicting emotions aroused in Buchanan by the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War at a time when he had not yet fully recovered from a nervous breakdown caused by overwork and by sorrow at his father’s death. The Drama, though unbearably long, is a mere triolet in comparison with the huge bulk of The Dynasts. The historical fields of the two dramas overlap but do not coincide. Only Part I of Buchanan’s (“Buonaparte, or France Against the Teuton”) directly concerns the first Napoleon. Part II (“Napoleon Fallen”) deals with Napoleon III in his downfall, and Part III (“The Teuton Against Paris”) with Wilhelm and Bismarck in their hour of triumph. Buchanan, indeed, derives his “inspiration” less from an interest in Bonaparte than from humanitarian indignation at the Franco-Prussian War and humanitarian hopes aroused by the deposition of Napoleon III and the proclamation of the Third Republic.13 In Part I, furthermore, there is nothing about England, the true hero of Hardy’s drama: the theme is “France Against the Teuton.” The action opens at Erfurt after the victory of Jena and corresponds, very roughly, to that of Part II, Act I, Scenes iii-viii of The Dynasts. Unlike Hardy, Buchanan cares little about history for history’s sake: it merely provides opportunity for rhetoric on the part of the human characters and for lyricism on the part of the Chorus.
Buchanan talks about destiny, but he is less bleakly necessitarian and mechanistic than Hardy. He seems to assume that the general course of history is the working-out of an incomprehensible law but that the characters are more or less free agents. But although he is enthusiastic
18 Part II, “Napoleon Fallen,” was separately published in 1871 before the appearance of the entire Drama of Kings. Using dates of reviews as evidence, Dr. Cassidy suggests January for the former and November for the latter, in which “Napoleon Fallen” was considerably revised.
49 about Humanity, he takes almost no interest in individual human beings. Hence his historic personages, theoretically freer than Hardy’s, do not exhibit even the puppet-individuality possessed by those of The Dynasts. In the Drama we find nothing about an unconscious Immanent Will which may or may not eventually acquire consciousness. The mysterious force which directs the actions of men is called “God” and referred to as “He,” not “It.”
The Drama of Kings is written entirely in verse. It possesses not one gleam of humor. The entire Dynasts cannot be staged in a theatre; but it can very impressively be staged in the reader’s mind, and many of its scenes are admirably dramatic. The Drama of Kings is not a play in this or any other sense. Buchanan treats the downfall of Bonaparte in a “Choric Interlude” sandwiched between Parts I and II. Here Waterloo is not even mentioned, much less spread before our eyes. A Voice representing Humanity merely keeps informing a Voice representing Bonaparte that his hour has struck, and the Chorus sings its exultation and finally its pity. Even in the main body of the work, where closet-drama conventions are more faithfully observed, there is hardly any attempt to convey an illusion of reality through concrete detail. One finds a few stage directions such as “Clouds rise” and “A confused noise,” but nothing that could have suggested to Hardy his elaborate descriptions of actions and scenic effects or his dumb-shows.
In the main body of the Drama the only supernatural spectators are the Chorus. They are more consistently spectators than Hardy’s, who sometimes mingle in the human action.14 They frequently divide into Semichoruses I and II and possess soloists who speak as separate Voices. These Voices, however, are not differentiated Spirits of this and that as in Hardy.l5 Essentially Buchanan’s Chorus is a unit which expresses, without opposition or mockery from other Spirits, the sorrows and hopes of Hardy’s Pities. The Drama of Kings has no Recording Angels. Its choric portions display much less prosodic variety and resourcefulness than those of The Dynasts. We shall see later that there are significant verbal resemblances, but here it must be granted that they are very few and difficult to discover except by the closest reading.
In short it would be nonsense to say that Hardy is a mere imitator of Buchanan. Great as they are, however, the differences are no greater than those which exist between many other literary works and their
14 Dr. Cassidy, however, instances a case (Drama, p. 83) in which Buchanan’s Chorus directly warns Napoleon.
15 Of course their moods vary with the circumstances to which they respond. Dr. Cassidy would trace Hardy’s sharper classification of his Spirits to the shifts of feeling in Buchanan’s Chorus, but as to this point I feel rather sceptical.
50 acknowledged sources—say between Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra. The Drama of Kings is a poetic trilogy in closet-drama form concerning Bonaparte and the heritage of his ambition. It deals sympathetically with the sufferings of the common people beneath the feet of dynasts. It is local and cosmic, natural and supernatural, historical and philosophical. It regards nineteenth-century European history as merely a phase in the endless martyrdom of humanity:16 in dedicating the work “to the Spirit of Auguste Comte” Buchanan calls it “this Drama of Evolution,” a phrase that would have interested Hardy. The historical events are commented upon by a chorus of “celestial spectators” who view the play from seats in “the Heavenly Theatre.” Until we find another work anterior to The Dynasts which shares with it all of these essential characteristics, the hypothesis that Buchanan influenced Hardy is not to be rejected without serious investigation.
The action of Part I of the Drama takes place at Erfurt after the victory of Jena. It opens with a despairing dialogue between Baron Stein and an Officer. Their dejection is then rendered lyrically by the Chorus, hopelessly longing for the ever-receding “Golden Year” of freedom. It should be noted that the Chorus is not a group of German soldiers or war- widows but a group of heavenly watchers. Stein, Arndt, and Jahn, less dejectedly, discuss their hope that Austria and Russia will come to the aid of “the Teuton soul,” which Buchanan rashly identifies with the freedom-loving Spirit of Man. The Chorus sings of how the noble passion for liberty aroused by Washington and Lafayette has been perverted by Napoleon into a new tyranny.
There follows a scene (in the Continental sense) which is at least rather Hardyesque in personnel: “Buonaparte; the Czar; Jerome Buonaparte; Louis Buonaparte; the Kings of Saxony, Bavaria, Wurtemberg; the Hereditary Princes and Dukes of the Rhenish Confederation.”17 Enter to them, with historical inaccuracy admitted by Buchanan in a note (p. 454), Louisa of Prussia. The scene which she now plays with Napoleon and the Czar has none of the rich sardonic humanity of the corresponding scene in The Dynasts but might have suggested to Hardy the dramatic possibilities of such a confrontation. Louisa, left alone, spouts a pathetic soliloquy. Enter to her Stein, who cheers her with such remarks as
16 The curious jumble of optimism and pessimism in Buchanan’s thought reminds one of Winwood Reade’s Martyrdom of Man, which was not, however, published until the year after the Drama. But Buchanan knew Charles Reade and may have had opportunities to converse with his nephew. See Harriet Jay, Robert Buchanan (London, 1903), p. 175.
l7 Buchanan, The Drama of Kings (London, 1871), p. 55. Subsequent page references given in my text are to this edition.
The legions of the conqueror are weak 51
Against the strength of the Free Thought of Man. (p. 75)
He sounds like the Marquis of Posa in Schiller’s Don Carlos. Taking their cue from him, the Chorus sings more sanguinely of Liberty, whose betrayer, Napoleon, must and will be destroyed.
Then a scene between Bonaparte and a Cardinal in which the conqueror spurns the authority of the Pope and threatens him through his emissary. The Chorus, growing more and more Shelleyan as its hopes rise, says that earth, ocean, air,
All liberated things that leap and roll
Unfetter’d under yonder heaven, await
The one free voice triumphant over Fate,
The one free voice of Man, the Life, the Soul. (p. 107)
Next comes an endless speech by Napoleon to his “Famulus.” The Famulus says nothing, does nothing, and is presumably invisible. Napoleon is the “Avatar,” the sadly corrupted mortal manifestation of the “Titan,” the freedom- loving Spirit of Man. The Famulus, whom Bonaparte addresses as “Soul within my Soul” (p. 120), is a sort of spiritual link uniting what the conqueror has become with what he originally was. Napoleon tells the Famulus of his ambition to be “King of all Humanity.” He has advanced to his present height by enlisting in his service the Titan Man, to whom he has represented himself as “Child of the Revolution” and champion of Liberty, the princesse lointaine whom the Titan is constantly seeking. But herein he has deceived Man, for “she he seeks I know to be a dream.” His one fear is that the Titan, who is infinitely mightier than he, may discover the trick, “put out his frightful strength again” as in the Revolution, and destroy him. At all events he must die some day, and then what will become of his empire? “I must have a child.” Hence he tells the Famulus of his plan to divorce Josephine and arrange a match with Princess Anne of Russia (pp. 113- 127 passim). Concluding Part I, the Chorus calls upon the Titan to arise in his might. He obliges in the misty “Choric Interlude” to which I have already referred.
The possibility that all this might have provided the crude stuff which Hardy’s imagination metamorphosed into The Dynasts is rendered less remote by certain specific points. Hardy informs us through his wife: “By November of 1887 he had outlined another plan for The Dynasts, in which Napoleon was represented as haunted by an Evil Genius, or Familiar, whose existence he has to confess to his wives.”18 Perhaps, then,
18 Early Life, p. 266 (italics mine). Throughout the remainder of this article italics will be used to call attention to verbal resemblances.
52 Hardy considered and abandoned the notion of using Buchanan’s Famulus in a way of his own. In abandoning his own conception, however, he returned to something very like Buchanan’s. In Part I of The Dynasts the Spirit of the Pities says that Napoleon
Professed at first to flout antiquity,
Scorn limp conventions, smile at mouldy thrones,
And level dynasts down to journeymen!—
Yet he, advancing swiftly on that track
Whereby his active soul, fair Freedom’s child,
Makes strange decline, now labours to achieve
The thing it overthrew.19
Buchanan had already implied that Napoleon’s “Soul within my Soul” is the child of freedom.
The lines just quoted from The Dynasts also show that Hardy agrees with Buchanan in regarding Napoleon not as a mere tyrant, but as a corrupted champion of liberty. The Chorus of the Pities echoes the insistence of Buchanan’s Chorus that Napoleon must be crushed,
. . . For the large potencies
Instilled into his idiosyncrasy—
To throne fair Liberty in Privilege’ room—
Are taking taint, and sink to common plots
For his own gain. (p. 4)
And the Spirit of the Pities later whispers in the conqueror’s ear:
Would it not seemlier be to shut thy heart
To these unhealthy splendours?—render thee
To whom thou swarest first, fair Liberty? (p. 56)
The epithet “fair,” attached to personified and capitalized Freedom or Liberty in all three of the foregoing quotations, accords with Buchanan’s basic metaphor of Liberty as a beautiful woman, constantly attracting and constantly eluding Man her suitor.
Since Parts II and III of The Drama of Kings do not correspond to the historical matter of The Dynasts, no detailed discussion of them is needed. A few specific points are worth noting. In Hardy’s memorandum of 21 September 1889 we read: “A spectral tone must be adopted. . . . Royal Ghosts.”20 Throughout both works, of course, the choric material
19 Thomas Hardy, The Dynasts (New York, 1936), Part I, 53. Quoted, like all my other quotations from his work, by permission of the publishers, the Macmillan Company. References are to pages of the three Parts, separately paginated in this one-volume edition.
20 Early Life, p. 290.
53 provides a spectral tone, though far more successfully in Hardy’s. But as for Royal Ghosts, in Part II of the Drama the sleeping Napoleon III is reproached by various ghosts among whom the shades of Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Emperor Maximilian qualify as royal. In Dynasts III, Bonaparte is similarly haunted, but by his dead soldiers and generals rather than by royalty.21 Of course this device is at least as old as Shakespeare’s Richard III, and the parallel is inconclusive. But perhaps by “Royal Ghosts” Hardy means that the kings should be portrayed—and they are so portrayed in The Dynasts—as merely phantasmal shadows of mysterious realities which transcend their petty mouthings and struttings. In that case we should note that Buchanan’s personified figure of Time speaks in the “Epilogue” of the Drama of “these Ghosts of Kings” (p. 428). The phrase means “these kings who are mere phantoms.”
The third part of Buchanan’s trilogy contains a scene between a Deserter and the Chorus, which here uniquely and absurdly abandons its celestial-spectator status to become a “Chorus of Sisters of the Red Cross.'” At first they reproach the Deserter for his cowardice, but his recital of what he has suffered in this war between rival kings arouses their pity (pp. 321-333). The scene, though feeble enough, might have suggested the remarkable scene of the deserters in Dynasts II. Buchanan’s Deserter does not say, like Hardy’s, “Good Lord deliver us from all great men, and take me back again to humble life” (II.120), but that is what he means.
Our inquiry grows more fruitful when we turn to the supernatural machinery of the two works and the more or less philosophical ideas for which it is the medium. After a dedicatory poem “To the Spirit of Auguste Comte” and a lyric “Proem,” both written in Buchanan’s own person, The Drama of Kings opens with a “Prelude Before the Curtain.” The scene is “The Heavenly Theatre.” “The Lord” and “The Archangels” are present but say nothing. Much less taciturn are “The Celestial Spectators,” who will constitute the Chorus throughout the work except when the Red Cross Sisters briefly usurp their function in Part III. Unwilling to commit himself as to the heavenly status of his Spirits, Hardy in his Preface (pp. vii-viii) calls them “supernatural spectators” or “Phantasmal Intelligences.” Looking forward for a moment to Buchanan's “Epilogue,” we note that the personified figure of Time speaks of the
21 Dynasts III.254. On another occasion Napoleon is addressed in his sleep by the Spirit of the Years (ibid., p. 344).
. . . host 54
Of strange Intelligences who behold
Our Drama. (p. 430)
“Phantasmal” is a great improvement on “strange.” In the “Prelude” the only philosophizing is provided by the celestial Chorus, who mystically declare that when at last the Rose of Heaven fully unfolds, the Heart of the Rose will prove to be identical with the Heart of Man. Lucifer now appears, but he cuts an even feebler figure than that least successful of Hardy’s Phantasmal Intelligences, the Spirit Sinister. Here he is simply Buchanan in masquerade, making an uneasily jocular little speech about what the spectators (actually the modern readers) are to expect.
The “Prelude” is followed by a “Prologue” (Buchanan is cloyingly generous in such matters)22 which consists wholly of a speech by a “cloaked and hooded” figure who introduces himself as “that ancient Shadow men call Time” (p. 13). The closely corresponding character in The Dynasts is of course The Ancient Spirit of the Years. After some remarks which we must glance at later, Time suddenly “Unhoods—shows the mask of a Caput Mortuum,” and announces:
. . . My name
Is Death; and I am deathless. I
Am Time and most eternal. I am he,
God’s Usher, and my duty is to lead
The actors one by one upon the scene,
And afterwards to guide them quietly
Through that dark postern when their parts are played.
They come and go, alas! but I abide,
And I am weary of the garish stage. (p. 17)
Observe his hoary weariness and disillusion, prominent characteristics of Hardy’s Spirit of the Years. Less fond of pseudo-mystical paradoxes, Hardy does not identify this Spirit with Death but makes him refer familiarly to “The Will’s old Tipstaff, . . . my good friend Death” (II.15). For Hardy the Immanent Will is the only God, and in this context “Usher” and “Tipstaff” are perfect synonyms. Time ends his speech by sketching the historical situation at the beginning of Part I, thus foreshadowing the function performed by Hardy’s Recording Angels.
Buchanan’s “Prelude” and “Prologue,” taken together, correspond to Hardy’s “Fore Scene.” At the close they are balanced by an “Epilude” and “Epilogue” which similarly correspond to the “After Scene.” Where
22 Dr. Cassidy’s manuscript shows that two of Buchanan’s reviewers objected to this pretentious superfluity.
55 the “Epilude” takes place is hard to say, for those present include not only The Lord and all the Spirits but Chancellor Bismarck, the dominating figure of Part III. We may safely assume, however, that the location is one suitable for disclosing the higher truth of things; for Bismarck, unmasking, reveals himself as Lucifer, who explains that he had also played Bonaparte in Part I and Napoleon III in Part II. The Lord urbanely says that under all his disguises Lucifer has “wrought for good” (p. 435). The Chorus hymns its vision of that Heavenly City of the future which shall be ruled by the Soul of Man—“Last of the fruits of Earth, first of the fruits of Heaven” (p. 447). Finally comes the “Epilogue,” which consists of a summary and peroration by Time.
The Drama of Kings has no preface, but Buchanan appends an essay “On Mystic Realism: A Note for the Adept.” He has tried, he explains, “to combine two qualities which the modern mind is accustomed to regard apart—reality and mystery, earthliness and spirituality” (p. 465). Hardy has more successfully achieved that combination. Like Hardy in his Preface, Buchanan in his essay speaks rather diffidently of his spirit-personages, fearing that perhaps “the supernatural machinery of Prelude and Epilude is a defect, like all allegory. . . . But if it serves to keep before the reader the fact that the whole action of the drama is seen from the divine auditorium, he [the author] will not regret its introduction.” At least he “may plead the example of the greatest poetic sceptic of modern times. No one did fuller justice to mystic truths than the great positivist who wrote the first and second ‘Fausts’” (p. 470). The formula of poetic scepticism or mystical positivism might be applied to The Dynasts. We also recall Hardy’s description of his Spirits as “supernatural spectators of the terrestrial drama” (p. vii). Rutland praises Hardy for “his creation of a form new in literary technique. He places a drama within a drama.” This critic grants the probable influence of Faust but believes that Hardy made much more thorough-going use of this conception.23 Buchanan, however, has anticipated Hardy by staging in “the divine auditorium” his “royal puppet-shows” (II.302), which in themselves are merely episodes in the eternal mystery-play of human life (p. 428). Buchanan’s readers, like Hardy’s, are spectators of the spectators of a play.
Buchanan contributed little or nothing to the realistic and historical aspects of Hardy’s long-meditated scheme. But he did, I believe, suggest the possibility of substituting philosophico-historical closet-drama of “mystic realism” for straightforward narrative poetry and of placing the whole action under the gaze of celestial interpreters. Buchanan would
23 Rutland, Thomas Hardy, p. 319.
56 probably not have influenced Hardy in this respect unless there had been some community of thought and feeling between the two men. The “philosophies” of The Drama of Kings and The Dynasts are not so different as a hasty reading might lead one to suppose. Of course I am not suggesting that Hardy’s characteristic view of life, which had taken form under other influences as early as 1866, was shaped by Buchanan. My contention is rather that Hardy found in the Drama certain congenial ideas and an example of how they might give cosmic sweep and loftiness to his own Napoleonic project. The Dynasts, predominantly pessimistic, clings stubbornly to a hope, and the hope is that of Buchanan expressed less sentimentally and flamboyantly. The Drama of Kings, predominantly optimistic, is shadowed by pessimism, and the pessimism is very similar to Hardy’s.
Within the straitened limits of an article it would be impossible to give a detailed account of Buchanan’s complex, inconsistent, constantly veering philosophical and religious views as revealed by the two stout volumes—small print and double columns—of his Complete Poetical Works (London, 1901). Briefly, he was a perfect specimen of the Victorian believing unbeliever.24 If you asked him to believe anything in particular he would talk like the village atheist. If you asked him to deny the existence of God and the hope of immortality he would talk like an enraptured seer. He felt at home with Leslie Stephen (also a friend of Hardy’s), Lecky, and Lewes; he felt equally at home with Sydney Dobell and Roden Noel.25 He wished to resemble his picture of Goethe—a poetic sceptic, a mystical positivist. He enjoyed being gloomy, and he hankered after roseate illusions.
God, he says in The Book of Orm, has hidden His face behind the veil of the sky, which He has woven for that purpose. Our constant longing to behold that face is therefore constantly thwarted. When Buchanan feels sentimentally pessimistic, he emphasizes the futility of the quest; when he feels sentimentally optimistic, he cries:
Yet mark me closely!
Strongly I swear,
Seen or seen not
The Face is there!26
In the latter mood he can even credit Christianity with “The higher truth of poesy divine” and apostrophize Pilgrim’s Progress:
24 Especially for this reason I hope that Dr. Cassidy’s dissertation on Buchanan may be published as a book.
25 Harriet Jay, Robert Buchanan (London, 1903), pp. viii, 21, 66, 76, 104 ff., 118 ff., 120n., 127, 228.
26 Complete Poetical Works, I, 258. Italics are Buchanan’s.
O fairy Tale Divine! O gentle quest 57
Of Christian and the rest!
What wonder if we love it to the last,
Tho’ childish faith be past,
What marvel if it changes not, but seems
The loveliest of dreams?27
Compare the wistful “Hoping it might be so” mood of Hardy’s The Oxen and The Darkling Thrush—or the cry of the Spirit of the Pities:
Something within me aches to pray
To some Great Heart, to take away
This evil day, this evil day. (II.276)
It might be added that Buchanan was strongly opposed to vivisection and to every other sort of cruelty to animals. If Hardy wrote The Sheep Fair and The Blinded Bird, Buchanan wrote The Song of the Fur-Seal.28
Although he dedicates The Drama of Kings to the spirit of Comte, Buchanan is by no means an orthodox positivist. Nevertheless he represents that vague, loose, sentimentalized English refraction of Comte’s creed which may be called the Religion of Humanity. It provided a link between the unbelieving and the believing sides of his nature. It enabled him to spurn the illusions of supernaturalism and yet to bow in reverence before the concept of God Evolving:
No God behind us in the empty Vast,
No God enthroned on yonder heights above,
But God emerging, and evolved at last
Out of the inmost heart of human Love!29
Similarly in the Drama the Chorus is sustained by the faith that when at last we behold the face of God we shall find it to be none other than the face of perfected Man.
But what has all this to do with Hardy? If on one occasion he assured Clive Holland that he would prefer not to have been born, on another occasion he told the same friend “that his books were not ‘the gospel of pessimism’ that one American critic had described them, ‘but one continued plea against man’s inhumanity to man—to woman—and the lower animals’.”30 The two statements express inseparable elements in
27 Ibid., II, 52.
28 Dr. Cassidy enables me to say further that Buchanan became an active member of the Humanitarian League in 1894, and that a letter of Hardy’s to the Secretary of the League in 1910 suggests that he also was either a member or strongly interested in its work. See Later Years, pp. 141-142.
29 Quoted by Harriet Jay, op. cit., p. 151.
30 Clive Holland, Thomas Hardy, O.M. (London, 1933), pp. 12, 13.
58 Hardy’s psychology. His pessimism was the outcry of a tender heart. Like his early mentor John Stuart Mill, he could not reconcile the religious hypothesis with the fact of pain in nature and in human relations. His response to the mystery of evil was mainly pessimistic, but not unrelievedly so. His friend Swinburne says of man in the “Prelude” to Songs Before Sunrise, “Save his own soul he hath no star”; and Hardy uses the line as a motto for Part II of Jude the Obscure. This thought was the source of his despair, but it was also his only reliance. “My practical philosophy,” he assured William Archer, “is distinctly melioristic.”31 In The Dynasts as in the whole body of his work the softer, more sanguine side of his nature is never wholly subdued by his sadness and irony. The Pities voice his own sympathy with human suffering, his indignation at tyranny, his melioristic hopes:
Yet is it but Napoléon who has failed.
The pale pathetic peoples still plod on
Through hoodwinkings to light! (III.158)
We misinterpret Hardy if we suppose that he expresses such aspirations merely to enjoy the cynical pleasure of mocking them through the Spirit of the Years and the Spirits Ironic and Sinister. In their gentle, wistful, groping way the Pities are indomitable, and they are granted the last word. Partly because Buchanan is more of a sentimentalized Comtian than Hardy and partly because he is much less of an artist, he talks more about Humanity and less about human beings. Nevertheless his Chorus, philosophically even more than technically, is a crude preliminary sketch of the Pities.
It may be objected that the Pities are sustained by an idea which finds no parallel in Buchanan—that the unconscious Immanent Will may some day acquire consciousness. But all this can actually mean for Hardy is that men may gradually become decent enough to treat their fellows with something like the beneficence which they used to impute to God before they learned that God does not exist. In other words, it means that the unconscious Will may become perfected human good-will. Wishing to be very “deep” in this most ambitious of his works, Hardy borrows from Hartmann an impressive metaphysical cloak (like pre-existence in Wordsworth’s Immortality) for the dim aspiration which he usually expresses in straightforward humanitarian terms. Fundamentally, all he offers here is what he offers in A Plaint to Man:
The fact of life with dependence placed
On the human heart’s resource alone,
In brotherhood bonded close and graced
31 Quoted by Blunden, Thomas Hardy, p. 111.
With loving-kindness fully blown, 59
And visioned help unsought, unknown.
This is what Buchanan is saying in his more sanguine, highfalutin, “mystical” way when he identifies the Heart of the “fully blown” Rose of Heaven with the Heart of Man.
It is true that Buchanan, stirred by the proclamation of the Third Republic, is more inclined to embody his aspirations in the language of political revolt.32 Nevertheless Hardy, as we have seen, makes a good deal of the fact that Bonaparte is the betrayer of “fair Liberty.” The Greek motto shows that Hardy did not draw his final title from the Magnificat without thinking of its context, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat”; nor would he object to our adding, “and hath exalted the humble and meek.” Professor Chew has reminded me, indeed, that the entire passage from St. Luke’s Gospel is quoted in a note to the After-Scene. Hardy often says with grim realism what Buchanan says with the rhetoric of Shelley or Hugo. Thus the Spirit Ironic at Waterloo:
Plied by the Managed for the Managers;
To wit: by fellow-folks who profit nought
For those who profit all! (III.337)
In their miIder way, the Pities express the same thought after the interview between Napoleon and the Emperor Francis:
Each for himself, his family, his heirs;
For the wan weltering nations who concerns, who cares? (I.208)
But the gentle Pities do more than lament and dream. They are reformers who think that Napoleon should be crushed. In his place, they say to the Spirit of Earth,
We would establish those of kindlier build,
In fair Compassions skilled,
Men of deep art in life-development;
Watchers and warders of thy [Earth’s] varied lands,
Men surfeited of laying heavy hands
Upon the innocent,
The mild, the fragile, the obscure content
Among the myriads of thy family.
Those, too, who love the true, the excellent,
And make their daily moves a melody. (I.4-5)
32 Buchanan’s father was a disciple of Robert Owen both as atheist and as socialist. In his Glasgow boyhood the poet “had become acquainted with the French socialists, Louis Blanc and Causidière, during their visits to the home of his father and from them he had developed an abiding admiration for the French people and their struggles for liberty.” (Thank you again, Dr. Cassidy.)
60 Such worthies would be qualified to establish and direct that “perfect State” of which Buchanan’s Chorus sings:
’Tis where the home is pure,
’Tis where the bread is sure,
’Tis where the wants are fewer,
And each want fed;
Where plenty and peace abide,
Where health dwells heavenly-eyed,
Where in nooks beautified
Slumber the Dead. (p. 272)
Of course Hardy is incapable of such bathos. I am not trying to represent The Dynasts as a sanguine poem. I observe merely that it includes, as a persistent subordinate theme, that melioristic humanitarianism, that hope of “life- development,” which provides the main theme of Buchanan’s Drama.
On the other hand, if The Dynasts is not all gloom The Drama of Kings is not all sunrise. It contains much that accords with Hardy’s darker, more characteristic mood. Consider these lines from the “Famulus” scene, where Napoleon asks why he should bemuse himself with peering into the future
Like some purblind philosopher or bard
Asking stale questions of the Infinite
Dumb with God’s secret? questioning the winds,
The waves, the stars, all things that live and move,
All signs, all augurs? Never yet hath one
Accorded answer. “Whither?” Death replies
With dusky smile. “Wherefore?” The echoes laugh
Their “wherefore? wherefore?” Of the time unborn,
And of the inevitable law, no voice
Bears witness. The pale Man upon the Cross
Moan’d—and beheld no further down the Void
Than those who gather’d round to see him die. (p. 119)
In such turbidly Spasmodic passages Hardy would have found a view of life much like his own. The inevitable law—the Immanent Will.
The figure of Time in Buchanan’s trilogy is a curious mixture of the Spirit of the Years and the Spirit of the Pities, with a slight touch of the Recording Angels. We have already observed the patient weariness which Time displays in the “Prologue”:
How far these feeble feet may wander yet
I know not. All is dark before my steps.
Like Hardy’s Spirit of the Years, he has seen everything but does not 61 pretend to understand anything. Once again, as so often in the past, he hears men’s voices crying “Liberty,”
But whom they call by that mysterious name
I say not, nor can any angel say,
Nor one thing under God.
Toward the close of his speech, however, he becomes much more cheerful. He tells the spectators that although the play will show how the Soul of Man was betrayed by leaders who merely pretended to serve the cause of Liberty, it will also show
how from sorrow came mysterious good,
Seeing Man’s wrong’d Soul hoarded its deep strength
In silence, making ready for that day
When God Himself, who knows the secret only,
May bless it with that single truth it seeks. (pp. 13-16 passim)
In the “Epilogue,” on the other hand, Time begins in the optimistic vein of the lines just quoted, saying that
these Kings whom ye have seen
Were God’s unwilling servants, but for whom
The Titan soul of Man were still asleep,
Trancëd to sorrow and forgetfulness;
And now that Soul is waken’d, now, O friends,
Begins the serious matter of our play,
For scene by scene we purpose to set forth,
To the same audience and on other nights,
The mighty spiritual brightening,
And the last laying of these ghosts of Kings.
At the very close, however, we find him talking like the Spirit of the Years:
Ay, but I weary. O I weary. Sleep
Were better. Would the mighty play were o’er!
Again and yet again the same old scenes,
The same set speeches, the same blind despairs
And miserable hopes, the same sick fear
Of quitting the poor stage; so that I lose
All count of act and scene and speech, confuse
Scenes present and scenes past, actors long still
With actors flaunting now their little hour. . . .
. . . Ay, I weary! O to see
The great black Curtain fall, the music cease,
All darken, the House empty of its host
Of strange Intelligences who behold
Our Drama, till the great Hand, creeping forth 62
In silence, one by one puts out the lights. (pp. 429-430)
Strange, that the pessimistic Dynasts should end on a note of hope and the optimistic Drama on a note of gloom! It seems clear, however, that the Spirit of the Years is developed from Time. Hardy assigns Time’s incongruous optimism to the Pities, his expository function to the Recording Angels, and preserves and points up his tired sadness and disillusionment.
Let us also observe that The Drama of Kings and The Dynasts share a peculiar idea which might be described as the absent-mindedness or entrancement or self-hypnotizing of God. The Chorus of the Years refers to the Immanent Will as “the rapt Determinator” (II.302). “It works unwittingly” in “a fixed foresightless dream . . . Like a potter rapt in panning” (III.341). This idea is not quite consistent with Hardy’s official theory that the Will is completely unconscious: absent-mindedness implies the possession of a mind. What we have here is a mind which has been “rapt” or self- hypnotized out of consciousness by absorbed concentration on its own mysterious tasks. Compare the following very Hardyesque lines from the concluding chorus of Buchanan’s Part II:
Under the Master’s feet the generations
Like ants innumerably come and go:
He leans upon a Dial, and in patience
Watches the hours crawl slow.
The glories of heaven blaze all about him, yet
He heeds them not, but follows with eyes yearning
The shadow men call Time.
Some problem holds Him, and He follows dreaming
The lessening and lengthening of the shade.
Under His feet, ants from the dark earth streaming,
Gather the men He made.
He is heedless of these insects:
How should He care to look upon such creatures,
Who lets great worlds roll by?
It is useless to ask His help or to seek His face, for “The problem holds Him.”
So hath it been since all things were created,
No change in the immortal Face may fall;
Having made all, God paused and fascinated
Watch’d Time, the shade of all. (pp. 257-259)
63 Here God is entranced by the contemplation of time rather than of His own activity; but what after all is time but the endlessly turning wheel of the Divine Potter? The thought is the same.
Is the reader still sceptical? Only one card remains in my hand, but it is the ace. I quote in full Hardy’s memorandum of 21 September 1889, already quoted in part: “For carrying out that idea of Napoleon, the Empress, Pitt, Fox, etc., I feel continually that I require a larger canvas. . . . A spectral tone must be adopted. . . . Royal Ghosts. . . . Title: ‘A Drama of Kings’.”33 The chance of coincidence is infinitesimal. It is especially significant that Buchanan’s title should appear at the precise point where Hardy feels the need of giving his historical realism breadth and “spectral” impressiveness by means of supernatural machinery. This evidence, added to the many other similarities which have been noted and validating some which might otherwise be regarded as accidental, would seem to be conclusive.
The absolute proof may lie hidden behind those ellipsis-periods. Was it Hardy or his wife who omitted from his original notes words which we shall never read?34 Probably Hardy, for when Cyril Clemens asked him in 1925 whether he intended writing an autobiography he replied: “I will tell you something in confidence. . . . I intend to write my autobiography through my good wife. Each day I slant my memoirs, as though my wife were writing them herself. After she has copied the day’s stint on the typewriter, we hold a discussion, and she makes invaluable suggestions which are almost always incorporated in the text. Then my original manuscript is given to the flames. Thus is insured absolute accuracy. My idea, of course, is to have the work appear after my death as a biography of myself written by my wife.”35
It seems astonishing that Hardy should have thought of appropriating a title which had been used for a similar work by a well-known contemporary. Conceivably, feeling that what he intended was very different from Buchanan’s trilogy, he briefly thought that he might adopt the title with some prefatory acknowledgment, perhaps after obtaining permission to do so from his admirer. But it is even more astonishing that in his old age he should have authorized his wife to publish so significant
33 Early Life, p. 290. Italics mine. Ellipsis-periods as in source.
34 Conceivably, however, he used ellipsis-periods or dashes in his original notebook to separate his rough jottings, in which case it would not be necessary to suppose that he had deleted anything from his memorandum.
35 My Chat with Thomas Hardy (Webster Groves, Missouri: International Mark Twain Society, 1944), p. 26. Professor Carl J. Weber, who supplied the Introduction to Clemens’ brochure, kindly sent me this reference in response to my appeal for help on the point in question.
64 a clue to his otherwise unrevealed indebtedness. Why did he not cover his tracks completely? Did he sardonically decide, with a faint twinge of conscience, to leave one hint for a source-hunter who might have read Buchanan’s work?
However this may be, there seems to be little room for doubt that The Drama of Kings exerted a stronger influence upon The Dynasts than any other work that has been mentioned by scholars in this connection. Personally, I am willing to go even further: as my rash title indicates, I feel no hesitation in describing Buchanan’s work as Hardy’s immediate source.
New York 21, N. Y.
[Note: I thought I should add that Professor Fairchild, in the early section where he discusses whether Buchanan and Hardy knew each other, fails to mention that Buchanan published Hardy’s short story, ‘The Impulsive Lady of Croome Castle’ (‘The Duchess of Hamptonshire’) in the first two issues of his literary journal, Light, in April, 1878.]
Back to The Critical Response to Robert Buchanan
The Original Source of Hardy's Dynasts by John A. Cassidy
From Publications of the Modern Language Association (Vol. 69, No. 5, Dec., 1954 - pp. 1085-1100.)
THE ORIGINAL SOURCE OF HARDY’S DYNASTS
BY JOHN A. CASSIDY
PROFESSOR Hoxie N. Fairchild has conclusively shown that Thomas Hardy took much of the inspiration, the thought, and the structure of his epic poem of the Napoleonic Wars, The Dynasts, from Robert Buchanan’s Drama of Kings, published in 1871.1 But the story does not end there. The purpose of this article is to make clear that Buchanan was, in turn, a liegeman of Victor Hugo and borrowed extensively from the poetry of the great French exile for the form and much of the matter of his Drama of Kings; that, specifically, Hugo’s La Légende des siècles furnished much of the inspiration and the substance of Buchanan’s poem; and that Hugo, rather than Buchanan, is thus the original source of Hardy’s epic.2
It is not difficult to show that Buchanan admired Hugo and was generally familiar with his work. Through his boyhood association with the French socialists, Louis Blanc and Caussidière, who often visited the home of Buchanan’s socialist father, and who, like Hugo, had been exiled from France by Napoleon III, he learned to hate the Second Empire and its Emperor as representing the triumph of tyranny.3 What more natural than that he should have developed a corresponding affection for Hugo, the poet of the exiles, who from his various asylums in Belgium, Jersey, and Guernsey, continued to revile “Napoleon the Little”? Louis Blanc was an admirer and an associate of Hugo, for, fellow-exiles with many common political views, they corresponded regularly throughout their banishment and were closely associated upon their return to Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.4 Buchanan said that Blanc and Caussidière taught him the Marseillaise (Jay, p. 13). It is highly probable that they also translated and recited to him some of Hugo’s stirring poems from Les Châtiments, the diatribe against Napoleon III which was published in 1853 and which found such enthusiastic appreciation in Blanc that he wrote to Hugo urging him to disseminate it through England (Renard, p. 117).
At any rate Buchanan, when he came to maturity, read widely in Hugo’s works. In 1873 he published an essay on Hugo in which he acclaims Jean Valjean a greater creation than the Prometheus of
1 “The Immediate Source of The Dynasts,” PMLA, LXVII (March 1952), 43-64.
2 I am indebted to Dr. Charles E. Parnell, Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Notre Dame, for his interest in this article and for suggestions which have aided in its compilation.
3 Harriett Jay, Robert Buchanan (London, 1903), pp. 13-14.
4 Edouard Renard, La Vie et l’œuvre de Louis Blanc (Toulouse, 1922), pp. 105, 108, 131.
1086 Aeschylus.5 He points approvingly to Hugo’s humanity and his attack upon the barbarity of war, two of his own cherished principles, and concludes with a discussion of the recently published L’Année terrible. He demonstrated in 1887 that his enthusiasm for Hugo had not abated by publishing an even stronger eulogy of him than he had written in 1873.6 Significantly, although he was comparing Hugo with the poets Aeschylus, Shelley, and Milton, he carefully avoided any mention of Hugo’s poetry and confined himself to the novels. A possible reason for this may be that he was conscious of having borrowed heavily from Hugo’s poems for his own Napoleon Fallen and Drama of Kings in 1870 and 1871 without having made a proper acknowledgment, a literary fault of which Buchanan was not infrequently guilty. Even so, he made at least one slip which points to a knowledge of Hugo’s La Légende des siècles when he mentioned in the essay of 1887 L’Abîme, one of the poems of La Légende, and described its content (Look Round Literature, pp. 41-42).
Undoubtedly the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 intensified Buchanan’s interest in the French scene and literature. Although he had published four volumes of poetry and one of essays from 1863 to 1869, there is no evidence of such an interest in any of them. But from 1870 to the end of his life in 1901 there is much to show that he kept a keen eye upon the work of his French contemporaries, and especially that of Hugo, regarding it as a happy hunting-ground for material for his own works. In addition to the essays of 1873 and 1887 his novel, The Shadow of the Sword, is a fictional treatment of the Napoleonic theme; his Martyrdom of Madeline is set equally in London and Paris during the Franco-Prussian War; several other novels contain French characters and scenes; and his Devil’s Case in 1896 bears so many resemblances to Hugo’s posthumous La Fin de Satan of 1886 that their affinity is unmistakable.
However, since Buchanan’s Drama—judging by its reviews—was published in October or November of 1871,7 our problem is to show that he was acquainted with Hugo’s works before that date and that he used them in the Drama.
An additional attraction for Buchanan in the works of Hugo must have been the religious philosophy running through them, because it had several features in common with the system of Robert Owen under which he had been reared by a father who was one of Owen’s missionaries (Jay, p. 3). A potpourri of Platonism, Judaism, and Christianity, the basis for it had come to Hugo through his association with the Jewish cabalist,
5 Buchanan, Master-Spirits (London,1873), p. 147.
6 Buchanan, "From Aeschylus to Victor Hugo,” A Look Round Literature (London, 1887), pp. 1-53.
7 Athenaeum, 11 Nov. 1871, p. 622.
1087 Alexander Weill, with whom he was closely associated from 1836 to 1852.8 It is clearly explicated in his poem Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre, published in 1856 as one of his Les Contemplations, and its principles underlie the great body of his verse written after 1850. Although centered around the belief in a personal God, its tenets include an acceptance of a universal pantheism, conceiving all matter, animate or inanimate, to contain souls created by God. In order to create souls at all, God was forced to create them with an admixture of evil, as otherwise, had they been all good, they would not have been separate from God Himself and there could have been no creation. The soul inhabits a higher or lower form of life depending upon the quantity of good or evil within it; but it will ascend or descend in the scale as it does good or evil, either movement being possible through a series of transmigrations which can take place only with death. Thus an evil soul retrogresses from an archangel to a man, then to a beast, a tree, and finally a stone; while a good soul rises by the same steps until it is altogether good and reunited with God. This ascending and descending process is constantly going on in all nature, but the general movement is an upward one, for finally all souls will be re-assimilated into the deity, who, because He is all good, can permit nothing else. At the end, even Satan will become one with God, for he too, being a created soul, is a part of God. For Hugo, as shown in La Bouche d’ombre and La Légende des siècles, the supreme evils which lower one into the abyss are those involving cruelty or sensuality, the worst form of cruelty being tyranny; conversely, chastisement and liberty (represented, strangely enough, as the daughter of Satan) are the necessary concomitants of good because only through them is evil transformed into good.
Hugo, however, did not stop with being a philosopher, but entered into the higher reaches of thought and mysticism to evolve a system of religion. From his complete acceptance of the belief that there was a spirit in everything in nature, the transition to a complete faith in the wave of spiritualism which swept over Europe in the 1850’s was an easy one. Under the influence of Mme Girardin and her table turnings, from 1853 to 1855, he was convinced that he communicated with Luther, Socrates, Hannibal, Charlotte Corday, Moses, Shakespeare, Molière, Chateaubriand, Byron, Galileo, Christ, Aeschylus, Isaiah, Aristophanes, and many more (Saurat, p. 37). Then he came to believe that some of the great dead of the past, including Moses, Isaiah, and Christ, were reincarnate in him.9 He was certain that Christ had told him that humanity was to have in succession three great religions and that two of these—
8 Denis Saurat, La Religion de Victor Hugo (Paris, 1929), pp. 19-21.
9 Claudius Grillet, La Bible dans Victor Hugo (Paris, 1910), p. 130.
1088 Druidism and Christianity—already belonged to the past (Saurat, pp. 41-42). As the reincarnation of Christ, he conceived of his mission as the completion of the work of Christ, which was to found the third and final religion, of course the one in which Hugo believed (p. 43). This religion would correct what seemed to him the great error of Christianity in teaching that God avenged Himself upon men by condemning their souls to hell for eternity (p. 42). In Hugo’s religion every soul, of course, is to be saved finally.
He wrote down his spiritualistic “revelations,” but because he thought he had been directed by the spirits not to publish them until after his own death, they were not published until 1923 (p. 50). They were to form the “bible” of the new religion, but in the meantime his literary works were to prepare the people for its full acceptance when the time finally came to announce it. Consequently, most of his poetry was written with this intention: Les Contemplations explicate the philosophy; Les Châtiments prophesy the necessary punishment of France, which has become vile under the false leadership of Napoleon III; and La Légende des siècles applies the system to the whole of creation, past, present, and future.
All three of Hugo’s works were published during the 1850’s and are listed by the British Museum Catalogue, showing that they were available in London. The frequent editions of Hugo’s novels and poems in London during the 1860’s testify to their popularity and make it a reasonable conclusion that Buchanan, interested in Hugo and living in London from 1860 to 1866, would procure them and read them at the earliest opportunity, probably after his enforced retirement to Oban.
Conditions in Buchanan’s life from 1866 to 1870 were such as to give Hugo’s work an especial interest for him. The death of his father in 1866 had precipitated a religious and philosophical crisis which brought him to the verge of a nervous breakdown and took him to the mountain retreat of Oban in the Scottish Highlands for recuperation (Jay, pp. 125-131). Here he had time for study and reflection, the results of which he published in 1870 as The Book of Orm, which his biographer, Harriett Jay, described as “being full of one long wail to the effect that there must be a God, and that that God would certainly not let even the basest of men perish” (p. 140). This theme and such other similarities between The Book of Orm and the poems of Hugo as the speculation upon the godhead, the discovery of evidences of God’s presence in nature and human life, the rejection of all established forms of religion, the mixture of hope and despair, and the final reconciliation of good and evil indicate that during his sojourn at Oban Buchanan was feeding his mind with Hugo’s poems.
Evidence that he read Les Contemplations is afforded by the close resemblance between the poem Les Mages of that work and the final scene 1089 of Buchanan’s Drama in which God, Lucifer, and all the spirits gather to comment upon the play they have just completed. Bismarck removes his mask and shows himself to be Satan, who has, in other masks, also played the roles of Napoleon I and Napoleon III. In Les Mages, discussing the place of the great men, good and evil, in history, Hugo says:
Savent-ils ce qu’ils font eux-même,
Ces acteurs du drame profond?
Savent-ils leur propre problème?
Ils sont. Savent-ils ce qu’ils sont?
Ils sortent du grand vestiaire
Où, pour s’habiller de matière,
Parfois l’ange même est venu.
Graves, tristes, joyeux, fantasques,
Ne sont-ils pas les sombres masques
De quelque prodige inconnu?
La joie ou la douleur les farde;
Ils projettent confusément,
Plus loin que la terre blafarde,
Leurs ombres sur le firmament;
Leurs gestes étonnent l’abîme;
Pendant qu’aux hommes, tourbe infime,
Ils parlent le langage humain,
Dans des profondeurs qu’on ignore
Ils font surgir l’ombre ou l’aurore,
Chaque fois qu’ils lèvent la main.
Ils ont leur rôle; ils ont leur forme;
Ils vont, vêtus d’humanité,
Jouant la comédie énorme
De l’homme et de l’éternité;
Ils tiennent la torche ou la coupe;
Nous tremblerions si dans leur groupe,
Nous, troupeau, nous pénétrions!
Les astres d’or et la nuit sombre
Se font des questions dans l’ombre
Sur ces splendides histrions.10
The details of the heavenly tiring-room, the actors wearing gay or sad masks, all being part of God and charged with great missions to perform in the “enormous human comedy,” provide what is almost a playwright’s sketch for Buchanan’s final scene and for the Drama as a whole. The concept of human history as a tremendous drama of the Greek or classical character is unmistakable, and that supernatural beings—closely
10 Œuvres poétiques complètes (Montreal, 1944), p. 404.
1090 associated with the Deity—play roles in it and afterwards re-assemble in Heaven is implicit in Hugo’s lines. This poem could very well have furnished Buchanan with his original inspiration and directed his thinking into the channels which led to the Drama.
However, if he did read Les Contemplations and the significant explication of Hugo’s philosophy contained in La Bouche d’ombre, he did not fully comprehend Hugo’s system, for he complains in the essay of 1887 that Hugo’s faith is “one of despairing gloom” and confesses himself puzzled as to whether Hugo believed in a personal God or a pantheistic spirit (A Look Round, p. 41). However, the last stanzas of La Bouche d’ombre are emphatic that all must come to happiness in the end, and the conclusions of Les Châtiments and La Légende are dominated by triumphal chords of joy. Therefore, though Buchanan may not have realized some of the profounder implications of Hugo’s poetry, he could hardly have failed to grasp most of the thought as well as the form and method used to present it. Resemblances to all of these are clearly discernible in Napoleon Fallen and the Drama of Kings.
His Napoleon Fallen furnishes ample testimony of his knowledge of Les Châtiments. Because it was later incorporated into the Drama, and because it was the Drama that Hardy used, it is unnecessary to say much of the earlier poem. Its points of resemblance to Les Châtiments are many and obvious, the chief difference being that Hugo’s work preceded the fall of Napoleon III and Buchanan’s followed it, thus enabling him to particularize to a greater extent. For it Buchanan must have taken the events as they were described in his daily newspaper, cast them into hasty verse, and rushed his book into print so as to capitalize on the current interest. Like Les Châtiments, its tone is one of hatred for Napoleon III, and it condemns the Catholic Church for having assisted in his rise. In both works dramatic structure is employed, Hugo’s use of it being confined to nothing more than having abstract qualities and institutions speaking, while Buchanan’s is a definite employment of the form of the Greek drama. Moreover, the relationship of Les Châtiments to La Légende is in the same proportion as that of Napoleon Fallen to the Drama, in each case the second work offering a re-setting of much of the theme and content of the first, but on a grander scale. After examining and condemning the evils of France under the reign of Napoleon III in Les Châtiments and prophesying an approaching time when they will be punished and corrected and all will be made good, Hugo enlarges his canvas in La Légende to include the entire creation, all history, and mythology, and treats them in the same way and with the same concluding prophecy. Buchanan, on the other hand, uses Napoleon Fallen as Part II of the Drama, fashioning Part I of the career of Napoleon I and Part III of the conquest 1091 of France by Germany and Bismarck. Again the thematic treatment is the same as that employed in Napoleon Fallen.
But although Buchanan possibly took some of his inspiration and material from Les Contemplations and Les Châtiments, he leaned most heavily upon La Légende des siècles. It must be remembered that since this work was published in three parts in 1859, 1877, and 1882, and since Napoleon Fallen appeared in 1870 and the Drama in 1871, only the 1859 version of La Légende can be considered as having any bearing on our problem.
Buchanan certainly read this version at some time before the publication of his Book of Orm in 1870, for in that work he features a poem, “The Lifting of the Veil,” which so closely resembles La Conscience of La Légende as to be a literary “sister” under a very thin skin. Where Hugo has the great eye of God appear in the heavens and stare so fixedly at the fleeing Cain that even underground he cannot hide from it, Buchanan shows God’s beautiful face in the sky, and Orm, who has hitherto prayed for a sign of God’s existence, becomes so restive under its gaze that he rushes about the earth to escape it.
Buchanan could hardly fail to discern what Hugo was about in La Légende. Lest his readers should not fully grasp his purpose, Hugo prefaced his work with a prose statement of what he was trying to do: to show his religious philosophy of man’s steady, slow ascension to God working out through the ages of human history and in all fields of human activity— fable, philosophy, religion, and science.11 While there is some employment of fable in the early part of the poem, the strong accent is upon history, which is surveyed in a panorama from the earliest beginnings to about 1853.
Hugo regarded La Légende as a combination of the epic and the drama, for his subtitle was Les Petites Epopées and yet he thought of it as a drama in five acts, each act consisting of an entire epoch in human history.12 In the beginning of his preface he uses three familiar French critical terms commonly applied to the drama. His work, he says has “son exposition, son milieu et sa fin” (La Légende, I, vii). In the preface also he speaks of La Légende as “le drame de la création éclairé par le visage du créateur,” and refers to three sections of it—Le Petit Roi Galice, Eviradnus, and La Confiance du Marquis Fabrice—as “les trois drames” (pp. xvii, xiv).
Although he did not mention specifically the Greek drama or employ its exact form in La Légende, he had not lost the conception of it that he had expressed in the passage already quoted from Les Mages. The image
11 Hugo, La Légende des siècles (Paris, 1859), I, viii-ix.
12 Paul Berret, La Légende des siècles de Victor Hugo (Paris, n.d.), pp. 65-89.
1092 of the classical masque is recurrent throughout the preface of 1859. He speaks of the successive poems as “empreintes successives du profil humain . . . moulées sur le masque des siècles” (p. ix). In another place he says, “chaque siècle est un changement de physionomie de l’humanité” (p. x). He is consistent in his use of this figure of the mask. In Plein Ciel, one of the final poems of La Légende, he has, as part of the general transformation of evil into good, Caesar becoming a man, Draco being transfigured into Beccaria, and the prostituted Venus becoming the Virgin Mary (La Légende, II, 242-244).
It is not at all unlikely that Hugo had the Prometheus of Aeschylus in mind in his work, for he speaks of the central figure of La Légende as “cette grande figure une et multiple, lugubre et rayonnante, fatale et sacrée, l’Homme” (I, ix) and in Plein Ciel he describes Prometheus as watching the course of man’s scientific progress on earth (II, 245).
All this is reflected in Buchanan’s Drama. The underlying purpose of his poem is also to show man’s progress through history to the final achievement of Utopian happiness. The focus of his camera is much narrower than Hugo’s, he confining his work to France under the two Napoleons; but, like Hugo, he dwells on the grimmer aspects of history, at the same time asserting his faith that God would make all right in the end. Buchanan carried out Hugo’s intimations of the Greek drama by employing its form closely, and in a final “Note on Mystic Realism” appended to the Drama he boasted of his work as “the first serious attempt ever made to treat great contemporary events in a dramatic form and very realistically, yet with something of the massive grandeur of style characteristic of the great dramatists of Greece.”13
There is no doubt that Buchanan saw Hugo’s work as of the character of Greek drama. In the essay of 1887, titled significantly “From Aeschylus to Victor Hugo,” he says: “the figures he uses, though of human likeness, and full of appeals to the human soul, are simply superhuman types like those of Greek tragedy, elevated like them on the cothurnus, and speaking like them through the mask. They move to and fro on a mighty stage, with a background of the mountains and the sea. They contend with monsters and with phantoms” (p. 35). This description applies rather closely to La Légende, though in the essay Buchanan affects to discuss only Hugo’s novels.
Later on in the same essay he remarks: “He [Hugo] himself is the choragus, and a very bad choragus; for his eternal volubility, though seeming in the name and interests of the spectator, goes far to spoil the play” (p. 36).
l3 Buchanan, The Drama of Kings (London, 1871), p. 471.
1093 The title of this essay and the lengthy comparison of Aeschylus and Hugo, the discussion of Hugo’s Jean Valjean and Gilliatt as Promethean figures indicate that Buchanan followed the hints given in the Hugo work and went to the Prometheus of Aeschylus for his particular model of the Greek drama. This was especially appropriate for his Napoleon Fallen, wherein he presents Napoleon III as a Promethean character, defeated, a captive, and suffering very real torment as various messengers bring him reports of the French debacle. When he expanded Napoleon Fallen into the Drama, consistency forced him to employ the same form for Part I, in which he shows various defeated characters coming to Napoleon I to plead for mercy, and for Part III, in which the French emissaries seek out Bismarck for the same reason. Needless to say, the device does not work out so happily for the conquerors as for the defeated. That Buchanan was aware of the incongruity is shown by his attempt in his “Note on Mystic Realism” to broaden his conception and give unity to his pastiche by making France the Promethean figure. He says: “what the leading character is to a tragedy France is to the Drama of Kings,—a wonderful genius guilty of many sins, terribly overtaken by misfortune, and attaining in the end perhaps to purification” (Drama, p. 471).
Both Hugo and Buchanan regarded their works in much the same fashion, and there are close resemblances in the terminology and imagery used to describe them. Like Hugo, Buchanan saw the Drama as a mixture of the dramatic and the epic, saying of it in his “Note,” “the interest is epic rather than tragic” (p. 471). In his preface Hugo states: “Ces deux volumes d’ailleurs . . . sont à l’ouvrage dont ils font partie . . . ce que serait à une symphonie l’ouverture” (p. xi); and in the poetic preface to the Drama Buchanan says: “Orchestra, now begin the overture” (Drama, p. 9)! Buchanan extends the musical figure by calling his poetic preface the “Prelude before the Curtain” and by coining the term “epilude” to describe the after-scene in which his characters gather in heaven to discuss the completed drama. Both men insist that their works are the first of many to follow on the same theme and both employ the words “fragment” and “series” in this connection, though there is some difference in that Hugo emphasizes that his Légende is not a fragment but an entity in itself, while Buchanan blithely styles his Drama a fragment. Early in his preface Hugo says: “Ce livre est-il donc un fragment? Non. Il existe à part” (p. vii), and adds that when his work is completed it will be “cette série d’empreintes, vaguement disposées dans un certain ordre chronologique” (p. x). In his “Prelude” Buchanan has Lucifer say:
What we present to night [sic]
Is but a fragment of a series
Beginning with the first Man and the Snake. (p. 9)
1094 The reference to the Adam and Eve story was probably suggested by Hugo’s beginning La Légende with it under the title D’Ève à Jésus. And in an epilogue which precedes his “epi1ude”—Buchanan takes more farewells of his audience than the late Sir Harry Lauder—he has his epiloguist promise not more plays, but, like Hugo’s successive “empreintes,” more scenes on the same general theme of the destruction of tyrants (Drama, p. 428).
Structurally, the two poems follow the same design. Following the Bible as he did, Hugo opens La Légende with a prefatory scene which is plainly taken from the first chapter of Genesis. It is the dawn of creation and all is filled with a great light. The first dawn is
D’éblouissement, vaste, insondable, sublime;
Une ardente lueur de paix et de bonté. (I, 3)
The light, of course, is God, who moves through creation and animates it: “L’Être resplendissait, Un dans Tout, Tout dans Un” (p. 5). Hugo rhapsodizes about the dawn of Creation:
Ineffable lever du premier rayon d’or!
Du jour éclairant tout sans rien savoir encor!
O matin des matins! amour! joie effrénée
De commencer le temps, l’heure, le mois, l’année!
Ouverture du monde! (p. 6)
In the Drama this becomes the “Prelude before the Curtain,” set in the “Heavenly Theatre.” Buchanan also lights his scene with a rhapsodical description of a great light which is God:
Ring within ring,
Seventy times seven,
Ring within ring
The Rose of Heaven:
From the darkness under
To the radiance o’er,
Threefold at the core;
Threefold is glowing
The Eternal Light . . . (p. 3)
God, archangels, and “Celestial Spectators” move in the background, and Lucifer appears on the great stage of Earth and delivers the prologue.
The body of La Légende carries out the promise of the preface: “On 1095 y trouvera quelque chose du passé, quelque chose du présent, et comme un vague mirage de l’avenir” (La Légende, I, x). Most of it is devoted to the past, but one section, Maintenant, deals with the present; the final Pleine Mer, Plein Ciel, and La Trompette du Jugement look into the future.
Buchanan’s Drama is of a much narrower span, but the time divisions are the same. Part I, the material of Napoleon I, is the past; Part II, Napoleon III, and Part III, the German invasion, are the present; and the “epilude,” the after-scene in heaven, deals with the future.
Hugo concludes La Légende with Plein Ciel and La Trompette du Jugement. In Plein Ciel, which Berret terms “a delirium of optimism” (Berret, p. 179), Hugo’s enthusiasm for man’s scientific progress leads him to look upon the balloon as the symbol that man will conquer all obstacles and rise almost to heavenly bliss. In a vision he sees it mounting up, up into the heavens to where no cloud has ever been; to the regions of the spheres; to the “ideal Zion” of the future, wherein there shall be no grief, no want; wherein the man of war shall be transformed into the man of peace; wherein even the new-born shall not cry; wherein all the evils that have plagued man through the centuries, including the divine right of kings, shall vanish, enabling man to aspire to the eternal; wherein reside the angels and those other good spirits that have aided man’s uphill progress; wherein shall vanish Belial, Dagon, and all other evil spirits, especially tyrants and wielders of the sword; wherein, as mentioned above, Caesar, Draco, and Venus are transfigured into saintly figures; wherein, on all sides, are to be seen the sidereal spirits; wherein
Ce navire là-haut conclut le grand hymen.
Il méle presque à Dieu l’âme du genre humain.
Il voit l’insondable, il y touche;
Il est le vaste élan du progrès vers le ciel;
Il est l’entrée altière et sainte du réel
Dans l’antique idéal farouche. (II, 246)
In the concluding La Trompette, plainly drawn from Revelations, he anticipates the last day, when God will summon all souls. He envisions the great trumpet in the heavens, awaiting the archangel, and vaguely discerns in the mists the presence of God Himself.
Buchanan reproduces all this on a considerably lower level in his “epilude.” This is also in a celestial setting, though Buchanan does not employ a balloon to reach it. He, too, has it populated with heavenly spirits, chief among whom is God Himself. Hugo’s Last Judgment is here represented by having the actors of the Drama enter into God’s presence and receive his “judgment” of their efforts. The judgment is mild and 1096 generally laudatory. Hugo’s transfiguration of evil into good is here rendered—as mentioned earlier—by having the arch-villains of the Drama remove their masks and reveal themselves to be Satan; in turn, Satan is obviously forgiven, for God hails him as “mine evil Angel wrought for good,” and praises his work in the Drama (p. 435). Hugo’s “intermingling of the soul of mankind almost with that of God” becomes a piece of colossal egoism of which only Buchanan was capable. He introduces himself as “a poor actor on the scene” (p. 436), and has Lucifer request and obtain God’s permission for a chorus to sing the final song, which is nothing other than a rather close imitation of Hugo’s prophecy of the “ideal Zion.” Buchanan’s metropolis is also free from want because of rich harvests; his repetition of the Hugolian details of the happy children, peace-loving men, pure Virgins, the reformation of the prostitute, the vanishing of tyrants and men of blood—all suggest that he wrote with Hugo’s poem before him.
For his introduction of God and Satan into his final scene, however, Buchanan had from Hugo more concrete suggestions than the rather vague intimations of Plein Ciel and La Trompette. In his preface Hugo announced that he had nearly completed two other poems, La Fin de Satan and Dieu. These, he said, would be so closely connected with La Légende that La Fin would provide its denouement and Dieu its completion. Just what Hugo intended to say in these Buchanan could easily divine from La Bouche, Plein Ciel, and La Trompette. He accordingly anticipated Hugo by making the unmasking of his villains the denouement and by having the souls of all men—even Lucifer’s—restored to God as his completion.
Besides borrowing Hugo’s structure and overall plan, Buchanan also used much of his method and treatment. In turn, here again Hugo had gone to the Bible for his inspiration (Grillet, pp. 11-12). Regarding himself as the reincarnation of Isaiah, he quite naturally adopted the tone and manner of the Old Testament prophet in his condemnation of evil. Like Isaiah’s, his method was first to picture a deplorable condition and then to condemn it and predict its chastisement. Like Isaiah, too, he relieved the gloom of his tirades by his visions of the golden time in the future when all evil would be changed into good, Hugo’s version of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies (Grillet, p. 273).
This is his method in many of the individual poems of Les Châtiments and La Légende as well as in the general plan of the two works. The opening poem of Les Châtiments is called Nox and the concluding one (the final La Fin is in effect an author’s postscript) is Lux. Biblical restrictions and the desire to portray the happiness in Eden forced him to depart 1097 somewhat from this arrangement in La Légende, but from the crime of Cain onward he shows the entire creation working its way slowly and painfully through the ages upward from darkness to Plein Ciel at the conclusion.
This same design is evident in Buchanan’s Drama. Part I opens with a depiction of the sad plight of conquered Prussia and France under the tyrant Napoleon I and closes with a vibrant prophecy that humanity will overthrow him and resume its inexorable march toward liberty. As originally and separately published, Napoleon Fallen opened with scenes of France crushed beneath the fall of the evil Napoleon III and ended with a song of hope and belief in Christ, but as Part II of the Drama Buchanan concludes it on a more gloomy note, preferring to reserve his optimism until the conclusion of the entire work. Part III presents graphic pictures of the brutal treatment of the French by Bismarck and the triumph of the forces of evil as represented by the formation of the German Empire, but the entire Drama closes in the “epilude,” in which the final triumph of liberty is forecast.
Because Hugo often wrote La Légende at night after waking from sleep and in a semi-comatose condition— sometimes even under the influence of nightmares and hallucinations—and because he believed himself frequently in communication with spirits, his epic reflects a nightmarish quality and is replete with spectral voices (Berret, pp. 69, 147- 149). This same phenomenon is visible in the Drama and to such a degree that it is a noteworthy characteristic. And just as Hugo shows the monstrous tyrant Zim-Zizimi haunted by the Sphinxes reminding him of the fate of past tyrants, Buchanan presents Napoleon III in a nightmare in which appear the ghosts of those he has wronged as well as the spirits of kings of the past, including Caesar and Napoleon I, who presage his fate by reminding him of their own.
The resemblances do not end with the form and method; there are many points of coincidence in content. Both poets are deeply concerned with the question of God’s true nature; both profess certainty of God’s existence, purpose, and final triumph, but both are plagued with doubts and appalled at all the evil they discern in human affairs; and although both La Légende and the Drama close with a note of triumph, there is an undertone of gloomy foreboding throughout which belies the forced optimism.
Characteristic of both poems is the conception of humanity as a single gigantic individual. In his preface Hugo states his purpose as the portrayal of “cette grande figure une et multiple . . . l’Homme” (I, ix), and in another paragraph he refers to mankind as “le genre humain, considéré 1098 comme un grand individu collectif accomplissant d’époque en époque une série d’actes sur la terre” (I, xi). Buchanan likewise visualizes humanity as a single colossus:
Lo, before us stands,
Casting his shade on many lands,
The mighty Titan, by the sea
Of tempest-tost humanity;
And to the earth, and sea, and sky,
He uttereth a thunder-cry
Out of his breaking heart,
And the fierce elements reply,
And earth is cloven apart. (Drama, 139-140)
Both Hugo and Buchanan express frequent solicitude for men martyred by tyrants, those who are ground under the Juggernaut before final victory. In Sultan Mourad a multitude of spirits call to God for vengeance upon the tyrant who has murdered them. Buchanan varies this idea somewhat to show in his “epilude” the spirits of dead martyrs crying, not for vengeance, but for assurance that they have not died in vain.
Both La Légende and the Drama are epics of man’s struggle for liberty, and both emphasize his progress toward this ideal. On this theme Buchanan’s final chorus chants a hymn which is reminiscent of the rise of Hugo’s balloon in that its constant refrain is the prophecy that the soul of mankind shall rise ever upward until it arrives at Utopia:
The Soul shall arise.
Power and its vanity,
Pride’s black insanity,
Lust and its revelry
Shall with war’s devilry
Pass from humanity. (p. 437)
Both show kings and priests as the villains who attempt to halt progress and are the cause of all the anguish and suffering in the world, though of course the arch-villain who prompts them is Satan. One of the poems of Hugo’s Christian cycle is Le Jour des rois, which quite possibly may have suggested to Buchanan his title, The Drama of Kings. As mentioned, Buchanan’s three villains are Napoleon I, Napoleon III, and Bismarck, tyrants who are by way of being kings. Buchanan regards Napoleon I as a heaven-sent leader who was misled by his lust for power into becoming a tyrant, a view of him which Hugo expresses in his Ode à la colonne, L’Expiation, and Napoléon II. This attitude is somewhat more understandable in Hugo than in the Scottish poet. Likewise the belief that France 1099 is the leader of the nations in the march toward liberty is more appropriate to the French patriot than it is to Buchanan, who seems to have borrowed it in toto without realizing its incongruity for one whose proudest boast was that he was the descendant of Scottish Highlanders:
France shall redeem the world, and heal all hearts that grieve;
France with her sword this day shall free all human things,
With blood drain’d from her heart our France shall write the doom of Kings.
(Drama, p. 208)
There, then, is the evidence. Admittedly, a most important link is missing. Except for the few cited, there is a lack of textual similarities, but the reason for it is understandable enough. By 1870 Buchanan was already involved in the opening skirmishes of what proved to be one of the bitterest quarrels of English literary history. In particular, he had antagonized William Rossetti and Swinburne. The earliest review of his Drama I have been able to find was printed, as stated earlier, in the Athenaeum for 11 November 1871, indicating publication shortly before. His “Fleshly School of Poetry,” a virulent attack upon the Pre-Raphaelites, appeared in the Contemporary for October 1871.14 With full knowledge that his enemies would be buzzing about his head like angry hornets, Buchanan had every reason to be circumspect. He must have been sorely tempted to borrow many lines from La Légende and Les Châtiments because of their basic similarities to his Drama, but to do so would be disastrous. Swinburne had already displayed a lively interest in French literature and in the works of Hugo in particular. He would be certain to note any borrowings of lines in the Drama and to brand them as arrant plagiarism. Buchanan could defend himself on matters of general resemblance but line borrowings would be positive evidence against which he would have no defense. Hence, he carefully avoided them.
Buchanan’s high hopes for his Drama met with sharp disappointment. For several reasons the critical press was almost uniformly hostile. The Victorian mind was more sympathetic to the fallen Napoleon than it had been when he was in power; secondly, many of Rossetti’s friends held powerful critical positions and did not hesitate to use them to strike at their foeman; and in the last analysis the Drama was poor poetry. The reviewer for the Academy scored a partial hit when he castigated Buchanan for plagiarizing from Swinburne, Shakespeare, Hugo, and Browning (1 Jan. 1872, pp. 4- 6). Buchanan himself made what was tantamount to a belated confession of indebtedness to Hugo when, in The Poetical Works
14 John A. Cassidy, “Robert Buchanan and the Fleshly Controversy,” PMLA, LXVII (March 1952), 65-93.
1100 of Robert Buchanan, published in 1874, he included several selections from the Drama in the second volume under the title “Songs of the Terrible Year.” From his point of view the experiment of the Drama had been a failure. Never again did he use the form of Greek drama to present history. The device was allowed to lie in disuse until Thomas Hardy revived it for his The Dynasts.
There remains but to dispose of the possibility that both Buchanan and Hardy might have read Hugo’s poems and borrowed so liberally from them that the resulting similarities in the Drama and The Dynasts might indicate a relationship which did not exist. Such a conjecture is unsupportable by reason of the references in Hardy’s diary—noted in the biography by Mrs. Hardy—which prove his acquaintance with the Drama, and by the fact that, while there are some points of resemblance between Hugo’s poems and the Drama which do not carry over into The Dynasts—the personal hatred of Napoleon III and the malignant attacks upon the Church—there are no similarities between Hugo’s works and Hardy’s not found in Buchanan’s. On the other hand there are several features common to both Buchanan and Hardy which have no counterparts in Hugo: the use of the Greek drama in its precise form, the concentration upon the Napoleonic material, and the corresponding character of the comments made by the various choruses.
Of course in a sense it is presumptuous to say that any piece of literature is the original source of any other. In this case the trail leads beyond Hugo to Shelley, Milton, Aeschylus, and the Bible. Nevertheless the weight of evidence is undeniable. Hugo’s poetry—and especially La Légende des siècles—furnished the unique combination of form, method, and ideas which resulted directly in Buchanan’s Drama of Kings. And as Professor Fairchild has shown, the Drama resulted just as directly in Hardy’s The Dynasts.
South Bend, Ind.
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