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Harriett Jay

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{ Robert Buchanan: Some Account Of His Life, His Life’s Work And His Literary Friendships }





     IN the year 1860, when Robert Buchanan left Glasgow for London, he had arranged to make the journey in the company of his friend. Why he did not do so he himself has told so graphically, in his admirable sketch of the life of his comrade, that I give the story in his own words:—
     “In the spring of 1860 we both found ourselves without an anchorage: each found it necessary to do something for daily bread. For some little time the London scheme had been in abeyance; but, on the 3rd of May, 1860, David came to me, his lips firmly compressed, his eyes full of fire, saying, ‘Bob, I’m off to London.’ ‘Have you funds?’ I asked. ‘Enough for one, not enough for two,’ was the reply. ‘If you can get the money anyhow, we’ll go together.’ On parting we arranged to meet on the evening of the 5th of May, in time to catch the five o’clock train. Unfortunately, however, we neglected to specify which of the two Glasgow stations was intended. At the hour appointed David left Glasgow by one line of railway, in the belief that I had been unable to join him, but determined to try the venture alone. With the same belief and determination I left at the 58 same hour by the other line of railway. We arrived in different parts of London at about the same time. Had we left Glasgow in company, or had we met immediately after our arrival in London, the story of David’s life might not have been so brief and sorrowful.
     “Though the month was May, the weather was dark, damp, cloudy. On arriving in the metropolis, David wandered about for hours, carpet bag in hand. The magnitude of the place overwhelmed him; he was lost in that great ocean of life. He thought about Johnson and Savage, and how they wandered through London with pockets more empty than his own; but already he longed to be back in the little carpeted bedroom in the weaver’s cottage. How lonely it seemed! Among all that mist of human faces there was not one to smile in welcome: and how was he to make his trembling voice heard above the roar and tumult of those streets? The very policemen seemed to look suspiciously at the stranger. To his sensitively Scottish ear the language spoken seemed quite strange and foreign: it had a painful, homeless sound about it that sank nervously on the heartstrings. As he wandered about the streets he glanced into coffee-shop after coffee-shop, seeing ‘Beds’ ticketed in each fly-blown window. His pocket contained a sovereign and a few shillings, but he would need every penny. Would not a bed be useless extravagance? he asked himself. Certainly. Where then should he pass the night? In Hyde Park! He had heard so much about this part of London that the name was quite familiar to him. Yes, he would pass the night in the Park. Such a proceeding would save money and be exceedingly romantic; it would be just the right sort of beginning for a poet’s 59 struggle in London! So he strolled into the great Park, and wandered about its purlieus till morning. In remarking upon this foolish conduct, one must reflect that David was strong, heartsome, full of healthy youth. It was a frequent boast of his that he scarcely ever had a day’s illness. Whether or not his fatal complaint was caught during this his first night in London is uncertain, but some few days afterwards David wrote thus to his father: ‘By the bye, I have had the worst cold I ever had in my life. I cannot get it away properly, but I feel a great deal better today.’ Alas! violent cold had settled down upon his lungs, and insidious death was already slowly approaching him. So little conscious was he of his danger, however, that I find him writing to a friend: ‘What brought me here? God knows, for I don’t. Alone in such a place is a horrible thing. . . . People don’t seem to understand me. . . . Westminster Abbey; I was there all day yesterday. If I live I shall be buried there—so help me God! A completely defined consciousness of great poetical genius is my only antidote against utter despair and despicable failure.’
     “I suppose his purposes in coming to Babylon were about as definite as my own had been, although he had the advantage of being qualified as a pupil teacher. We tossed ourselves on the great waters as two youths who wished to learn to swim, and trusted that by diligent kicking we might escape drowning. There was the prospect of getting into a newspaper office. Again, there was the prospect of selling a few verses. Thirdly, if everything failed, there was the prospect of getting into one of the theatres as supernumeraries. Beyond all this, there was of course the dim prospect that London would at once, and with 60 acclamations, welcome the advent of true genius, albeit with seedy garments and a Scotch accent. It doubtless never occurred to either that besides mere consciousness of power, some other things were necessary for a literary struggle in London—special knowledge, capability of interesting oneself in trifles, and the pen of a ready writer. What were David’s qualifications for a fight in which hundreds miserably fail year after year? Considerable knowledge of Greek, Latin, and French, great miscellaneous reading, a clerkly handwriting and a bold purpose. Slender qualifications, doubtless, but while life lasted there was hope.
     “We did not meet for some time after our arrival in London. Finally we came together. David’s first impulse was to describe his lodgings, situated in a by-street in the Borough: ‘A cold, cheerless bedroom, Bob; nothing but a blanket to cover me. For God’s sake get me out of it!’ We were walking side by side in the neighbourhood of the New Cut. ‘Have you been well?’ I inquired. ‘First rate,’ answered David, looking as merry as possible. Nor did he show any indications whatever of illness; he seemed hopeful, energetic, full of health and spirits; his sole desire was to change his lodging. It was not without qualms that he surveyed the dingy, smoky neighbourhood where I resided. The sun was shedding dismal, crimson light on the chimney-pots, and the twilight was slowly thickening. We climbed up three flights of stairs to my room: dingy as it was, this apartment seemed, in David’s eyes, quite a palatial sanctum; and it was arranged that we should take up our residence together. As speedily as possible I procured David’s little stock of luggage; then, settled face to face as in old times, we made very merry.
61     “My first idea, on questioning David about his prospects, was that my friend had had the best of luck. You see, the picture drawn on either side was a golden one; but the brightness soon melted away. It turned out that David, on arriving in London, had sought out certain gentlemen whom he had formerly favoured with his correspondence, among others, Mr. Richard Monckton Milnes, now Lord Houghton.1 Though not a little astonished at the appearance of the boy-poet, Mr. Milnes had received him kindly, assisted him to the best of his power, and made some work for him in the shape of manuscript-copying. The same gentleman had also used his influence with literary people—to very little purpose, however. The real truth turned out to be that David was disappointed and low-spirited. ‘It’s weary work, Bob; they don’t understand me: I wish I was back in Glasgow.’ It was now that David told me all about that first day and night in London, and how he had already begun a poem about ‘Hyde Park,’ how Mr. Milnes had been good to him, had said that he was a ‘poet,’ but had insisted on his going back to Scotland and becoming a minister. David did not at all like the notion of returning home. He thought he had every chance of making his way in London. About this time he was bitterly disappointed by the rejection of ‘The Luggie’ by Mr. Thackeray, to whom Mr. Milnes had sent it, with a recommendation that it should be inserted in the Cornhill Magazine. . . . It has been seen that Mr. Milnes was the first to perceive that the young adventurer was seriously ill. After a hurried call on his patron one day in May, 62 David rejoined me in the near neighbourhood. ‘Milnes says I’m to go home and keep warm, and he’ll send his own doctor to me.’ This was done. The doctor came, examined David’s chest, said very little, and went away, leaving strict orders that the invalid should keep within doors and take great care of himself. Neither David nor I liked the expression of the doctor’s face at all.
     “It soon became evident that David’s illness was of a most serious character. Pulmonary disease had set in; medicine, blistering, all the remedies employed in the early stages of his complaint, seemed of little avail. Just then David read the ‘Life of John Keats,’ a book which impressed him with a nervous fear of impending dissolution. He began to be filled with conceits droller than any he had imagined in health. ‘If I were to meet Keats in heaven,’ he said one day, ‘I wonder if I should know his face from his pictures?’ Most frequently his talk was of labour uncompleted, hope deferred; and he began to pant for free country air. ‘If I die,’ he said on one occasion, ‘I shall have one consolation; Milnes will write an introduction to the poems.’ At another time, with tears in his eyes, he repeated Burns’s epitaph. Now and then, too, he had his fits of frolic and humour, and would laugh and joke over his unfortunate position. It cannot be said that Milnes and his friends were at all lukewarm about the case of their young friend; on the contrary, they gave him every practical assistance. Mr. Milnes himself, full of the most delicate sympathy, trudged to and fro between his own house and the invalid’s lodgings, his pockets laden with jelly and beef-tea and his tongue tipped with kindly comfort. Had circumstances permitted, he would have taken the invalid 63 into his own house. Unfortunately, however, David was compelled to remain, in company with me, in a chamber which seemed to have been constructed peculiarly for the purpose of making the occupants as uncomfortable as possible. There were draughts everywhere: through the chinks of the door, through the windows, down the chimney, and up through the flooring. When the wind blew, the whole tenement seemed on the point of crumbling to atoms; when the rain fell, the walls exuded moisture; when the sun shone, the sunshine only served to increase the characteristic dinginess of the furniture. Occasional visitors, however, could not be fully aware of these inconveniences. It was in the night-time, and in bad weather, that they were chiefly felt: and it required a few days’ experience to test the superlative discomfort of what David (in a letter written afterwards) styled ‘the dear old ghastly bankrupt garret.’ His stay in these quarters was destined to be brief. Gradually the invalid grew homesick. Nothing would content him but a speedy return to Scotland. He was carefully sent off by train, and arrived safely in his little cottage-home far north. Here all was unchanged as ever. The beloved river was flowing through the same fields, and the same familiar faces were coming and going on its banks; but the whole meaning of the pastoral pageant had changed, and the colour of all was deepening towards the final sadness.
     “Great, meanwhile, had been the commotion in the handloom weaver’s cottage after the receipt of this bulletin: ‘I start off to-night at five o’clock by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, right on to London, in good health and spirits.’ A great cry arose in the household. He was fairly ‘daft’; he was throwing away all his chances in the world; the 64 verse-writing had turned his head. Father and mother mourned together. The former, though incompetent to judge literary merit of any kind, perceived that David was hot-headed, only half educated, and was going to a place where thousands of people were starving daily. But the suspense was not to last long. The darling son, the secret hope and pride, came back to the old people, sick to death. All rebuke died away before that pale sad face and feeble tottering body: and David was welcomed to the cottage hearth with silent prayers.
     “It was now placed beyond a doubt that the disease was one of mortal danger; yet David, surrounded again by his old cares, busied himself with many bright and delusive dreams of ultimate recovery. Pictures of a pleasant, dreamy convalescence in a foreign clime floated before him morn and night, and the fairest and dearest of the dreams was Italy. Previous to his departure for London he had concocted a wild scheme for visiting Florence, and throwing himself on the poetical sympathy of Robert Browning. He had even thought of enlisting in the English Garibaldian corps and by that means gaining his cherished wish. ‘How about Italy?’ he wrote to me after returning home. ‘Do you still entertain its delusive notions? Pour out your soul before me; I am as a child.’ All at once a new dream burst upon him. A local doctor insisted that the invalid should be removed to a milder climate, and recommended Natal. In a letter full of coaxing tenderness David besought me, for the sake of old days, to accompany him thither. I answered indecisively, but immediately made all endeavours to grant my friend’s wish. Meanwhile I received the following:—

65                                                                                           “‘MERKLAND, KIRKINTOLLOCK,
                                                                                                                 “‘10th November, 1860.

     “‘EVER DEAR BOB,—Your letter causes me some uneasiness; not but that your objections are numerous and vital enough, but they convey the sad and firm intelligence that you cannot come with me. It is absolutely impossible for you to raise a sum sufficient! Now you know it is not necessary that I should go to Natal; nay, I have, in very fear, given up the thoughts of it; but we, or I, could go to Italy or Jamaica—this latter, as I learn, being the more preferable. Nor has there been any “crisis” come, as you say. I would not cause you much trouble (forgive me for hinting this), but I believe we could be happy as in the dear old times. Doctor—(whose address I don’t know) supposes that I shall be able to work (?) when I reach a more genial climate; and if that should prove the result, why, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. But the matter of money bothers me. What I wrote to you was all hypothetical, i.e., things have been carried so far, but I have not heard whether or no the subscription has been gone on with. And, supposing for one instant the utterly preposterous supposition that I had money to carry us both, then comes the second objection—your dear mother! I am not so far gone, though I fear far enough, to ignore that blessed feeling. But if it were for your good? Before God, if I thought it would in any way harm your health (that cannot be) or your hopes, I would never have mooted the proposal. On the contrary, I feel from my heart it would benefit you; and how much would it not benefit me? But I am baking without flour. The cash is not in my hand, and I fear never will be; the amount I would require is not so easily gathered.
66     “‘Dobell 2 is again laid up. He is at the Isle of Wight, at some establishment called the Victoria Baths. I am told that his friends deem his life in constant danger. He asks for your address. I shall send it only to-day; wait until you hear what he has got to say. He would prefer me to go to Brompton Hospital. I would go anywhere for a change. If I don’t get money somehow or somewhere I shall die of ennui. A weary desire for change, life, excitement of every, any kind possesses me, and without you what am I? There is no other person in the world whom I could spend a week with and thoroughly enjoy it. Oh, how I desire to smoke a cigar and have a pint and a chat with you.
     “‘By the way, how are you getting on? Have you lots to do? and well paid for it? Or is life a lottery with you? and the tea-caddy a vacuum? and a snare? and—a nightmare? Do you dream yet on your old rickety sofa in the dear old ghastly bankrupt garret at No. 66? Write to yours eternally, David Gray.’
     “The proposal to go abroad was soon abandoned, partly because the invalid began to evince a nervous home- sickness, but chiefly because it was impossible to raise a sufficient sum of money. Yet be it never said that this youth was denied the extremest loving sympathy and care. As I look back upon those days it is to me a glad wonder that so many tender faces, many of them quite strange, clustered round his sickbed. When it is reflected that he was known only as a poor Scotch lad, that even his extraordinary lyric faculty was as yet only half guessed, if guessed at all, the kindness of the world through his trouble is 67 extraordinary. Milnes, Dobell, Dobell’s lady-friends at Hampstead, tired never in devising plans for the salvation of the poor consumptive invalid—goodness which sprang from the instincts of the heart itself, and not from that intellectual benevolence which invests in kind deeds with a view to a bonus from the Almighty.
     “The best and tenderest of people, however, cannot always agree; and in this case there was too much discussion and delay. Some recommended the long sea voyage; one doctor recommended Brompton Hospital; Milnes suggested Torquay in Devonshire. Meantime Gray, for the most part ignorant of the discussions that were taking place, besought his friends on all hands to come to his assistance. Late in November he addressed the editor of a local newspaper with whom he was personally acquainted and who had taken interest in his affair: ‘I write you in a certain commotion of mind, and may speak wrongly. But I write to you because I know it will take much to offend you when no offence is meant; and when the probable offence will proceed from youthful heat and frantic foolishness. It may be impertinent to address you, of whom I know so little, and yet so much; but the severe circumstances seem to justify it.
     “‘The medical verdict pronounced upon me is certain and rapid death if I remain at Merkland. That is awful enough, even to a brave man. But there is a chance of escape; as a drowning man grasps at a straw I strive for it. Good, kind, true Dobell writes me this morning the plans for my welfare which he has put in progress and which most certainly meet my wishes. They are as follows: Go immediately and as a guest to the house of Doctor Lane in the salubrious town of Richmond; thence, when the difficult matter of admission is 68 overcome, to the celebrated Brompton Hospital for chest diseases, and in the spring to Italy. Of course, all this presupposes the conjectural problem that I will slowly recover. “Consummation devoutly to be wished!” Now you think, or say, what prevents you from taking advantage of all these plans? At once, and without any squeamishness, money for an outfit. I did not like to ask Dobell, nor do I ask you; but, hearing a “subscription” had been spoken of, I urge it with all my weak force. I am not in want of an immense sum, but say £12 or £15. This would conduce to my safety as far as human means could do so. If you can aid me in getting this sum the obligation to a sinking fellow-creature will be as indelible in his heart as the moral law.
     “‘I hope you will not misunderstand me. My barefaced request may be summed thus: If your influence set the affair a-going, quietly and quickly, the thing is done and I’m off. Surely I am worth £15, and for God’s sake overlook the strangeness and the freedom and the utter impertinence of this communication. I would be off for Richmond in two days, had I the money, and sitting here thinking of the fearful probabilities makes me half-mad.’
     “It was soon found necessary, however, to act with decision. A residence in Kirkintolloch throughout the winter was, on all accounts, to be avoided. A lady therefore subscribed to the Brompton Hospital for chest complaints for the express purpose of procuring David admission.
     “One bleak, wintry day, not long after the receipt of the above letter, I was gazing out of my lofty lodging-window when a startling vision presented itself, in the shape of David himself, seated, with quite a gay look, in an open Hansom cab. In a 69 minute we were side by side, and one of my first impulses was to rebuke David for the folly of exposing himself during such weather, in such a vehicle. This folly, however, was on a parallel with David’s general habits of thought. Sometimes, indeed, the poor boy became unusually thoughtful, as when, during his illness, he wrote thus to me: ‘Are you remembering that you will need clothes? These are things you take no concern about, and so you may be seedy without knowing it. By all means hoard a few pounds if you can (I require none) for any emergency like this. Brush your excellent topcoat; it is the best and warmest I ever had on my back. Mind, you have to pay ready-money for a new coat. A seedy man will not get on if he requires, like you, to call personally on his employers.’
     “David had come to London in order to go either to Brompton or to Torquay—the hospital at which last-named place was thrown open to him by Mr. Milnes. Perceiving his dislike for the Temperance Hotel, to which he had been conducted, I consented that he should stay in the ‘ghastly bankrupt garret’ until he should depart to one or other of the hospitals. It was finally arranged that he should accept a temporary invitation to a hydropathic establishment at Sudbrook Park, Richmond. Thither I at once conveyed him. Meanwhile, his prospects were diligently canvassed by his numerous friends. His own feelings at this time were well expressed in a letter home: ‘I am dreadfully afraid of Brompton; living among sallow, dolorous, dying consumptives is enough to kill me. Here I am as comfortable as can be: a fire in my room all day, plenty of meat and good society, nobody so ill as myself; but there, perhaps, hundreds far worse (the hospital holds 218 70 in all stages of the disease; ninety of them died last report), dying beside me, perhaps—it frightens me.’
     “About the same time he sent me the following, containing more particulars:—

                                                                                                   “‘SUDBROOK PARK, RICHMOND,

     “‘MY DEAR BOB,—Your anxiety will be allayed by learning that I am little worse. The severe hours of this establishment have not killed me. At eight o’clock in the morning a man comes into my bedroom with a pail of cold water, and I must rise and get myself soused. This sousing takes place three times a day, and I’m not dead yet. To-day I told the bath-man that I was utterly unable to bear it, and refused to undress. The doctor will hear of it— that’s the very thing I want. The society here is most pleasant. No patient so bad as myself. No wonder your father wished to go to the water cure for a month or two; it is the most pleasant, refreshing thing in the world. But I am really too weak to bear it. Robert Chambers is here; Mrs. Crowe the authoress; Lord Brougham’s son-in-law; and at dinner and tea the literary tittle-tattle is the most wonderful you ever heard. They seem to know everything about everybody but Tennyson. Major —— (who has a beautiful daughter here) was crowned with a laurel-wreath for some burlesque verses he had made and read last night. Of course you know what I am among them—a pale, cadaverous young person, who sits in dark corners, and is for the most part silent, with a horrible fear of being pounced upon by a cultivated unmarried lady, and talked to.
     “‘Seriously, I am not better. When the novelty of my situation is gone, won’t the old days at Oakfield 71 Terrace seem pleasant? Why didn’t they last for ever?
                                                                                                       “‘Yours ever,
                                                                                                             “‘DAVID GRAY.’”

     “All at once David began, with a delicacy peculiar to him, to consider himself an unwarrantable intruder at Sudbrook Park. In the face of all persuasion, therefore, he joined me in London, whence he shortly afterwards departed for Torquay.
     “He left me in good spirits, full of pleasant anticipation of Devonshire scenery. But the second day after his departure he addressed to me a wild epistle, dated from one of the Torquay hotels. He had arrived safe and sound, he said, and had been kindly received by a friend of Mr. Milnes. He had at first been delighted with the town and everything in it. He had gone to the hospital, had been received by ‘a nurse of death’ (as he phrased it), and had been inducted into the privileges of the place; but on seeing his fellow-patients, some in the last stages of disease, he had fainted away. On coming to himself he obtained an interview with the matron. To his request for a private apartment, she had answered that to favour him in that way would be to break written rules, and that he must content himself with the common privileges of the establishment. On leaving the matron he had furtively stolen from the place and made his way through the night to the hotel. From the hotel he addressed the following terrible letter to his parents:—

                                                                                                           “‘TORQUAY, January 6, 1861.

     “‘DEAR PARENTS,—I am coming home—homesick. I cannot stay from home any longer. What’s the 72 good of me being so far from home, and sick and ill? I don’t know whether I’ll be able to come back—sleeping none at night—crying out for my mother, and her so far away. O God! I wish I were home never to leave it more! Tell everybody that I’m coming back—no better—worse, worse. What’s about climate—about frost or snow or cold weather when one is at home? I wish I had never left it.
     “‘But how am I to get back without money, and my expenses for the journey newly paid yesterday? I came here yesterday scarcely able to walk. O how I wish I saw my father’s face—shall I ever see it? I have no money, and I want to get home, home, home! What shall I do, O God? Father, I shall steal to see you again, because I did not use you rightly—my conduct to you all the time I was at home makes me miserable, miserable, miserable! Will you forgive me? —Do I ask that? Forgiven, Forgiven, Forgiven! If I can’t get money to pay for my box, I shall leave box and everything behind. I shall try and be at home by Saturday, January 12th. Mind the day—if I am not home—God knows where I shall be. I have come through things that would make your hearts ache for me—things which I shall never tell to anybody but you, and you shall keep them secret as the grave. Get my own little room ready quick, quick; have it all tidy and clean and cosy against my home-coming. I wish to die there, and nobody shall nurse me except my own dear mother ever, ever again. O home, home, home!
     “‘I will try and write again, but mind the day. Perhaps my father will come into Glasgow if I can tell him beforehand how, when, and where I shall be. I shall try all I can to let him know.
73     “‘Mind and tell everybody that I am coming back, and cannot stay away. Tell everybody; but I shall come back in the dark, because I am so utterly unhappy. No more, no more. Mind the day.
                                                                                                             “‘D. G.
     “‘Don’t answer—not even think of answering.’

     “Before I had time to comprehend the state of affairs, there came a second letter stating that David was on the point of starting for London. ‘Every ring at the hotel bell makes me tremble, fancying they are coming to take me away by force. Had you seen the nurse! Oh that I were back again at home—Mother! mother! mother!’ A few hours after I had read these lines in miserable fear, arrived Gray himself, pale, anxious, and trembling. He flung himself into my arms with a smile of sad relief. ‘Thank God!’ he cried, ‘that’s over, and I am here!’ Then his cry was for home; he would die if he remained longer adrift; he must depart at once. I persuaded him to wait for a few days, and in the mean time saw some of his influential friends. The skill and regimen of a medical establishment being necessary to him at this stage, it was naturally concluded that he should go to Brompton; but David, in a high state of nervous excitement, scouted the idea. Disease had sapped the fountains of the once strong spirit. He was now bent on returning to the North, and wrote more calmly to his parents from my lodgings:—

                                                                                                                     “‘LONDON, Thursday.

     “‘MY VERY DEAR PARENTS,—Having arrived in London last night my friends have seized on me 74 again and wish me to go to Brompton. But what I saw at Torquay was enough, and I will come home, though it should freeze me to death. You must not take literally what I wrote you in my last. I had just run away from Torquay Hospital, and didn’t know what to do or where to go. But you see I have got to London, and surely by some means or other I shall get home. I am really home-sick. They all tell me my life is not worth a farthing candle if I go to Scotland in this weather, but what about that. I wish I could tell my father when to come to Glasgow, but I can’t. If I start to-morrow I shall be in Glasgow very late, and what am I to do if I have no cash. If he comes into Glasgow by the twelve train on Saturday I may, if possible, see him at the train, but I would not like to say positively. Surely I’ll get home somehow. I don’t sleep any at night now for coughing and sweating. I am afraid to go to bed. Strongly hoping to be with you soon.
                                                                                                         “‘Yours ever,
                                                                                                                 “‘DAVID GRAY.’

     “‘Home—home—home!’ was his hourly cry. To resist these frantic appeals would have been to hasten the end of all. In the midst of winter I saw him into the train at Euston Square. A day afterwards David was in the bosom of his father’s household, never more to pass thence alive. Not long after his arrival at home he repented his rash flight, ‘I am not at all contented with my position. I acted like a fool; but if the hospital were the sine quâ non again my conduct would be the same.’ Further, ‘I lament my own foolish conduct, but what was that quotation about impellunt in Acheron? It was all nervous impulsion. However, I despair not, and 75 least of all, my dear fellow, to those whom I have deserted
     “Ere long poor David made up his mind that he must die, and this feeling urged him to write something that would keep his memory green for ever. ‘I am working away at my old poem, Bob; leavening it throughout with the pure, beautiful theology of Kingsley.’ A little later: ‘By the bye, I have about six hundred lines of my poem written, but the manual labour is so weakening that I do not go on.’ Nor was this all. In the very shadow of the grave, he began and finished a series of sonnets on the subject of his own disease and impending death. This increased literary energy was
not, as many people imagined, a sign of increased physical strength; it was merely the last flash upon the blackening brand. Gradually, but surely, life was ebbing away from the young poet.
     “In March, 1861, I formed the plan of visiting Scotland in the spring, and wrote to David accordingly. His delight at the prospect of a fresh meeting—perhaps a farewell one—was as great as mine.

                                                                                                             “‘MERKLAND, March 12, 1861.

     “‘MY DEAR BOB,—I am very glad to be able to write you to-day. Rest assured to find a change in your old friend when you come down in April. And do, old fellow, let it be the end of April, when the evenings are cool and fresh, and these east-winds have howled themselves to rest. When I think of what a fair worshipful season is before you, I advise you to remove to a little room at Hampstead, where I only wish too, too much to be with you. Don’t forget to come North since you have spoken about it; it has made me very happy. My health is no 76 better—not having been out of my room since I wrote, and for some time before. The weather here is so bitterly cold and unfavourable that I have not walked a hundred yards for three weeks. I trust your revivifying presence will electrify my weary relaxed limbs and enervated system. The mind, you know, has a great effect on the body. Accept the wholesome commonplace. . . . By the way, how about Dobell? Did your mind of itself recognise, or even against itself recognise, through the clothes a man—a poet? Young speaks well:—

“‘“I never bowed but to superior worth,
Nor ever failed in my allegiance there. . . .”  

Has he the modesty and make-himself-at-home manner of Milnes?’

     “The remainder of this letter is unfortunately lost.
     “In April I saw him for the last time, and heard him speak words which showed the abandonment of hope. ‘I am dying,’ said David, leaning back in his armchair in the little carpeted bedroom; ‘I am dying, and I’ve only two things to regret: that my poem is not published and that I have not seen Italy.’ In the endeavour to inspire hope, I spoke of the happy past, and of the happy days yet to be. David only shook his head with a sad smile. ‘It is the old dream—only a dream, Bob—but I am content.’ He spoke of all his friends with tenderness, and of his parents with intense and touching love. Then it was ‘farewell.’ ‘After all our dreams of the future,’ he said, ‘I must leave you to fight alone; but shall there be no more “cakes and ale” because I die?’
     “I returned to London; and ere long heard that David was eagerly attempting to get ‘The Luggie’ 77 published. Delay after delay occurred. ‘If my book be not immediately gone on with I fear I may never see it. Disease presses closely on me . . . the merit of my MSS. is very little—mere hints of better things—crude notions harshly languaged; but that must be overlooked. They are left not to the world (wild thought!), but as the simple, possible, sad, only legacy I can leave to those who have loved and love me.’ To a dear friend and fellow-poet, William Freeland, then sub-editor of the Glasgow Citizen, he wrote at this time, ‘I feel more acutely the approach of that mystic dissolution of existence. The body is unable to perform its functions, and like rusty machinery creaks painfully to the final crash. . . . About my poem—it troubles me like an ever-present demon. Some day I’ll burn all that I have ever written—yet no! They are all that remain of me as a living soul. Milnes offers five pounds towards its publication. I shall have it ready by Saturday first.’ And to Freeland, who visited him every week, and cheered his latter moments with a true poet’s converse, he wrote out a wild dedication, ending in these words: ‘Before I enter that nebulous, uncertain land of shadowy notions and tremulous wonderings—standing on the threshold of the sun and looking back, I cry thee, O beloved! a last farewell, lingeringly, passionately, without tears.’ At this period I received the following:—

                                                                                                       “‘MERKLAND, N.B. Sunday Evening.

     “‘DEAR, DEAR BOB,—By all means and instantly, “move in this matter” of my book. Do you really and without any dream work, think it could be gone about immediately? If not soon I fear I shall never behold it. The doctors give me no hope, and with the yellowing of the leaf changes likewise the countenance of your 78 friend. Freeland is in possession of the MSS., but before I send them (I love them in so great temerity) I would like to see, and, if at all possible, revise them. Meanwhile, act and write. Above all, Bob, give me (and my father) no hope unless on sound foundation. Better that the rekindled desire should die than languish, bringing misery. I cannot sufficiently impress on you how important “this book” is to me: with what ignoble trembling I anticipate its appearance; how I shall bless you should you succeed.
     “‘Do not tempt me with your kindness. The family have almost got over the strait, only my father being out of work. It is indeed a “golden treasury” you have sent me. Many thanks. My only want is new interesting books. I shall return it soon when I get Smith. Do not, like a good fellow, disappoint an old friend by forgetting to send that work. With what interest (thinking of my own probable volume) shall I examine the print, &c. I am sure, sure to return it.
     “‘When you complain of physical discomfort I believe. What is the matter? Your letters now are a mere provoking adumbration of your condition. I know positively nothing of you, but that you are mentally and bodily depressed, and that you will never forget Gray. In God’s name let us keep together the short time remaining.
     “‘You tell me nothing; write sooner too. Recollect I have no other pleasure. How is your mother? and all? Are your editorial duties oppressive? Is life full of hope and bright faith, yet, yet? Tell me, Bob, and tell me quickly.
     “‘What a fair, sad, beautiful dream is Italy! Do you still entertain its delusive notions? Pour out your soul before me;—I am as a child.
                                                   “‘Yours for ever,
                                                           “‘DAVID GRAY.’”

79     Still later, in an even sweeter spirit, he wrote to an old schoolmate, Arthur Sutherland, with whom he had dreamed many a boyish dream, when they were pupil teachers together at the Normal school:—

     “‘As my time narrows to a completion you grow dearer. I think of you daily with quiet tears. I think of the happy, happy days we might have spent together at Maryburgh; but the vision darkens. My crown is laid in the dust for ever. Nameless too! God, how that troubles me! Had I but written one immortal poem, what a glorious consolation! But this shall be my epitaph if I have a gravestone at all—

                   “‘“’Twas not a life,
’Twas but a piece of childhood thrown away.”

O dear, dear Sutherland! I wish I could spend two healthy months with you; we would make an effort, and do something great. But slowly, insidiously, and I fear fatally, consumption is doing its work, until I shall be only a fair odorous memory (for I have great faith in your affection for me) to you—a sad tale for your old age.

“‘“Whom the gods love, die young.”

Bless the ancient Greeks for that comfort. If I was not ripe do you think I would be gathered? Work for fame for my sake, dear Sutherland. Who knows but in spiritual being I may send sweet dreams to you—to advise, comfort, and command! who knows? At all events, when I am mooly, may you be fresh as the dawn.
                                                                                         “‘Yours till death, and I trust hereafter too,
                                                                                                                                     “‘DAVID GRAY.’

80     “At last, chiefly through the agency of the unwearying Dobell, the poem was placed in the hands of the printer. On the 2nd of December, 1861, a specimen-page was sent to the author. David, with the shadow of death even then dark upon him, gazed long and lingeringly at the printed page. All the mysterious past—the boyish yearnings, the flash of anticipated fame, the black surroundings of the great city—flitted across his vision like a dream. It was ‘good news,’ he said. The next day the complete silence passed over the weaver’s household, for David Gray was no more. Thus, on the 3rd of December, 1861, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he passed tranquilly away, almost his last words being, ‘God has love and I have faith.’ The following epitaph, written out carefully a few months before his decease, was found among his papers:—


“‘Below lies one whose name was traced in sand—
He died, not knowing what it was to live:
Died while the first sweet consciousness of manhood
And maiden thought electrified his soul:
Faint beatings in the calyx of the rose.
Bewildered reader, pass without a sigh
In a proud sorrow! There is life with God,
In other kingdom of a sweeter air;
In Eden every flower is blown. Amen.
                                                 “‘DAVID GRAY.’
“‘September 27th, 1861.’” 3

     “You will never forget Gray!” wrote the dying poet to his friend; and surely his faith was justified, for David Gray owes his reputation as much to Robert Buchanan as to his own undoubted genius. At the time when Gray was living in Stamford Street, several 81 visitors went to see him—Lawrence Oliphant, Charles Mackay, besides the ever kindly Monckton Milnes—but of those visitors the youthful Robert Buchanan saw little or nothing, being too proud and independent to seek their patronage or friendship for himself. Whenever a visitor was announced he went away downstairs into the streets, not returning until his companion was again alone. Friends he himself had none, nor was he disposed to seek for them until he could meet them on equal terms. He sought no sympathy and he needed none, for he was strong and able to fight his own way. Nevertheless, he once or twice felt a little sore when some of the good people, whose sympathies Gray’s illness had awakened, appeared to assume that he himself was an interloper in his own lodgings, a sort of hanger-on to his sick friend. He must have felt how infinitely his love and friendship transcended theirs. Except for his succour Gray would still have been adrift, without companionship, without a tender hand to minister to his wants, as Robert Buchanan did, by night and by day, until the morning when the two parted at the railway station at Euston Square, when Gray returned home to the little cottage at Merkland where he died.
     But even with the death of his friend his responsibilities in this connection were not laid aside, for though he had his own way to make in the world, though part of his earnings had to go to his father (who was too old and broken to start life afresh), he yet found enough, by practising great self-denial, to enable him to extend a helping hand to the relatives of his dead friend.
     “The book of poems written, and the writer laid quietly down in the auld aisle burying-ground, had 82 David Gray wholly done with earth? No; for he worked from the grave on one who loved him with a love transcending that of woman. In the weaver’s cottage at Merkland subsisted tender sorrow and affectionate remembrance; but something more. The shadow lay in the cottage; a light had departed which would never again be seen on sea or land; and David Gray, the hand-loom weaver, the father of the poet, felt that the meaning had departed out of his simple life. There was a great mystery. The world called his darling son a poet—and he hardly knew what a poet was; all he did know was that the coming of this prodigy had given a new complexion to all the facts of existence. There was a dream-life, it appeared, beyond the work in the fields and the loom. His son, whom he had thought mad at first, was crowned and honoured for the very things which his parents had thought useless. Around him, vague, incomprehensible, floated a new atmosphere, which clever people called poetry, and he began to feel that it was beautiful—the more so, that it was so new and wondrous. The fountains of his nature were stirred. He sat and smoked before the fire o’ nights, and found himself dreaming too! He was conscious now that the glory of his days was beyond that grave in the kirkyard. He was like one that walks in a mist, his eyes full of tears. But he said little of his griefs—little, that is to say, in the way of direct complaint. ‘We feel very weary now David has gone!’ was all the plaint I knew him to utter; he grieved so silently, wondered so speechlessly. The new life, brief and fatal, made him wise. With the eager sensitiveness of the poet himself he read the various criticisms on David’s book; and so subtle was the change in him that, though he was utterly unlearned, and had 83 hitherto had no insight whatever into the nature of poetry, he knew by instinct whether the critics were right or wrong, and felt their suggestions to the very roots of his being.
     “With this old man, in whom I recognised a greatness and sweetness of soul that has broadened my view of God’s humblest creatures ever since, I kept up a correspondence—at first for David’s sake—but latterly for my correspondent’s own sake. His letters, brief and simple as they were, grew fraught with delicate and delicious meaning; I could see how he marvelled at the mysterious light he understood not, yet how fearlessly he kept his soul stirred towards the eternal silence where his son was lying. ‘We feel very weary now David has gone!’ Ah, how weary! The long years of toil told their tale now; the thread was snapt, and labour was no longer a perfect end to the soul and satisfaction to the body. The little carpeted bedroom was a prayer-place now. The Luggie flowing, the green woods, the thymy hills, had become haunted; a voice unheard by other dwellers in the valley was calling, calling, and a hand was beckoning; and tired, more tired, dazzled, more dazzled, grew the old weaver. The very names of familiar scenes were now a strange trouble; for were not these names echoing in David’s songs? Merkland, ‘the summer woods of dear Gartshire,’ the ‘fairy glen of Wooilee,’ Criftin, ‘with his host of gloomy pine-trees,’ all had their ghostly voices. Strange rhymes mingled with the humming of the loom. Mysterious ‘poetry,’ which he had once scorned as an idle thing, deepened and deepened in its fascination for him. All he saw and heard meant something strange in rhyme. He was drawn along by music, and he could not rest.
84     “Beside him dwelt the mother. Her face was quite calm. She had wept bitterly, but her heart was now with other sons and daughters. David was with God, and the minister said that God was good—that was quite enough. None of the new light had troubled her eyes. She knew that her beloved had made a ‘heap o’ rhyme’—that was all. A good loving lad had gone to rest, but there were still bairns left, bless God!
     “But the old man lingered on, with hunger in his heart, wonder in his soul. This could not last for ever. In the winter of 1864 he warned me that he was growing ill; and although he attributed his illness to cold, his letters showed me the truth. There was some physical malady, but the aggravating cause was mental. It was my duty, however, to do all that could be done humanly to save him; and the first thing to do was to see that he had those comforts which sick men need. I placed his case before Lord Houghton; but generous as that man is, all men are not so generous. ‘It is exceedingly difficult to get people to assist a man of genius himself,’ wrote Lord Houghton gloomily; ‘they won’t assist his relations.’ Lord Houghton, however, personally assisted him, and was joined by a kind colleague, Mr. Baillie Cochrane.
     “I felt then, and I feel now, that the condition of the old man was even more deeply affecting than the condition of David in his last moments, as deserving of sympathy, as universal in its appeal to human generosity; and I felt a yearning, moreover, to provide for the comfort of David’s mother, and for the education of David’s brothers. Who knew but that, among the latter, might be another bright intellect, which a little schooling might save for the world? After puzzling myself for a plan, I at last thought 85 that I could attain all my wishes by publishing a book to be entitled ‘Memorials of David Gray,’ and to contain contributions from all the writers of eminence whom I could enlist in the good cause. Such a thing would sell, and might, moreover, be worth buying. The fine natures were not slow in responding to the appeal, and I mention some names that they may gain honour. Tennyson promised a poem; Browning another; George Eliot agreed to contribute; Dickens, because he was too busy to write anything more, offered me an equivalent in money. All seemed well, when one or two objections were raised on the score of propriety; and it was even suggested that ‘it looked like begging for the father on the strength of Gray’s reputation.’ Confused and perplexed, I determined to refer the matter to one whose good sense is as great as his heart, but (luckily for his friends) a great deal harder. ‘Should I or should I not, under the circumstances, go on with my scheme?’ His answer being in the negative, the book was not gone on with, and the matter dropped.
     “Meantime the old man was getting worse. On the 27th of April I received this letter:—


     “‘DEAR MR. BUCHANAN,—We hope this will find you and Mrs. Buchanan in good health. I am not getter any better. The cough still continues. However, I rise every day a while, but it is only to sit by the fire. Weather is so cold I cannot go out except sometimes I get out and walks round yard. I am not looking for betterness. I have nothing particular to say, only we thought you would be thinking us ungrateful in not writing soon.
                                                                                                     “‘I remain, yours ever,
                                                                                                                     “‘DAVID GRAY.’

86     “On the 9th of May he wrote, ‘I have Dr. Stewart to attend me. He called on Sunday and sounded me—he says I am a dying man, and dying fast. You cannot imagine what a weak person I am; I am nearly bedfast.’ On the 16th of May came the last lines I ever received from him. They are almost illegible, and their purport prevents me from printing them here. A few days more, and the old man was dead. His green grave lies in the shadow of the obelisk which stands over his beloved son. Father and child are side by side. A little cloud, a pathetic mystery, came between them in life; but that is all over. The old hand-loom weaver, who never wrote a verse, unconsciously reached his son’s stature ere he passed away. The mysterious thing called ‘poetry,’ which operated such changes in his simple life, became all clear at last—in that final moment when the world’s meanings become transparent, and nothing is left but to swoon back with closed eyes into the darkness, confiding in God’s mercy, content either to waken at His footstool, or to rest painlessly for
evermore.” 4
     Thus it will be seen that even at a period of his career when most young men are sowing their “wild oats” Robert Buchanan was dispensing that blessed charity for which he afterwards became so famous.
     “He could hear of no case of poverty or suffering (wrote Mr. Henry Murray, who knew him intimately for years) and rest until he had relieved it, and for many years he was the milch-cow of every impecunious scribbler in London. His nationality must have cost him many scores of pounds per annum, because, at all times open to the moving influence of a tale of woe, he would always reward 87 with a double gratuity any such tale that was told with a Scotch accent. The actor who had fallen on evil times dined sumptuously on the day he met Buchanan. Often laughing at himself for being the dupe of people he knew to be morally unworthy, he never knotted his purse-strings for such a reason. It was enough that the applicant was poor. He had little faith in ‘organised’ charity, and detested the self-advertisement of the published subscription list. He felt that charity was hardly charity at all unless the alms could pass from hand to hand, accompanied by a word of hopeful cheer which doubled the value of the gift.” 5

1 Lord Houghton, who afterwards became an intimate friend of Robert Buchanan, died in 1885, and was succeeded by his son, the present Earl of Crewe.
2 “Sydney Dobell, author of ‘Balder,’ ‘The Roman,’ &c., whose kindness to David, whom he never saw, is beyond all praise.”
3 “David Gray and other Essays.”
4 “David Gray and other Essays.”
5 “Robert Buchanan and other Essays.”





     WITH the death of David Gray his loneliness in the Great City became complete; almost his only acquaintances being Hepworth Dixon of the Athenæum, and other editors for whom he did a little work. His only recreation was the playhouse, and it was one night as he sat in the gallery of the Strand Theatre that he recognised on the stage the face of a player whom he had known slightly during his boyhood in Glasgow. His delight at the recognition was great. He hung round the stage door after the performance, waiting for the “extras” to come out, and when the one he sought emerged he eagerly reminded him of their acquaintance. The name of this actor was Edwin Danvers, famous shortly afterwards for his extraordinary performances in Byron’s burlesques. At that time Mr. Danvers was not much better off than the boy who had so providentially found him (for the salaries received by actors then were very different to those of the present day), and he had, moreover, a wife and a large family to support, but poor as he was he had the kindly heart and warm hand of a true Bohemian, and he gave his youthful friend a Bohemian’s welcome.
89     They adjourned together to a neighbouring bar, and there drank and spoke of old times till late into the night, and when they parted, with an arrangement to meet speedily again, the boy walked home across the Bridge of Sighs with a lighter heart. At last he had discovered some one whom he knew, someone to whom he could speak of the things he loved—of Scotland, of old friends there, of the wild life among the players, some one who was a fellow-fighter for bread, impecunious yet cheerful, like himself. Of course the pair had little or nothing in common, for Mr. Danvers was not in any sense of the word “literary,” and he had little or no interest in the art which the youth so passionately loved, but he was frank and free, and perhaps this companionship did more for the poet at that crisis of his career than a more solemn or more learned acquaintance could have done.
     For several Sundays following this first meeting he went by invitation to join the Danvers family at their midday meal, but after a time the two drifted apart, yet the memory of this little gleam of friendship, coming as it did at a time when it meant so much to him, was never erased from his mind. Many years later the two heard of each other again, and now it was the poet who held forth a succouring hand, while the poor old actor, who had fallen upon evil days, had every reason to bless the name of Robert Buchanan.
     The life he led in those days was not altogether that of a serious student. True he worked very hard by day and far into the night, but whenever he had a little money to spare he spent it in the simple dissipations of the Great City. Sometimes, in company with Mr. Danvers or some other “poor player,” he would 90 sail down the river and dance by moonlight in Rosherville Gardens. Curiously enough, the pleasantest thing that remained with him was the memory of those little Sunday dinners in Gerrard Street, Soho, where Mr. Danvers welcomed him to take “pot luck” with his wife and family, and where the joint cooked at the neighbouring baker’s formed the centre of attraction.
     A few years before his death he had rooms in Gerrard Street, and he took me to the window and pointed out the house where Mr. Danvers had lived and where those Sunday dinners had been eaten. “Ah, those days!” he said, with a sigh. “The merry days when I was young! I shall never again feast so royally or dream so happily as I did then!”
     Meantime, he knew one or two houses where he was kindly entertained. One of these was the house of Westland Marston, near Primrose Hill. There he encountered sundry Bohemian journalists and players—Hermann Vezin, Adelaide Neilson, W. G. Wills, and many others. Westland Marston was an earnest and very able man who had written one or two successful dramas, the best known of these being the “Patrician’s Daughter,” but whose intellectual standards were somewhat old fashioned, either for original creations or great immediate popularity. His wife was very kind to all the young aspirants who frequented her house, and his eldest daughter Nellie interested the poet exceedingly. It seems to have been a curious household. Nearly all the members kept late hours, and did at midnight the work which ought to have been done by day. Mrs. Marston was an ardent spiritualist, and on one occasion the subject of these memoirs was present when she consulted the spirits about the eyes of her 91 little son Philip, who was even then almost totally blind. It was at the house of Westland Marston that Robert Buchanan met Dinah Muloch, the authoress of “John Halifax, Gentleman.” She was some years his senior, and they had no sooner met than she carried him off to her little cottage on the verge of Hampstead Heath, and placed her small library at his command. “You will be a great man,” she wrote to him, and he was very proud of the compliment. His old friend Hermann Vezin deserves more than a passing mention in these pages, for he is one of the kindest of men, earnest, scholarly, and sympathetic beyond measure to all young strugglers. He it was who “discovered” James Albery and also W. G. Wills, who for a long time had had a terrible fight with fortune. For Mr. Vezin’s genius as an actor the poet had then, as always, the profoundest admiration. “No greater piece of acting,” I have heard him say, “has been done within my memory than Vezin’s ‘Man o’ Airlie.’” The “Man o’ Airlie” was the hero of a play by W. G. Wills, it was founded on some German play and had for its theme the life and death of the poet Burns. My sister, too, was always a warm admirer of Hermann Vezin, and though she differed from her husband on a good many points, she was always at one with him when he spoke with such enthusiasm of the genius of his friend.
     But despite such acquaintances as those which I have mentioned he was still, to use a homely expression, “like a fish out of water.” “Many of the men and women whom I met were amusing enough” (he wrote), “but I speedily perceived that literature, instead of widening their ideas and enlarging their views, narrowed both hopelessly. 92 Wherever I went I heard tittle-tattle, not conversation—tittle-tattle about books and journals, good and bad notices, and views of what Carlyle called ‘able editors.’ I remembered with regret nobler talk to which I had listened in my boyhood at my father’s table. Many of the individuals I met seemed to me not only ill read and ignorant, but radically unintelligent, and I searched in vain for some young man of my own age with whom I could cultivate a friendship.”
     Then it was that he made the acquaintance of Charles Gibbon, who was a year or so younger than himself. The pair first met at Herne Bay, whither they had gone for a few days’ recreation, and on their return to London they set up housekeeping together, Gibbon going to share the “bankrupt garret” in Stamford Street. Besides assisting his friend in the production of copy for Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Gibbon wrote a good deal of fiction on his own account. Although their earnings at that time were not great they were both at work far into the watches of the night, reading, writing, studying, like young fellows cramming for an examination. Every night a pot of strong coffee was set upon the hob, and out of this pot they refreshed themselves, fighting hard against the natural desire for sleep, and again and again tumbling off into a troubled doze till daylight came and they crept wearily to bed. There was no absolute necessity for their burning the midnight oil in this fashion, and indeed the poet never contracted this ugly habit until Mr. Gibbon became his companion. When the poet had a few shillings to spare they were now spent in books, for he was essaying a double task: to earn a living by his pen, and to complete his interrupted 93 education. In those vigils he learned his Horace and his Catullus almost by heart, and beginning to study German, soon mastered Goethe’s “Faust” from the first page of the first, to the last page of the second part.
     “It was about this time that I seriously thought for the first time in my life of winning instant and certain immortality by killing a publisher! I had been contributing articles and verses to divers magazines, including Temple Bar and the St. James’s Magazine, then under the ownership of Mr. John Maxwell, and in the natural course of things I soon became acquainted with that gentleman—indeed, he sent for me, and made me certain overtures with regard to my contributions. He was a big, burly, florid-faced, loud-spoken Irishman, far from unkindly by disposition, and I am now quite sure, on reviewing my connection with him, that he was of no little service to me in my hard struggle for bread; indeed, he believed in me when few other people did, and but for him my sufferings in those days would certainly have been acuter. It became my custom to take him from time to time a bundle of manuscript, the length of which he would estimate without reading, and for which he would pay me a given sum, ‘on the nail.’ But his manners had not that repose which distinguishes the cast of Vere de Vere, and as I was very young and proud, I sometimes felt acutely and resented bitterly the style in which he occasionally received me. I was, no doubt, a trying young person, full of my own importance, but Maxwell, on the other hand, had a knack of rubbing my vanity the wrong way, and of making me feel myself, as I literally was, a pauper. Add to this, that I was often kept waiting for hours on the 94 premises in Fleet Street, and that I had sometimes to go away angry and disgusted, without an interview at all; now and then, moreover, the great man was crusty, and wouldn’t buy what I wanted to sell, so that I had to depart in despair. Well, for some reason or other, rightly or wrongly, I conceived the idea that Maxwell had used me very badly. I had called once or twice and failed to see him, and the style in which the Publisher’s myrmidons received me deepened in me a sultry sense of wrong. So one morning, after several hungry days, I packed up a parcel of manuscript, procured a thick cudgel, and left my lodging with this intimation to my companion in wretchedness, the late Charles Gibbon: ‘I am going to see Maxwell—I will see him, and if he is offensive as usual, I will beat out what brains the ruffian possesses and offer him up as a sacrifice to the Muses.’ My friend laughed and thought I was joking, but I was really in earnest, and contemplated assault and battery. Off I strode, cudgel in hand, on this truly Christian errand. I cannot tell how it came about, but on entering the Publisher’s shop and asking for its master, I was received with effusion, shown up at once into the presence and—well, then and there in the friendliest manner imaginable, Mr. Maxwell bought my manuscript and handed me his little cheque!
     “Many a time since then I have laughed over this episode, wondering what would have happened if I had proceeded to extremities. I daresay I might have come off worse, for Maxwell was a powerful man and the weights were tremendously in his favour. But if I had assaulted him successfully, how all my future life would have been changed! I might even have been hanged for killing a Publisher and gone 95 to the gallows with a flower in my buttonhole, sure of the worship of future generations of impecunious authors!
     “Seriously I had no real casus belli, for, I repeat, Maxwell had been very kind to me. He was, I am certain, a thoroughly good fellow, while I, no doubt, was an aggressive young imp. Moreover, he never knew how hard my struggle was, and how dangerously near I sometimes was to starvation. A little after this period he gave me the editorship of one of his publications, the moribund Welcome Guest, and it was while I was editing this publication that he sent to me the lady whom he afterwards married, Miss M. E. Braddon. I ran her first story through the Guest and about the same time reviewed in the Athenæum, at Maxwell’s request, her first and only volume of verse. I remember our first interview on the ground floor of the house where I lived in Stamford Street, Blackfriars. She was a plump, fair-haired unassuming young girl, while I was a curly-headed, diffident boy, and she must have been amused, I fancy, by my assumption of editorial airs. I trust that I have not conveyed the impression that my first publisher was either ungenerous or inconsiderate. He had no doubt his faults, but he was after all a very different person from some others whom I afterwards encountered. One of these had a playful way of insulting his authors, particularly when they came to him for money which they had earned. It was this gentleman, I am told, who said of me, apropos of a call I had made upon him: ‘I can’t stand that young fellow—he came into my office and he talked to me as if he was God Almighty, or Lord
’” 1
     By this time his father and mother had come to 96 London and were living in lodgings in the neighbourhood of the Euston Road. His father found some work on the newspapers, and was also trying his hand at the manufacture of cheap fiction. Nothing seemed to daunt him, yet already the weight of trouble was beginning to bow him down, and he had grown quite grey. Mrs. Buchanan, who was some years his junior, had still the bloom of her early womanhood upon her. She had but one thought in life, the welfare of her son, and when that son presented a happy face to her she was happy too.
     In course of time Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan took a small house in Kentish Town, and scraped together some fragments of furniture to make it habitable. It was a very small house, but it sufficed for their simple needs, and once settled in it Mrs. Buchanan implored her son to come and reside with her. He could not resist the appeal, so he moved to Kentish Town, his companion Charles Gibbon accompanying him, and the two lived together for some time under his father’s roof.
     At this period he turned his attention to the stage, and was soon busily engaged upon a poetical drama in four acts entitled “The Witch-finder.” The scene of this play was laid in New England, at the period of the memorable State persecutions for witchcraft, and the leading character was an inspired bigot, who became instrumental, after destroying many helpless women, in procuring the condemnation of his own daughter. The dialogue was in blank verse, with the exception of certain comic scenes, which were written in a sort of Shakespearean prose. Such literary strength as he possessed at the time was put into this somewhat ambitious play and the result was not altogether 97 undramatic. He sent this drama to Fechter, then in management at the Lyceum, who informed him that it was a fine work, but so sad and dismal that it oppressed him like an evil dream. He then offered it to Phelps, who was quite enthusiastic over it, but for one reason or another hesitated to produce it. While the fate of the “Witchfinder” was still undecided, its author collaborated with Charles Gibbon on a dramatisation of Banim’s powerful story “Crohoore of the Billhook.” This piece, a lurid melodrama, was offered to Richard Edgar, then managing the Standard Theatre in Shoreditch and Sadler’s Wells in Islington, and was at once accepted and paid for, the purchase money being the munificent sum of twenty pounds!
     The “Rathboys,” as the dramatisation was called, was produced in due course at the Standard Theatre, and ran successfully for some weeks. The leading character was played by Edmund Phelps, the son of the famous tragedian, and the “comic Irishman,” by Thomas Thorne, with whom one of the authors was to have delightful business relations many years later. Before the play was withdrawn from representation the authors appeared in it themselves, Mr. Gibbon taking the part of a young lover, and Mr. Buchanan that of the hero, called Shadrack the Shingawn. As they knew the play by heart they had no rehearsals. The part played by Mr. Buchanan was that of a hunchback falsely accused of murder, and he made the character so hideously disfigured a monster that somebody inquired whether he was representing Shakespeare’s Caliban. However, the audiences out eastward were not critical, and the performance passed off with a certain measure of applause. The crux of the performance came in the 98 penultimate act, when Shadrack had to rescue the heroine from a violent death, descending by a rope from the top of a precipice, seizing the heroine in his arms as she swung over the abyss from the branch of a tree, and ascending with her to the cliffs above. For this effect, which demanded an athlete rather than an actor, there had, as I have said, been no rehearsal, and it is more than probable that the aspiring actor showed some little doubt and trepidation, for the lady whom he was to save was in agonies of terror. However, all went well. Shadrack descended by a rope from the flies, clasped the lady in his arms, and was drawn back amid round after round of deafening applause.
     In a kindly notice of Mr. Buchanan, written just after his death (1901), and published in M. A. P., Mr. T. P. O’Connor said: “In his reminiscences I do not find any mention of one stage in Buchanan’s life which was very interesting. He was employed as a small actor, if I mistake not, at the Britannia, or some other of the popular suburban theatres, and I think I have heard that his somewhat bulky form was one night precipitated from the rope on which, as Myles-na- Coppaleen in Boucicault’s play, he was crossing the Lake of Killarney.”
     The episode which I have related is doubtless the one referred to, only it has got altered in the telling. Anyhow, Mr. Buchanan was never a salaried actor, and he never, to my knowledge, played the part of Myles-na-Coppaleen. Encouraged by the success of the “Rathboys,” Mr. Edgar arranged for the production of the poetical play, the “Witchfinder,” at Sadler’s Wells, and it met with an excellent reception. The leading male part, Matthew Holt, was played by the late George Melville, while the late Miss Mariot 99 personated a mad youth, one Elijah Holt, whose brain had been turned by the denunciation of his mother by himself and by her subsequent execution for witchcraft. The other characters were well sustained, and the piece had a fair local run, but it was the last attempt made by the poet for many years to conquer a foothold on the stage. After the “Witchfinder” had had its run, he turned aside from the theatre, and for some time devoted himself to literature pure and simple.

1 “Latter Day Leaves.”


(MARY BUCHANAN. - The Poet’s Wife.)





     IT was towards the close of the year 1861 that he married my sister, who was not yet out of her teens, and who was afterwards known among his friends as “Buchanan’s lovely wife.” “She was (wrote Mr. O’Connor in M. A. P.) “a very beautiful woman, stately and statuesque in figure, with beautifully chiselled, regular features, fine eyes, and a gay and almost bubbling spirit. But early in her married life she was attacked by one of those painful internal maladies which are the death of health and domestic happiness, and often she suffered tortures. Indeed, I remember seeing her once laughing and chattering like some bright singing bird, and in the midst of it a shade suddenly fell upon her face, and turning to me she said: ‘If you speak to me, I shall have to burst into tears.’ I was young in years and even younger in experience, and knew nothing at that time of that strange world of laughter and tears, of heroic suffering and tragic depression, which is the world of the invalid woman, but the moment remained with me afterwards, an illuminating glimpse into the unfathomable depths of secret and silent sorrow and pain in which we move unconsciously among our fellow men and women.”
101     At one period of her life Mr. O’Connor knew her extremely well, and she on her side always entertained a very warm feeling of friendship for him, but his knowledge of her did not begin till many years after her marriage, and in writing the above he is speaking of a time when her beauty would of necessity have become dimmed by a foreshadowing of the terrible anguish through which she was destined to pass.
     Shortly after his marriage Mr. Buchanan went to Denmark. “Being one of the very few Englishmen of that day who knew the Danish language, he went to Schleswig-Holstein towards the end of the war as correspondent of the Morning Star. It was on his return from thence that he wrote so freely on Scandinavian literature, an unknown world to the bookmen of that day.” 1 He was accompanied on this expedition by his father (who also, I should imagine, went in some official capacity), and during the absence of the pair the young wife went to stay with her mother-in-law, who at that time was living in the neighbourhood of Shepherd’s Bush. It was during that visit to Denmark that he met Hans Christian Andersen; he also visited the famous Thorwaldsen Museum, and was so much impressed by the figures of Christ and the Apostles, that he purchased the one of Christ and brought it home as a present to his wife. For a further record of those days I must give his own words.
     “I did some occasional work for All the Year Round, and received for it a more liberal remuneration. These desultory contributions would hardly have served to keep me in bread and butter, had they not been supplemented by a leader on current 102 politics sent weekly to a newspaper in Ayr. One literary engagement, however, soon led to another; and I was in high spirits indeed on the morning I received a letter from Edmund Yates informing me that he was subediting, under Sala, a new magazine to be called Temple Bar, and that Dickens had given him my name, among others, as that of a useful contributor. “Let me have your copy as soon as possible,” Yates concluded, without even a suggestion that it might be disapproved. Shortly afterwards, when Temple Bar started, I became a constant contributor, and the pay, compared to what I had hitherto received, was princely.
     “In after years, when he fell foul of me for an article from my pen, called the ‘Newest Thing in Journalism,’ 2 poor Yates asserted that his first knowledge of me was when ‘I went to him with a letter of introduction from John Hollingshead.’ This was a mistake, though it is quite true that I did have such a letter in my possession, and that I possibly presented it afterwards; it had been procured for me from Hollingshead, whom I did not then know, by Sydney Dobell. It was not until I was an accepted contributor to Temple Bar that I met Yates in his rooms at the General Post Office, where he was a sort of undersecretary. He was a bright, cheery, somewhat loud-spoken young man, who had drifted into journalism viâ Thackeray and the Garrick Club, and he might be described as a very favourable specimen of the littérateur who was not essentially, or by temperament and education, literary. He wrote gossips for the journals—chatty, personal gossip of a kind not then so familiar as it is nowadays; and in the course of his lightsome work he had written with unpleasant 103 personality of Thackeray’s nose. Thackeray protested that Yates, a fellow-member of the Garrick Club, had broken the code of honour among gentlemen by utilising his knowledge as a club-man to insult him, Thackeray, and as a result, in spite of a strong remonstrance from Dickens, Yates was expelled. It was an unpleasant business, very contemptible and very trivial. I am quite certain that Yates erred out of sheer gaité de coeur, and not from malice; indeed, his respect for the great novelist was almost idolatrous. Afterwards, when I visited him at his house in St. John’s Wood, I found a large portrait of Thackeray hanging over his study table. He told me the whole story over whiskey and water, and the tears rolled down his manly cheeks as he did so, avowing both his sorrow and his adoration.
     “All this time, while working diligently to make the pot boil, I was studying hard and writing verses to please myself. I had a few friends, the brightest and happiest influence upon me was that of Thomas Love Peacock, the friend of Shelley, and the kindliest and most wise of scholars. He was living at Lower Halliford, on the Thames, and in order to be near him I took lodgings at Chertsey, only sleeping occasionally under his hospitable roof. It was rest and inspiration indeed to pass from the roar of Grub Street and the strident Sixties into the peaceful atmosphere of the brave old pagan’s dwelling, to drink May Rosewell’s cowslip wine, and to boat on the quiet river with Clara Leigh Hunt, a bright-eyed little maid of fifteen and Peacock’s special pet. It was under Peacock’s influence that I wrote many of my pseudo-classic poems, afterwards gathered together in my first volume, ‘Undertones.’” 3
    Another friend of those early days was the late Mr. William Black, 4 now so well and widely known as a writer of fiction. The two saw a good deal of each other at one time, but afterwards, through some misunderstanding, he and the poet drifted apart. His sister, Mrs. J. G. Morten, whom he described in his novels as “Queen Titania,” was ever our warm friend, as also his niece, Miss Honnor Morten, who is known far and wide as an authority on hospital nursing and charitable works in general.

1 Pearson’s Weekly.
2 Published in the Contemporary Review.
3 M. A. P. (“In the Days of my Youth”).
4 Mr. Black died at Brighton in 1898, and was buried at Rottingdean.





     A VERY powerful influence was that of the late G. H. Lewes, whose name, coupled with that of the lady so well and widely known as “George Eliot,” appears very frequently both in the published work and private letters of Mr. Buchanan.
     “At the time when my friend and companion David Gray was in busy correspondence with Sydney Dobell, I was first opening up communication with George Henry Lewes. Lewes was well known to me as a man of letters and a powerful critic, as well as the friend and adviser of ‘George Eliot;’ and I was attracted to him by a certain catholicity or liberality of temper which animated those of his works with which I was familiar. About that time I had completed, in addition to divers poems in the classical manner, a number of blank verse idyls or pastorals, in which I had utilised to some extent my knowledge of Nature, and which, though crude enough, were certainly attempts in a praiseworthy direction. Altogether undecided as to the value of my attempts, and anxious to secure an authoritative opinion, I one day despatched to Lewes a formidable parcel, consisting of all sorts of poems, and accompanied with a letter, in which I requested him to tell me honestly if, in his opinion, I was a Poet. The reply came very speedily, in a long 106 and kindly letter which began by putting my pseudo-classical efforts as comparatively unimportant, and then proceeded as follows: ‘But in the pastorals I recognised a different talent, and perhaps a future poet. I say “perhaps” because I do not know your age, and because there are so many poetical blossoms which never come to fruit; but these poems are original, or, at any rate, individual. If you would keep them by you for a time, strengthening the weak lines, as Tennyson elaborately does, I have no doubt that the best sort of success would attend them. If my advice is of any value, however, write as much as you feel impelled to write at present, but publish nothing. If you publish now you will get classed. The public will come to know you as a clever verse-writer, and will be slow, very slow, to believe anything else, whatever you may have become.’ He ended by conjuring me to wait, at any rate some years, before thinking of publication.” 1
     Some years later, when the boy had become a man and had settled down in London, he wrote to Mr. Lewes to remind him of their correspondence. The answer to this letter was cordial in the extreme, and Mr. Lewes begged that his youthful friend would present himself at the Priory, North Bank, Regent’s Park, where he was then living. It was an invitation of which he was not slow to avail himself; and thus the two met for the first time. “Remembering Douglas Jerrold’s description of him, I was agreeably surprised to meet a little, bright, not ill-looking man of between forty and fifty, with a magnificent forehead, bright, intelligent eyes, and a manner full of intellectual grace. True, he was not physically beautiful. The great defects of the face were the coarse, almost 107 sensual-looking mouth, with its protruding teeth, partly covered by a bristly moustache, and the small, retreating chin; but when the face lighted up and the eyes sparkled and the mouth began its eloquent discourse, every imperfection was forgotten.
     “Lunching one day at the Priory, tête-à-tête with ‘George Eliot’ and Lewes, I told them, among other stories of my youthful experience, the story of David Gray—his wild, dreamy youth, his strange ambition, his early death. Both of my hearers were deeply moved, and Lewes, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed when I had finished, ‘Tell that story to the public too! Tell it as simply and vividly as you have told it to us this morning, and let Smith and Elder publish it in their magazine.’ Upon this hint I wrote my little memoir, which was eagerly accepted for publication in the Cornhill, then under the editorship of Frederick Greenwood. About this time I was busily engaged in writing, or rather completing, a series of Scotch stories in verse, afterwards published under the title of ‘Idyls and Legends of Inverburn.’ Not without trepidation I showed one of the poems, ‘Willie Baird,’ to Lewes, and, to my great delight, he praised it enthusiastically. ‘Publish a volume of such stories,’ he said, ‘and your fortune is made.’ I then sent him the long narrative poem called ‘Two Babes.’ ‘Better and better,’ he wrote immediately upon reading it. Not content with empty praise, he communicated with Mr. George Smith, of Smith and Elder, and urged him to secure the work without delay.” 2
     Though his relations with Mr. Lewes seem to have been of a very friendly character, he was evidently not so well disposed towards the lady of the house. 108 He hated anything like pretence or affectation, and the airs of mysterious greatness which George Eliot thought fit to assume were particularly repugnant to him.
     “She posed behind a curtain, and Lewes acted as showman. No one could approach the oracle save with reverence, fear, and bated breath. If she was ‘composing’ she must not be disturbed; if she descended from the tripod, it was a godlike condescension; if she deigned, in that deep voice of hers, to make a remark about the weather, it was celestial thunder; if she joked, which she did ‘wi’ difficulty,’ as we say in Scotland, her joke was summer lightning on Minerva’s brow. This state of affairs was complicated by the fact of her peculiar relationship to Lewes. She had few female acquaintances, and those only worshippers, and her attitude towards the outside world, while sternly contemptuous, was at the same time morbidly uneasy.
     “I am obliged to confess that my attitude towards the Sybil, when I was introduced to her by Lewes, was always somewhat irreverent. I was an impudent youngster, but I hated absolutism in any form. Towards any godhead which I really worshipped—towards Dickens, for example—I could have abased myself in the dust. But it unluckily happened that the works of George Eliot had never stirred me very deeply, and that I was rather amused than awed by her personality. Of course I kept my heterodoxy to myself as much as possible, but I am afraid that it oozed through my otherwise respectful manner, and at times I frankly suggested that not even great Genius had any right to assume airs of superiority towards broad Humanity. With Lewes himself moreover, I had to be very careful; he was very 109 kind to me, but as the price of his sympathy he demanded a certain acquiescence which I could not always give, and my impudence more than once provoked him into angry remonstrance. Once, indeed, when I asserted myself a little too strongly, he threatened that if I did not behave myself he would give me the cold shoulder, to which my reply was, I fear, ‘Give me the cold shoulder, and be hanged.’
     “The last time I met Lewes was shortly after I published my diatribe on the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry,’ and when I was being shot at from all the countless batteries of coterie criticism. He was walking in Regent’s Park, not far from Clarence Gate, and George Eliot, now Mrs. Lewes, was with him. Both looked worn and old. The Sybil wore a black silk skirt over a crinoline, an old-fashioned bonnet and mantle; she stooped very much, and looked quite an aged woman. I stopped and spoke to them for a few moments, and then the Sybil walked on while I still held Lewes by the hand. He said very little, but his manner was so cold and peculiar, that at last I released him and let him go. That night I wrote to him and asked if I had offended him in any way. He sent me a long, rambling letter in reply, from which I vaguely gathered that he thought I had done something very dreadful, showing (he said) an indifference to the rights of others of which he should not have thought me capable. He alluded, no doubt, to my article in the Contemporary Review, and to the subsequent pamphlet, but beyond that allusion I knew lay the knowledge that I had written somewhat coldly of George Eliot’s poetry. I was not much surprised, for I knew that Lewes had many close friends among the pre-Raphaelite critics, but I 110 was so angry with his attitude towards me that I sent him an angry reply. I saw him once or twice afterwards, but we never came face to face again.
     “It was at Lewes’s house that I first met Robert Browning, whom I had long regarded with idolatry. I had heard he was in London, and had begged George Eliot to introduce me to him if possible, and the opportunity came at a little gathering to which both he and I were invited. It was shortly after the publication in the Cornhill Magazine of my memorials of David Gray, in the course of which I mentioned that my friend, in one of his wild moods, had thought of ‘going to Italy,’ and ‘throwing himself on the sympathy of Robert Browning.’ I found to my delight that Browning had been much pleased and interested by this allusion, and in the course of our first conversation he assured me that he would have given the poor boy a kindly welcome.
     “We had a long and pleasant talk together, and after we had shaken hands with an arrangement to meet again, George Eliot took me aside, and said, smiling, ‘Well, are you disappointed? Does he realise your expectations?’ My reply was candour itself. I said that I was disappointed, though heaven knows what I had expected! I was little more than a boy, very full of Quixotic fancies, and very ignorant of the world, and perhaps I expected to find in the poet, whom I so greatly admired and revered, a less commonplace and more romantic personality. According to Lewes, with whom I afterwards discussed my new acquaintance, Browning was morbidly sensitive to criticism, and eager for any kind of praise; indeed Leigh Hunt had said, Lewes assured me, that Browning was so hungry for general approval, that he ‘coveted that even of his own 111 washerwoman!’ There can be no doubt whatever that the poet was somewhat disheartened by his continuous failure to reach the great public, and by the contemptuous treatment generally accorded him by the newspaper critics. He had just published ‘Dramatis Personæ,’ and I had reviewed it at considerable length, with boyish ardour and enthusiasm, in a monthly magazine. It was the remembrance of this earliest enthusiasm that caused Browning to describe me, in answer to the statement that I had no appreciation of my own contemporaries, as ‘the kindest critic he had ever had!’
     “Our relations though friendly were never those of unreserved intimacy. I was many years his junior, and had been reared in a rougher school; I had neither his dilettante tastes nor his dilettante omniscience. My attitude towards him, moreover, was that of a pupil to a teacher, to one whose intellectual position was assured, while mine was, to say the best of it, uncertain. But for this very reason I was prepared to recognise the moral greatness in him, and even to exaggerate the signs of a superior wisdom. I realised, however, very reluctantly, that, apart from his books, which were still a priceless treasure to me, he had little or no intellectual stimulus to give me. Many of his opinions seemed narrow, some of them even childish. They seemed to me essentially the opinions of a man in good society, less concerned with the great movements of Humanity than with the fleeting artistic phenomena of the hour. On some of the great subjects which concern our happiness as conditioned beings, he scarcely seemed to have thought at all.
     “I was greatly struck by this fact, just before the publication of his poem ‘La Saisiaz.’ He had 112 returned from an excursion to Switzerland in company with his sister Sarah Ann and a lady to whom he was much attached—Miss Egerton Smith, proprietoress of the Liverpool Mercury. One morning just as they were preparing for a mountain excursion, Miss Smith had died suddenly and painlessly, without any previous warning whatever of indisposition. Well, he came to my rooms in Gloucester Place, Regent’s Park, and we had scarcely shaken hands before he began volubly to tell me of what had occurred, and to express his natural amazement and sorrow at the catastrophe. His feelings appeared to me those of simple horror, or, if I may use the word without any suggestion of personal timidity, of terror. ‘If such things can be,’ he cried, ‘there is nothing safe in life whatever. At any moment we may be struck down suddenly and swept away!’ I wondered, remembering many of the beautiful things he had written on the subject of death, and quoted to him, I remember, certain lines of verse without telling him that they were my own:

“‘We mortals are as men on ships at sea,
And oft forget how thin a plank divides
Our lives from the abyss in which we sail.’

But this particular occurrence, he suggested, was so extraordinary, so unanticipated—he had been familiar with Death before, but it had always approached with some kind of warning, and he proceeded to describe in detail, as he afterwards described in his poem, the piteous circumstances of the event which had so amazed him. His manner was that of a child startled amid its play, by a lightning-flash which strikes down one of its 113 companions. He was completely agitated and unstrung. Early in our acquaintance we had several verbal battles, in which, I need hardly say, I was easily vanquished. On one occasion, when I was lunching at his house, I was unsuspecting enough to avow my deep admiration for the American Poet, Walt Whitman. No sooner had I done so than I found that I had loosened an avalanche.
     “No words were strong enough, no terms indignant enough, to express my host’s loathing and contempt for poor Walt, and chiefly on moral grounds! As far as I was able, I stuck up for the defence of the man whom I reverenced this side of idolatry; but it was of no use, I was buried under the attack of Browning’s copious vocabulary, and could only pant for breath. The squabble, the first serious one I had ever had with Browning, lasted until I rose to go, very glad indeed to get out of range. The next morning, to my amazement, I received a letter from the poet, which, for reasons of propriety, I am unable to print verbatim. The mischief was out, however. Although it did not appear that Browning had studied Whitman at all (which was singular seeing what an omnivorous reader Browning was) he was ready to pass judgment on him and to condemn him to instant execution, simply on the score of some miserable and possibly garbled quotation carried to him at secondhand.
     “This struck me as neither right nor generous, and I had looked for something different from the poet of the ‘Ring and the Book.’ I suppose I had pitched my note of praise too high, and so my admiration of another modern poet was resented as an act of disloyalty, for I was busy just then in asserting, through the medium of the Athenæum and 114 other journals, that Browning was the biggest literary force we had had since Shakespeare. I have modified my opinion since then, but I am still convinced that Shakespeare had no more doughty descendant, and that the words of the modern man contain passages which it would be difficult to surpass, even in the writings of his great Master.
     “My last meeting with him was at one of the Royal Academy soirées, which follow the annual dinner. By that time we had fallen asunder a good deal, though we never had had any open disagreement, but as years wore on my enthusiasm had lessened, and I was not in the way of being useful to him as a friendly critic. We had only exchanged a handshake and a few words, but I felt that his manner was a little chilly. I was informed afterwards that at the Academy dinner, when Lecky, in responding to the toast of Literature, had startled the company by generously and warmly eulogizing my ‘City of Dream,’ Browning had murmured to his next neighbour, ‘Of whom is he speaking? Of Buchanan, the writer of plays?’ I was just then collaborating with Sims on a melodrama for the Adelphi, and the question was construed by those who heard it, as an expression of ironical contempt.
     “Naturally enough Browning may have fancied that in writing plays for the market I was selling my birthright for a mess of pottage, but he knew better than most men that I had no option—it was either that or practical starvation. Had he been less in the world and more liberal-minded, he might have remembered that to hew wood and draw water as a means of subsistence does not necessarily imply any loss of self-respect, and he would have observed that, so far at least as my work was concerned, I was 115 passing higher and higher towards my own ideal. On former occasions he had proclaimed his admiration for my work in terms as strong as any used by Lecky, and I cannot help thinking that, had I still been writing criticism, he might have been more tolerant of my occasional backslidings in literature. I well remember our meeting just after I had published ‘White Rose and Red’ anonymously. He bounded into my rooms with outstretched hands, and almost before we had exchanged a word launched out into eager eulogy of the work. I said something in smiling deprecation, but he did not listen. ‘O, it’s a beautiful poem! a beautiful poem!’ he cried again and again, with florid emphasis on the adjective. I think he was honest, and I am sure I hope so; but I had powerful organs at my command at that time, and he knew it.”

1 “Latter Day Leaves.”
2 “Latter Day Leaves.”


To Chapter XI: First Books, 1863-66

or back to Contents








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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