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





     IT was during the period of his residence in Ireland, about the year 1874, that Mr. Buchanan made his first bid for popularity by the writing of prose fiction. His first idea in this connection was to write in collaboration, and so he made the following proposition to Mr. William Canton:—
     “I am tempted, believing in you so much, to propose collaboration in a story, I supplying the theme, to be modified as we might mutually agree, and you doing your fair half of the working-out. Your strong picturesque style would suit me, and I don’t think the public would see the ‘joins!’ In suggesting this, I bid for something very high indeed; a first-class theme, first-class work, and (I hope) a first-class success. I think I have a grand subject ready to hand. The work would be either anonymous, or under a pseudonym or anagram embracing our two names. In this kind of joint work Erckmann-Chatrian have been very successful. Let me hear from you, and ‘if ’twere done, ’twere well if ’twere done quickly.’ . . . I find I have some of the story-sketches by me; so I send them to you to look over. The story of which they form part ran 184 thus: The young fellow in Chapter I. was the Lord of Uribol in disguise; he made love to and ran away with the girl Minna; she went with him to London, and there discovered he was a bigamist, having married a drunken widow in India; she fled his house in horror when they were in an hotel in Edinburgh, and rushed out into the streets; here she would have perished, if she had not suddenly encountered the poor wanderer Angus-with-the-dogs; and the great strength of the tale was to be her journey home on foot in his company, until she fell on the way, and was delivered of a child. Meantime the remorseful husband returned to Uribol in a smack, and was wrecked on the Morig Dhu, a reef of rocks, while Angus-with-the-dogs, returning one wild night home to Uribol, pulled out from his breast, along with his usual puppies, a baby-child—the Heir of Uribol! This is vague enough, but you are keen and will see the possibilities. The tale is only written as far as chapter 5 or 6, and I think could be easily transferred to this wild Irish Erris, for the people here are the very same race, the same habits, customs, peculiarities, as the Hebrideans. Angus could turn into Andy; Glasgow into Dublin; Uribol into Erris. Tell me what you think of the tale, and can you suggest any alteration of the plot, &c.? If you thought the story very strong we might make this our first anonymous venture.” 1
     This first proposition came to nothing, though the story, of which the foregoing is a dim outline, was subsequently written by Mr. Buchanan himself and published in the year 1881 under the title of “A Child of Nature.” Though the first venture came to nought, the idea of collaboration was not abandoned, 185 for on December 20th Mr. Buchanan again wrote to Mr. Canton:—

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I send you abstract of the other plot. It was originally meant for a poem, but long reflection convinces me it must be prose. To some extent founded on facts it ought to make a magnificent book. I send you two or three fragments of the (crude) verse, a sketch of first ten chapters, and one rough draft of chapter 10. If you will also refer to Vol. I. of the Argosy, and to two articles called ‘Wintering in Etretat’ by John Banks (J. B. is your humble servant), you will have an idea of the sort of village, but Brittany is better than Normandy. For Brittany simply describe the Hebrides, with a dash of Blackpool slush, and you will go all right; nothing can be too wild, weird, and strange for that coast. It would be as well for you to read ‘Le Foyer Breton’ and ‘Les Derniers Bretons’ of Souvestre for Breton folklore, &c. I have the books in London if you cannot procure them. But in fact consult any sources that occur to you—only remembering we don’t want any cram, but a simple strong natural poem in prose.
     “Now will you try your hand on the first chapter or two of this tale, and let me see them? As the subject is intense and gloomy later on you cannot be too brightly poetical and easy in the opening. I leave the girl Joan to you so far she must be a bright foil to Romaine; and whatever village worthies you like, may come in. The idea is, in a natural and striking way, to trace the evil influence of Avatarism on a simple individual, how from a gentle loving soul, Romaine gets turned into something terrible, how his life becomes a sort of microcosm of War and Rapine; 186 and how finally God avenges him, and proffers to the Avatar the same simple cup of sorrow. I don’t think we can be too simple and realistic in such a tale. Let us have plenty of love by all means, in the beginning at all events.
     “Let me know by return how you feel this theme, and after I get your first chapter or two I will map out our several parts. But pray suggest any improvements and modifications that occur to you, especially any that will lighten the brooding intensity of the tale.
     “Thanks for the printed story. I will read it of course. That you have the power to do fine work of this kind I am convinced.
     “There is no reason why we should not do both tales. As to Erris it is simply the Hebrides. Any sea, you ask? As old Paul Bedford used to say, ‘I believe you, my boy.’ The surge from Labrador thunders at my door; the cliffs equal Skye and Gareloch; there are headlands and islands innumerable; and in fact, read any description of the Western Isles, and you see Erris. The same people too—Celtic, speaking the same tongue with only slight differences of accent—e.g., they say in the Hebrides bridã (salmon) and here bridâwn (I write phonetically). My Angus is here as well as there, and this is new soil. I know a grand specimen of a priest, Father John Melvin, who spouts Homer like Blackie, and as for the quaint specimens of human nature that throng around us, it would do your heart good to see them. I have just parted with an old Beggar woman, the strangest of Gaberlunzies, whose story is the saddest and most wondrous thing I ever heard—such self-sacrifice is little less than divine. By the way, did you ever read my ‘Eiradh of Canna’? 187 I daresay not, so I enclose it. I pride myself on it as a masterpiece (!) and often think of a volume of such studies.
                                       “Ever yours,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”


                                                                                                               “ROSSPORT, BELMULLET,
                                                                                                                                   “December 26, 1874.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—Your enthusiasm makes me hope for wonders. It is a good subject. Fire away and
God-speed. I am writing to London for the French books.
     “One word of solemn warning. In praising the theme you call it Hugoic. No one admires Hugo more than I do—I have called him the ‘Æschylus of this generation’—but I conjure you to work as far away from his style as possible. You cannot have a better model in your mind than Hawthorne, or a worse than Hugo. I mention this because your powers of imitation sometimes run away with you! I know you’ll forgive this warning for the sake of all my faith in you; I wait with anxiety for your first chapters. Your enthusiasm rekindles mine.
     “I am laid up with catarrh and cough and am therefore rather stupid. I spent Christmas in bed, and couldn’t even look a goose in the face!
                                       “Yours very truly,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”



     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I have only just time to say that I have glanced through the first chapter and like it well; it only needs curtailing, or rather having some of its matter transferred. Go on; and get in 188 some dialogue. I shall grasp you better after a few chapters. You shall have all the books by next post; they will reach you Sunday or Monday.
                                       “Yours, in great haste,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”


                                                                                                             “ROSSPORT, BELMULLET, Jan., 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I send you entire sketch of chapters of Vol. I. You will see that I want you to stop at end of your chapter 4, when I will take up the thread for two chapters,—you continuing on chapters 7 and 8—then me for 9, 10, and 11—then you for four more, then last two by me. You can skip straight on from four to seven without waiting to see my intermediate chapters, as they will be to some extent independent of previous and subsequent chapters. Leave the schoolmaster to me, please! I think the road is now pretty clear for Vol. I. If any links seem clumsy we can easily ‘tittyvate’ them afterwards.
     “We must alter the Curé a little. He is a little too stereotyped—too saintly, not sordid enough. Oh that we could transfer to paper a certain priest here! I will try to make a few marginal suggestions and alterations for this purpose. Still I think we might be ready at Easter.
     “If on reflection there are any of the chapters you would rather write, that you feel an impulse to write, tell me! Also if you can think of any situations, however quiet, where the girl might come out stronger.
     “Go ahead!
                                       “Sincerely yours,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”





     C   1.      On the Crags. Romaine and Yvonne.
     C   2.      As written. Meet Curé.
     C   3.      Curé—Schoolmaster—Corporal.
     C   4.      Continued.
     B   5.      Romaine and Schoolmaster.
     B   6.      Schoolmaster’s tale of his own life. Reminiscences of the Terror, &c.
                   He is a strong Republican and peace=lover, his favourite book being
                   Rousseau’s “Contrat Social.”
     C   7.      At the fountain. The Conscription, &c., ending “first on the list of
                   names was that of Romaine Bisson.”
     C   8.    The Conscription. Old Ewen’s harangue to the recruits, and speech
                   about the great Emperor. Journey to Romaine’s hut. Yvonne’s
                   journey. Romaine there. She offers to pin the conscript ribbon to his
                   coat, but he turns deathly pale and springs away.
     B   9.    The Schoolmaster is by the roadside miles away. Romaine suddenly
                   appears to him. He encourages Romaine’s revolt. Reads him MS.
                   Man against Napoleon. A Sergeant appears, but Romaine escapes.
     B   10.   Affairs in village. Pursuit after Romaine.Sketch of the Political state
                 of France. News from seat of war. Romaine branded as a coward.
                 Yvonne’s sorrow. Romaine appears to Yvonne.
     B   11.   Yvonne and Romaine. He disappears. She believes him a coward.                                           190
     C   12.   An interval of weeks. Discovery of Romaine’s hiding-place by Clovis.
                 The light in the cliffs.
     C   13.   (Same as chapter 6 in first sketch) only adding the ‘tremendous
                   header’ by which Romaine first eludes them.
     C   14.   The siege (same as chapter 7, first sketched).
     C   15.   (Same as chapter 8, first sketched).
           16.   (Same as chapter 9).
           17.   (Same as chapter 10) ending with the mirage.

End of Vol. I.

     An average of 20 pp. to each chapter.
     The above is the rough sketch of Vol. I. of the story contemplated—the letters B and C standing for Buchanan and Canton.


                                                                                                         “ROSSPORT, BELMULLET, Jan. 15, 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—Chapter II. is better than chapter I.—better and freer. The cathedral bit is good especially. You must now, however, get in some dialogue-chapters, with glimpses of village character. I forgot to say that I think you should make Yvonne a little stronger, not quite so clinging; she is however very nice as she stands. How comes she to have her distaff on the cliff though? Again I have to alter the bit about the slaying of birds ; it is out of keeping with the man’s character; egg-hunting will suffice. All these are trifles. The writing as a whole is excellent.
                                                 “R. B.”


                                                                                                                                                 “Jan. 18, 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I thought I said the old officer was the girl’s uncle—if I wrote ‘father’ I 191 blundered. My idea too was that she should be an orphan whose father had died afield, and who was filled by the Bonapartist with intense military enthusiasm; otherwise you lose the point of her thinking Romaine a coward when he won’t fight. Your idea of the imperial scene at Boulogne is good. It might be described at the fireside of the old Bonapartist to an eager circle of listeners, Clovis included, the only dissentient being Romaine.
     “Our conscription must be long before Leipsic. The meeting of the two must take place at Fontainebleau, just when all N.’s own marshals have deserted him, and he has signed the unconditional abdication. If not then, after Waterloo. It is doubtful which is best.
     “Do not forget that Brittany as a whole was legitimist. We might have a chapter reminiscent of the Chouans. By the way, there are some Breton glimpses in ‘Quatre-vingt-treize,’ which I have not yet read, however.
     “Can you copy my memoranda and MS. and return them to me?
     “A new character to appear in early chapters—an old itinerant schoolmaster, who lives by teaching from farm to farm, and has seen much of civil war, &c. A believer in rights of man and the higher revolution, but poor withal. Very poor, even ragged. Has had a strange influence on Romaine. On the lonely seashore and in caves they have read together. He might have one pet book, only one, besides his breviary, &c. But what book? Plutarch’s ‘Lives’? Pascal? Rousseau’s ‘Confessions’? This is a matter for reflection.
     “As I said, when I get the new chapter or so I will finally portion out our tasks. So far, so well, I think.
                                       “Yours very truly,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.
192 “There is a gale raging here as I write, against which even the wild geese can hardly fly. Typhus is raging a few miles off, killing even the doctors. In fact all the agents of Providence are busily at work!”


                                                                                                                         “ROSSPORT LODGE, Feb. 17th.

     “DEAR CANTON,—Chapter 7 will do. Forgive my delay in writing to say so. Of course Easter is now out of the question, but we’ll get ahead. This in haste; will write again directly, but am neck-deep in work.
                                       “Yours ever,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”


                                                                                                                                                     “Feb. 26th.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I am sorry my silence made you anxious. I have been very busy and much worried: far too much of both to write any of ‘Romaine.’ Nothing has miscarried that you sent. The days flash by like lightning, and I find hardly a moment to spare.
     “I forget such at this moment, but I fancy the phoebe-bird is the lapwing—if not that, the golden plover—the latter may be called a dun bird, but its flash of under-wing is bright as possible in flight. I forget the passage even in my own poem, but I’ll look it up. My memory is overstocked.
     “I have answered your last seriatim, you see.
     “Go on with ‘Romaine’ with as much heart as you can throw into it—

‘’Twill be a credit to us a’,
We’ll a’ be proud o’—Romaine!’

If it does not turn out a fine work the fault is ours, 193 not the subject’s. But Easter is out of the question. I don’t know how you stand, but I fear I cannot touch my portion for some little time yet, for I must have everything else off my mind ere I begin. I suffer much here from the want of books of reference; otherwise I get on well. It’s hard to carry all one’s dates and quotations in one’s own head.
     “Thank God I am not ill, though always shaky more or less, like a man on thin ice. I trust we shall meet this summer; perhaps you and Mrs. C. may think of a run into the wilds of Erris, if you dare face rough quarters. Meantime don’t despair—you are doing the story as well as I could wish, and write as often as you can.
                                       “Yours most truly,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”

                                                                                                                                         “April 14, 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I forget which of us wrote last, so if I owe you a letter forgive me. I have been distraught on various accounts; partly with work. And you, I suppose on your side have been so deep in the folds of that ‘top coat,’ as to have forgotten ‘Romaine.’ If so wake up! The first free week I get I mean to plunge headlong into that work, but it wants thought, silence, and care. Sometimes I almost regret the poetic form. But I will write fully about it soon. I have just now to finish an article on ‘The Modern Stage,’ commissioned for the New Quarterly Magazine. Apropos, I send you the new number. It has a little sketch by me of Peacock. . . . What are you doing? By the way, my sister-in-law wants very much to read ‘A Poet’s Love Letters,’ if you can send them. Has the poem made any progress? I still hold to my opinion that your shorter 194 pieces should be prefaced by a longer, more important work, and when that is ready, heigho for a Publisher! Only do get a good subject; ’tis half the battle. . . . I should be glad to assist your views in this or any way if I knew how. You really ought not to be doing drudgery. Write.
                                       “Always yours,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”


                                                                                                                                             “April 30th.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—I have been trying week after week to get a good serious look at ‘Romaine.’ Something always interferes. I think however in a few days I shall be comparatively free.
     “I am longing for a run to London, and bitterly bemoaning that I have not seen Salvini! The worst of this region is its inaccessibility!—the journey to Town being both arduous and costly. I think I shall be in Town shortly, if only for a few days.
     “The Spring is just putting on her bright face here. For three or four days the heat has been tropical. Yesterday I realised our opening chapter of ‘Romaine,’ though I was under, not over, the cliffs, in a ‘curragh,’ or boat, made of canvas and wooden skeleton. By the way, your sea-parrot is the puffin; they are thronging in by thousands and pairing. I caught my first salmon of the season a month ago, so the winter’s back is fairly broken.”


                                                                                                                                                 “May 12, 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—Miss Jay and I agree that the ‘Letters’ are charming, although not in the least ‘real.’ With a few exceptions which I shall mark, they 195 are most pleasant reading, and would go in admirably with your poems. The allusions to your humble servant are kind, though I fancy a leetle strained, especially the allusion to the ‘Two Sons.’ Don’t you sometimes write with exaggeration of what pleases you, and overestimate the importance of trifles which strike you as new discoveries? ‘Two Sons’ is pretty enough, but I fancy a reader turning to it after your ‘note’ would be disappointed. Take, again, the remarks on Shakespeare. Do you really feel that he drinks you up like a drop of dew? or do you not rather feel that his humanity, while so many-sided as to amaze and divert you, never touches the diviner heights of Biblical and Æschylean purity? There are times, I think, when Shakespeare’s feudal style is dissatisfying. This from one who loves Shakespeare as much as any man, but who smiles when enthusiastic poets (in love) write— nonsense! about him!
     “Forgive me, for I like the clippings amazingly, and I will do all I can to get ’em a Publisher. It won’t be easy. The gentry hate poetry from unknown poets. . . .”


                                                                                                                                                   “May 19, 1875.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—Shall you be very much— awfully—disappointed if I decide that the prose form won’t suit ‘Romaine’ after all, and that I should like to adhere to my original plan of making it a poem? I am not decided, remember, but reading your chapters carefully, after long reflection, I seem rather afraid. Not but they are excellent in themselves, but somehow they don’t quite fulfil my feeling for the nuances of the story. This impression might disappear after more were written, but I dread going 196 on till I feel more certain. If I decide against you, of course I shall pay you for your trouble.
     “Don’t think for a minute I am disappointed in your work; it’s not that; the disillusion is in myself solely. And after all it may disappear.
                                       “Ever yours,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”


     Again the plan of collaboration fell through—not from any fault on Mr. Canton’s part, as the foregoing letters will show, but merely because the poet’s brain was too full of other things to allow him to give his undivided attention to this new departure. Some time later, however, the story was written by Mr. Buchanan himself, and published under the title of “The Shadow of the Sword.”

1 Letter to Mr. Canton.





     IN the year 1874 the Gentleman’s Magazine began to keep Christmas by bringing out a novel as an extra number. I undertook to supply the novel for 1875, under a somewhat adventurous condition, namely, to work into and harmonise with my plot contributions from other writers, not the least notable of which was to be a poem by Robert Buchanan. Disquieting is a weak description for the state of mind caused by this part of the condition when I began to realise its nature. I had never met the poet outside his poems, and had no reason to suppose that he so much as knew my name. From all I had heard of him, I was filled with dire misgivings that my plot, about which I had taken very special pains—even to climbing down the shaft of a Welsh gold mine in search of accurate sensation—would receive but scant consideration should it fail to coincide with the independent ideas of a poet who (I understood) allowed no middle course between abject submission and a ferocious quarrel. My mental portrait of him was indeed turned into a confused blur when, in answer to some inquiries and cautiously worded suggestions of mine, I received from him, then in Ireland, a more than merely courteous letter—a letter 198 that I have kept, and give here, not merely for its writer’s name’s sake, but as a warning against portraits painted by one’s own imagination with other people’s colours:—

                                                                                 “ROSSPORT LODGE, BELMULLET, CO. MAYO, IRELAND.
                                                                                                                                             “April 14, 1875.

     “MY DEAR SIR,—I am obliged to you for your kind letter concerning the ‘Legend.’ I see no difficulty just now—if any occurs to me afterwards you shall know—of incorporating in it the elements you suggest; and the Bala Lake Tradition, too, might be utilised. But, in truth, I have hardly yet had leisure to shape the plan definitely. When I do so I will follow your views as far as I can.
     “I presume Mr. Gowing has told you that the authorship is to be, and to continue, anonymous, so far as I am concerned. I have undertaken it chiefly with a wish to oblige him and the proprietors of the magazine.
     “May I take this opportunity of saying how much I enjoyed your ‘Olympia’—nearly all of which I read in the magazine? Your article on ‘Physiology of Authorship’ entertained me greatly; but in the story I found a charm and freshness very unusual in modern fiction. I hope the ‘Legend’ will be worthy of its ‘setting’ by you; and, believe me, I am
                                       “Very truly yours,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     “I will write again when I see the matter a little more clearly.
     “R. E. Francillon, Esq.”

     The poem arrived at last; but—though the production of an annual was a more leisurely and less 199 long-beforehand business in 1875 than now—too late for any essential adaptation of the more than half-written story to its requirements in case of need. Anxiously I searched for a sufficient incorporation in it of my suggestions; alas! a microscope was wanted for the discovery of an infinitesimal phantom of an allusion to the “Fair Folk” who inhabit the depths of the Lake of Bala; I do not remember what my other suggestions were, but I do remember that even the microscope failed to find any other. I know exactly how the farmer felt who harnessed Pegasus to his plough, for I was myself that very farmer. In short, the poem had no more visible connection with my story of a Merionethshire mine than—no, not nearly so much—as Monmouth with Maerdon. The skilfulest literary cabinet-maker that ever lived would have been hard put to it to dovetail the poem into the story so as to leave no obvious tokens of his tools. But then—that poem was “The Changeling.” Even its author-in-chief has more than half-forgotten the story of “Streaked with Gold.” But “ The Changeling,” with its later introduction, “The Asrai,” lives, and will live—and so there was a connection between story and poem after all. The most natural of all connections: the connection of mortal body and immortal soul. The anonymity of “The Changeling,” never a very close secret, has been of course disposed of by its appearance in the latest edition of its author’s poems.
     It was, I suppose, about a year later that I made Buchanan’s personal acquaintance at the house of the then editor of the Gentleman’s, the late Richard Gowing. The result was a varyingly frequent intercourse, short of intimacy, but quite close enough for the revision of first impressions by second, and of second 200 again by third—that is to say, by those which alone are of value. Intimacy is next to impossible without some natural talent for it on both sides—in this case nonexistent on either side—and when, besides, there is mutual consciousness of disagreement concerning nearly every subject on which it is possible to disagree. But its absence makes impressions, if colder, also clearer, especially when stamped by the interest which nobody could fail to take in so marked and so—apparently—complex a personality. I say “apparently,” because the actual simplicity of it, in contrast with its superficial complications, was almost a disappointment when it came to be recognised—just as one is almost more vexed than pleased by the solution of a problem that was difficult only because its difficulty was taken for granted. The right reading of Buchanan was, I am convinced, that his very genius had prevented him from outgrowing, or being able to outgrow, the boyishness of the best sort of boy; while too many of us only too quickly forget what any sort of boyhood means. And the grand note of the best sort of boy is a sincere passion for justice, or rather a consuming indignation against injustice—the two things are not exactly the same. The boy of whatever age can never comprehend the coolness with which the grown-up man of the world has learned to take injustice as part and parcel of the natural order of things, even when himself the sufferer. The grown-up man has learned the sound policy of not sending indignation red-hot or white-hot to the post or the press, but of waiting till it is cool enough to insert in a barrel of gunpowder without risk of explosion. But the boy rebels, and, if he be among the great masters of language, hurls it out hot and strong, in the full belief that no honest feelings 201 could be so weak as to be wounded by any honest words. Of course he was wrong. Complete honesty is perfectly compatible with even abnormal thinness of skin, and with an even exceptionally plentiful crop of corns. He would often have been amazed and shocked could he, to whom hard hitting was so easy, have estimated the effect of his blows. I do not believe Robert Buchanan to have been capable of a malign or vindictive thought; I know that I never heard him utter an unkindly word. I wish, above all else, that those who thought of him as I had thought of him before knowing him could have met him at home—Strasz-Engel, Haus-Teufel (“Street Angel, House Devil,” say the Germans) —not that they have any monopoly of the experience. I have never heard the natural converse of the saying, but it is impossible to think of Buchanan without its suggestion. Of this, however, it is for those who shared his home life to tell in full.
     In short, he always gave me the impression of being thrown into a world into which he had never really grown, where he was never at home, but always in a foreign country whose language he could not learn despite all his efforts, and whose manners and customs, despite his desire to adopt them, he could not understand. It was not that, like many mystics, he in his inmost mind regarded life as a sort of dream to be slept through pleasantly or painfully, as the case might be, but not with serious concern. On the contrary, while to the Celtic part of him the unseen life was fully as real as the seen, to another element in him the seen was as real as the unseen. And so the two hostile realities became mixed without becoming fused, so that the ordinary man of ordinary affairs, who knows this world (or at least his own 202 little part of it) very well—who indeed makes this world what it is—found Buchanan exceedingly easy to misunderstand.
     On the other hand Buchanan could make neither head nor tail of the intricate complexities of the man of the world. He laboured under a pathetically inveterate belief that every man always means exactly what he says and says exactly all that he means; that his actions and services are directed to high aims; that his enthusiasms are as deep and sincere as they are loud. Of course we all know so much better that we never expect the whole truth, and indeed are shocked, when by any chance we meet it, by its naked indecency; we know how mixed are the best of motives, and how enthusiasms are at the mercy of interest and fashion. But to Buchanan shortcomings and imperfections that we take for granted were— especially when savouring of his two arch-hatreds, cruelty or injustice—heinous crimes demanding the utmost rigour, and vigour, too, of the English tongue. Inevitably he would now and then tilt at some very ordinary windmill because it was not a cathedral, or because it turned about with the wind, or because it ground the poor defenceless corn. And, indeed, to sum up all my impressions in one—the type of the ever youthful spirit, of rebellion against injustice, of mutual misconception by and of the world, of endeavour to bring mysticism into business and romance into action, has long since ceased to bear, in my thoughts, the cadaverous height and the lantern jaws of Don Quixote of Le Mancha. It has assumed the genial presentment of Robert Buchanan.





     “THE Shadow of the Sword” was first given to the world as a serial, appearing in the pages of the Gentleman’s Magazine, then under the editorship of the late Mr. Richard Gowing. In arranging for its production Mr. Buchanan wrote as follows:—

                                                                                 “16, UPPER GLOUCESTER PLACE, DORSET SQUARE,
                                                                                                                                           November 19th.

     “DEAR SIR,—Your memorandum is correct, with the exception that you put pounds instead of guineas, and that you introduce as points of legality several mere points of usage and understanding. It is agreed that I write you a story for the magazine, all copyright and re-print rights of which I reserve for the sum of one hundred and eighty guineas, payable in monthly cheques, that this story leads the magazine for at least six months of the twelve; that a half-page advertisement of my poems fronts the story each number, and in the event of your having to displace the story after six months you withdraw the advertisement and return me ten guineas, half the sum allowed for the same. These are the main points. As to delivery of copy I will not be bound rigidly, 204 but I will do all in my power to let you have what you require, and shall be quite as anxious as you to be well ahead.
     “Please get the above loose memoranda put into a proper agreement, and send it to me to sign. The letters would be sufficient, but it would save trouble if you just drew out the agreement in the usual way.
                                       “Yours truly,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”

     The arrangements made, Mr. Buchanan set to work with a will and wrote his monthly instalments with keen pleasure. He had the story very clearly mapped out from start to finish, so that when it came to be written it flowed easily from his pen. His monthly parts were the neatest things I have ever seen written, as they were in a very tiny but perfectly clear hand on ordinary sheets of note-paper, and almost without an erasure. I fear, however, he was never far ahead with his “copy,” the writing of which he invariably postponed till the last possible moment, and this method of his was the cause later on of some trouble. While the story was running in the magazine there occurred a fire on the premises of Messrs. Grant, the publishers, and a good deal of valuable manuscript was destroyed, amongst it the last instalment of the “Shadow of the Sword.” As usual this had arrived late, too late for the editor to have had an opportunity of sending a proof and as Mr. Buchanan himself had kept no copy (there was no typewriting in those days), the only thing to be done was for him to set to work and rewrite the instalment. This he did with such marvellous rapidity that the appearance of the magazine was not delayed by a single day. On the termination of its run the story was issued in book 205 form by Messrs. Bentley, and instantly made its mark. “It is a work” (said the Graphic) “that no one but a poet could have written,” while the Nonconformist declared it to contain “the finest descriptive writing of which any English writer is capable,” and the Standard, while regretting that it was not written in verse, said that “even verse could hardly have been sweeter than the delicately cadenced prose in which it is written. . . . Could the prettiest of rhymed stanzas be much prettier than that in which we are told how the two cousins first discovered that their love was not that of brother and sister? We are no blind admirers of the author of the ‘Shadow of the Sword,’ but we are bound to say that in these volumes he has taught a lesson to his brother and sister novelists which we wish they would learn. The lesson is that nothing is more pure and modest than a really strong passion.”
     Though the success of the “Shadow of the Sword” was great and instantaneous, it was not until the year 1881 that its author issued his second work of fiction, the success of which was even greater than that of its predecessor. The idea of this story (which was the result of years of thought and preparation) came to him in a very curious way. One night he dreamed that he was on a ship at sea watching two men who were regarding each other with looks of bitter hatred. Suddenly one man sprang upon the other, dragged him to the side of the ship, and leapt with him into the sea. On awaking the poet found himself pondering upon the problems of Love and Hatred. He pictured these two men (evidently bitter enemies) struggling together in the sea, being cast upon a desert island, dwelling together month after month, year after year, until they finally came to know each 206 other, and so their hatred was turned to love. From this simple nucleus arose the story of “God and the Man.”
     “In this story” (wrote its author) “I attempt to show that the passion of Hate is like all human passions, composed of the elements of the social atmosphere enveloping it, and easily disintegrated, therefore, when the conditions of moral life are changed. In a hate so abnormal as that between my hero and his enemy, born in the blood, fed and nourished for generations, only a change to conditions equally abnormal could produce the phenomenon of disintegration. This change I procure by placing my two miserable men under circumstances of awful isolation in the polar regions. Left alone together the stronger nurses the weaker, and in those dreadful moments, in the very presence, as it were, of the Supreme Pity, they utter words of mutual forgiveness and are solemnly reconciled.
     “The ethical teaching of my work depends in no respect on the living or dying of my villain; its gist is, that when two enemies are once placed by irresistible Fate in a position of mutual sorrow, mutual suffering, mutual sympathy, and finally mutual service—when, in a word, they see each other’s Souls and are simultaneously conscious of the divine Law of Love reconciling them—Hate becomes impossible once and forever. Once admit that an evil nature can become good for one instant, once admit that Hate is liable to any process of disintegration, and my thesis is established beyond contradiction. That thesis is, stated again, as follows: We hate each other because we do not know each other; the atmosphere of life makes that knowledge too often impossible; but there are certain supreme 207 experiences which are as potent, almost, as Death itself, to transform the human character. If miraculous conversions are incredible, under any conditions whatever, then—Christianity is a falsehood. If it is impossible for a bad man—a man made bad by ignorance, by jealousy, by tempestuous passion—in short, by the very air he breathes, to become a better man when removed into a higher atmosphere, then I have erred, both as moral teacher and as dramatist. I hold that I have not erred. I hold that if I had asserted the utter impossibility of any redemption or any repentance short of Death and its mystery, I should have preached a philosophy fit only for the Philistines, and have stultified the whole teaching of my life.”
     The story of “God and the Man” appeared serially in the pages of the Day of Rest. It was issued in book form by Messrs. Chatto and Windus, and later on a cheaper edition was published by Messrs. Strahan & Co., as one of “Strahan’s Books for the People.”
     It was, I believe, on the suggestion of Mr. G. R. Sims that the story was ultimately dramatised by Mr. Buchanan, and produced at the Adelphi Theatre under the title of “Stormbeaten.” In this production Mr. Charles Warner played the part of the hero, Christian Christianson, and Mr. J. H. Barnes that of the villain, Richard Orchardson, while the late Miss Amy Roselle, then in the very height of her popularity, gave a most powerful performance of the unhappy Kate.
     Into these two novels, “The Shadow of the Sword” and “God and the Man,” Mr. Buchanan, as I have shown, put the very best work of which he was capable. Both were conceived and partly written as 208 poems, and both remained poems although they were given to the world in prose form. Had things gone well with him he would, in all probability, have continued to give the world of his very best, but after the publication of “God and the Man” he had to face a calamity which would have broken down many a stronger man. His young wife, who had never been strong, was stricken with the cruellest of all diseases, cancer, and for two long years she was slowly dying. He was too poor a man to be able to sit down and nurse his grief, work had to be done, and he did it, though not with the same heart, the same enthusiasm. His great ambition now was to make money, and so he scribbled at fiction in order to attain this end. His output was very great and very rapid, and although his income increased, his position as a novelist declined, many of his later novels were written, as it were, with his left hand, and it is certain that had he been a man of means they would never have been written at all.





     IN his correspondence with Mr. Canton Mr. Buchanan spoke of the work which had so absorbed him to the exclusion of the prose romance. “It is something so alarming, even to myself, that I can’t find words to speak of it. If you can imagine the feelings of Atlas with both earth and heaven on his shoulders, you can have some idea of mine under the pressure of this opus. I send you herewith some proofs of the poem, minus the concluding portions, which are not yet back from the printer. I think you will admit its originality whatever you think of its beauty. For my own part, I am conceited enough to think it in some respects the finest conception of this generation!!! There! In reading it, forget—if you remember—anything about the vulgar myths of the Edda. This Balder is my own—his story mine—although he is the Northern Apollo as well as the Northern Christ. I don’t think the poem will be understood at first, but I am sure it will ‘live,’ that the type I have so created will abide; and I will go further and say that it is better (though not greater) to have created a Balder than a Mephistopheles. There’s a farrago of conceit for you.” 1 While to Mr. Noel he wrote: “I shall be very curious to hear your opinion of a work which I think my most original, and which is pregnant with subtle ideas. Whatever you think of the workmanship, I fancy you will admit the conception to be grandiose and striking in the extreme. This time it is not a poem for the public—it is likely to be caviare to the general. The title is—


     This poem, which was issued in 1877, did not appeal to the general public. Its sale was limited, despite the fact that it contained perhaps some of the finest work which its author had yet done. It opens with the following exquisite lines addressed to his wife, and it was the last volume of poetry which he published before her death:—



O what is this cry in our burning ears,
     And what is this light on our eyes, dear love?
The cry is the cry of the rolling years,
     As they break on the sun-rock, far above;
And the light is the light of that rock of gold
     As it burneth bright in a starry sea;
And the cry is clearer a hundredfold,
     And the light more bright, when I gaze on thee.
My weak eyes dazzle beneath that gleam,
     My sad ears deafen to hear that cry:
I was born in a dream, and I dwell in a dream,
     And I go in a dream to die!

O whose is this hand on my forehead bare,
     And whose are these eyes that look in mine?
The hand is the Earth’s soft hand of air,
     The eyes are the Earth’s—thro’ tears they shine;
And the touch of the hand is so soft, so light,                            211
     As the ray of the blind orbs blesseth me;
But the touch is softest, the eyes most bright,
     When I sit and smile by the side of thee.
For the mortal Mother’s blind eyes beam
     With the long-lost love of a life gone by,
On her breast I woke in a beauteous dream,
     And I go in a dream to die!

O what are the voices around my way,
     And what are these shadows that stir below?
The voices of waifs in a world astray,
     The shadows of souls that come and go.
And I hear and see, and I wonder more,
     For their features are fair and strange as mine,
But most I wonder when most I pore
     On the passionate peace of this face of thine.
We walk in silence by wood and stream,
     Our gaze upturned to the same blue sky:
We move in a dream, and we love in a dream,
     And we go in our dream to die!

O what is this music of merry bells,
     And what is this laughter across the wold?
’Tis the mirth of a market that buys and sells,
     ’Tis the laughter of men that are counting gold.
I walk thro’ Cities of silent stone,
     And the public places alive I see;
The wicked flourish, the weary groan,
     And I think it real till I turn to thee!
And I smile to answer thine eyes’ bright beam,
     For I know all’s vision that darkens by:
That they buy in a dream, and they sell in a dream,
     And they go in a dream to die!

O what are these shapes on their thrones of gold,
     And what are those clouds around their feet?
The shapes are Kings with their hearts clay-cold,
     The clouds are armies that ever meet;
I see the flame of the crimson fire,
     I hear the murdered who moan, “Ah, me!”—
My bosom aches with its bitter ire,
     And I think it real, till I turn to thee!
And I hear thee whisper, “These shapes but seem—
     They are but visions that flash and fly,
While we move in a dream, and love in a dream,
     And go in our dream to die!”

O what are these Spirits that o’er us creep,                               212
     And touch our eyelids and drink our breath?
The first, with a flower in his hand, is Sleep;
     The next, with a star on his brow, is Death.
We fade before them whene’er they come,
     (And never single those spirits be!)
A little season my lips are dumb,
     But I waken ever, and look for thee.
Yea, ever each night when the pale stars gleam
     And the mystical Brethren pass me by,
This cloud of a trance comes across my dream,
     And I seem in my dream to die!

O what is this grass beneath our feet,
     And what are these beautiful underblooms?
The grass is the grass of the churchyard, Sweet,
     The flowers are flowers on the quiet tombs.
I pluck them softly, and bless the dead,
     Silently o’er them I bend the knee,
But my tenderest blessing is surely said
     Tho’ my tears fall fast, when I turn to thee.
For our lips are tuned to the same sad theme,
     We think of the loveless dead and sigh;
Dark is the shadow across our dream,
     For we go in that dream to die!

O what is this moaning so faint and low,
     And what is this crying from night to morn?
The moaning is that of the souls that go,
     The crying is that of the souls new-born.
The life-sea gathers with stormy calls,
     The wind blows shrilly, the foam flies free.
The great wave rises, the great wave falls,
     I swim to its height by the side of thee!
With arms outstretching and throats that scream,
     With faces that flash into foam and fly,
Our beings break in the light of a dream
     As the great waves gather and die!

O what is this spirit with silvern feet?
     His bright head wrapped in a saffron veil?
Around his raiment our wild arms beat,
     We cling unto them, but faint and fail.
’Tis the Spirit that sits on the twilight star,
     And soft to the sound of the waves sings he,
He leads the chaunt from his crystal car,
     And I join in the mystical chaunt with thee,
And our beings burn with the heavenly theme,                           213
     For he sings of wonders beyond the sky,
Of a god-like dream, and of gods in a dream,
     Of a dream that cannot die!

O closer creep to this breast of mine;
     We rise, we mingle, we break, dear love!
A space on the crest of the waves we shine,
     With light and music and mirth we move;
Before and behind us (fear not, Sweet!)
     Blackens the trough of the surging sea—
A little moment our mouths may meet,
     A little moment I cling to thee;
Onward the wonderful waters stream,
     ’Tis vain to struggle, ’tis vain to cry—
We wake in a dream, and we ache in a dream,
     And we break in a dream, and die!

But who is this other with hair of flame,
     With naked feet, and the robe of white?
A Spirit, too, with a sweeter name,
     A softer smile, a serener light.
He wraps us both in a golden cloud,
     He thrills our frames with a fire divine,
Our souls are mingled, our hearts beat loud,
     My breath and being are blent with thine;
And the sun-rock flames with a flash supreme,
     And the starry waves have a stranger cry—
We climb to the crest of our golden dream,
     For we dream that we cannot die!

Aye! the cry rings loud in our burning ears,
     And the light flames bright on our eyes, dear love,
And we know the cry of the rolling years
     As they break on the sun-rock far above;
And we know the light of the rock of gold,
     As it burneth bright in a starry sea,
And the glory deepens a thousandfold
     As I name the immortal gods and thee!
We shrink together beneath that gleam,
     We cling together before that cry:
We were made in a dream, and we fade in a dream,
     And if death be a dream, we die!

     After the publication of “Balder the Beautiful” Mr. Buchanan’s enthusiasm for Ireland began to 214 wane. Perhaps he was a little disappointed with the reception accorded to this work, although his hopes for it never ran very high. Be that as it may, the solitude which had hitherto charmed him now grew irksome, and he longed to change his surroundings, at least for a time. “I find the Irish bogs very dull company,” he wrote. “The truth is, I have sucked the marrow of Connaught as regards poetical and literary inspiration, and I mean to leave for good in a month or so.” 2 The move was made to London. He took a furnished house in the neighbourhood of the Swiss Cottage, and for several years he continued to live in furnished houses in or near London. “When I first visited him,” wrote Mr. O’Connor, “he lived in Belsize Park, then I saw him in some country house down Richmond way, and the last time it was in one of those wondrous places in St. John’s Wood—the one spot left in London with big gardens and numerous trees, and windows flat with the lawn, true country in the midst of bustling, dirty, choked London.” 3
     It was at this time that he started “a brilliant little newspaper called Light,” but the journal was short-lived, partly because he did not sufficiently identify himself with it, and partly because it was under-capitalised. So small indeed was the capital with which he started this venture that he found himself a heavy loser when the journal ceased to live.
     When the last number of the paper had been issued, and the business arrangements had been wound up, Mr. Buchanan made another trip to Ireland, going this time to Mulranny, by Westport, and plunging into the very midst of the riots. On the day of our arrival Mr. Smith, the land-agent, had 215 been attacked while driving along the Mulranny road, and his son, a youth of nineteen, had leapt from the car and shot his father’s assailant dead close to the very door of our Lodge. We arrived in the grey of the evening, and were met by this news and by the information that the body of the would-be assassin lay at the police-barracks, whither it had been removed to await the inquest. We had not been in the Lodge more than an hour when the neighbouring clergyman called; he had driven over to the village to make inquiries and was on his way home. Hearing of our arrival, and knowing Mr. Buchanan by reputation, he had called to apologise, as it were, for the state of the country. My sister asked him to remain and join us at dinner, which he did, and I noticed that when he removed his overcoat a six-chambered revolver was transferred from it to the pocket of the one which he wore. “The country will not be safe for some time after this,” he said, “and it is as well to be prepared for emergencies.”
     The days which followed this event were certainly exciting enough—there was the inquest on the body, and later on the trial of the young fellow whose bullet had done such deadly work. He had simply acted in self-defence, and was of course acquitted, but he soon found that Ireland was too small to hold him, and so he sailed with all possible speed for Australia. One or two of the gentlemen who had served on the jury received the usual “death’s-head and cross-bone” business—that is to say, they were warned and threatened but during our stay none of the threats were carried out. Our visit this time did not last long—not that we were afraid, for us there was nothing to fear, for we were neither landlords nor land-agents; but the whole atmosphere of the place was depressing—the 216 spirit of revenge was running riot and death was in the very air we breathed; so on one fine frosty morning in November we took our leave of Mulranny, drove to Westport and came thence by train and boat to London where, after a very few weeks, the nature of the malady with which my sister had been attacked declared itself, and we knew she would never be able to take a very long journey again.

1 Letter to Mr. Canton.
2 Letter to Mr. Canton.
3 M. A. P.





     FROM that time forth the clouds gathered thickly over his home, and so harassed was he by domestic trouble that to do work of any kind was almost an impossibility. In August, 1880, he wrote:—

                                                                                                                                                 “ISLE OF MAN.

     “MY DEAR CANTON,—The details of your letter are very painful to read, and I deeply sympathise with you: the more so, as my own wife is just now dangerously ill with cancer. She has been a great sufferer for some time, and now things have come to a crisis. I am here on some special business, but shall be back again very shortly. We are living at Hampton Wick, a charming spot on the Thames, and I think you might do worse than pay us a visit during your holiday.” And again, a few months later—“I have waited till the last moment hoping I could say ‘Come here’—but my poor wife is worse than ever and it would be a mockery to invite you to a house of sickness. I am so sorry—but you know by sore experience what such illness means. I was very anxious to see you, but the pleasure must be postponed.”

     About that time Mr. Buchanan, whose efforts to save 218 his wife were never ending, heard quite by chance of the life-saving properties of the Missisquoi Spring Water. He had had, I need hardly say, doctors without end, and indeed every quack in the country who professed to cure cancer was brought to her bedside. At times, when she heard of the advent of some new doctor she would refuse to see him, saying wearily, “What is the use? it always ends in the same way — let me die!” but to her husband’s piteous appeal of “just to please me” she ever yielded—and so the doctors came and went, their remedies were tried, but ever with the same result. When we heard of the marvellous water she was lying almost at the point of death, and so weak was she that she could scarcely lift her hand. Without loss of time the water was procured — she drank of it, and it seemed as if a miracle was about to be performed. Gradually though very slowly her weakness gave place to ever-increasing strength, and in time she rose from her bed looking like a girl of twenty. After a time she was able to take short drives and walks in Bushey Park, and so in common with us all, came to believe that the dreaded disease had been successfully battled with and that her life had been saved.
     As the autumn advanced Mr. Buchanan was counselled by the doctor to leave Hampton Wick, which he averred was becoming every day more and more unhealthy, on account of the decay of the fallen leaves, and so, as my sister was strong enough to undertake the journey, we removed to London and settled down for the winter in a furnished house near Clapham Common. She was still drinking the water and her attacks of pain were becoming less frequent, but though her strength increased up to a certain point, it seemed as if that point could not be passed. Though she went about 219 the house as usual, though, when the spring came, she took some walks in Regent Street to look at the gaily bedecked shop windows and to study the fashions—though her bright, rippling laughter was often the gayest of the gay, one could see by the shadows which sometimes darkened her face that all was not well with her—that she knew, in fact, but that she would not speak, because she dreaded to shatter the illusions which she had ceased to share.
     As spring gave place to summer she longed for a sight of the sea, so we went for the first time to Southend. The details of that journey I recall as vividly as if it had been undertaken but yesterday. There is a long flight of steps at Fenchurch Street Station which leads up to the platform. I remember how eagerly she made for those steps while her husband was at the ticket-office, in order that he might not see how difficult it was for her to mount them. A gentleman coming down as she was going up, paused for a moment and offered her his arm, which was curtly and irritably refused. “Why did he do that?” she asked, turning to me; “I am quite well able — quite strong enough to walk alone!” All these incidents came vividly back to me on June 14, 1901.
     At first it seemed that the change for which she had longed would be beneficial to her. The rooms which we occupied were close to the sea, and she was able to go out and sit on the cliffs and bask in the sunshine, but it soon became evident that the attacks of pains which she tried so heroically to hide were sapping her strength away—she was fighting a losing battle, and at length she was cruelly conquered. On June 22nd of that year Mr. Buchanan wrote to Mr. Canton—
220 “I ought to have thanked you before for reading those proofs, but indeed I have had no time to think of anything (the proofs themselves have now been on my hands a year and are not ready for press). However, I thank you sincerely.
     “My poor wife has had a relapse, and is now very ill, so much of our time and thought are spent on her. Her suffering is at times very hard to contemplate, though her courage and patience are very great.”
     Her walks on the cliff were now discontinued—we took her out once in a Bath-chair, but she cried all the time, and on her return to the house became so hysterical that the experiment was not repeated. Her attacks of pain were now very frequent and very terrible. She refused to have morphia administered, yet I have seen her almost tear the bedclothes in order to prevent herself from shrieking aloud. At such times her great anxiety was to keep her husband from the room, and when I asked her the cause of this she replied, “He is always wanting to do something for me, and I know now that nothing can be done—I want to be left alone.” When the attacks passed off she was always very calm and resigned—sometimes indeed her laugh was quite gay — but though she was never told that the disease was incurable, she seemed to know by instinct what the end would be, for once I heard her murmur: “It is very hard to have to die, when one is just beginning to live!” In November the end came, and she passed away in her husband’s arms, her head resting on his shoulder. A few days later Mr. Buchanan wrote the following to the Hon. Roden Noel:—

     “DEAR RODEN.—We have arranged for the funeral to be on Sunday at one o’clock. A train reaches 221 here at
12.10, leaving Fenchurch Street at 10.35. I do hope this will suit you somehow. I am so anxious for her sake. It is asking much and putting you to sad inconvenience, I fear; but it is the last time you can ever prove your kindness to her.
     “And Alice? 1 Of course if the weather is bad she would not go with us—Mary would be the last to have wished it. But to see her here will be a comfort, knowing their faithful affection for each other.
     “God bless you for your kind words. I see it all as you see it, but ah! so darkly. If this parting is only for a time, I see its blessedness—but if, as I dread and fear, it is a parting forever, what then? Ah, God, what then?
     “With love and thanks to you both. Ever your friend,
                                                                     “R. B.”
     “She looks so beautiful in her coffin.I feel as if she were my child too, child and wife; for she had a child’s angelic disposition.”

     In the volume of Mr. Buchanan’s Selected Poems, published in 1882, will be found the following—


(To Mary.)

     “Weeping and sorrowing, yet in sure and certain hope of a heavenly resurrection, I place these poor flowers of verse on the grave of my beloved Wife, who, with eyes of truest love and tenderness, watched them growing for more than twenty years.
                                                           “ROBERT BUCHANAN, Southend, 1882.”

222 The general idea is, I believe, that sorrow softens us — that our own bitter experiences in this world only tend to fill our hearts with a kindlier feeling for our fellow-sufferers. Indeed Mr. Buchanan himself has written that—

               “Tears bring forth
The richness of our natures, as the rain
Sweetens the smelling briar.”

     All this may be very true in some cases, but that was not his experience. After the death of his wife he brooded more than ever on religious questions, which he began to discuss with great bitterness, and that that bitterness remained with him will be seen from the following letter which he addressed to Mr. Noel as late as the year 1894:—

     “DEAR RODEN,—With regard to this question of Christianity, I really do think that you are (unconsciously of course) disingenuous—in other words, you are trying to cling on to a Notion which your better reason combats. I can’t take all the points you raise, though I understand them all by sad experience; but I will comment on one or two. You say that as I personally am God, or of God, I should accept Christ’s sonship. I do not accept it, because God within me points out that it was fraught with miraculous pretension. To my mind, Christ did not experience the ordinary sufferings of men, if he assumed to be more than man. In other words, his Divine claim quite destroys his power of suffering or sacrifice. Then again, though I am entirely with you in preferring anthropomorphism to pantheism and can conceive a heavenly Fatherhood, I can’t reconcile a Father who is omnipotent with a Father who is cruel and 223 tyrannical. If God is my Father, I claim the right to survey his conduct to me and others, and I often feel, as Mill felt, that the only way to excuse Him is to assume that his power is limited by a greater Power behind him. I cannot respect a process of schooling which postulates endless pain. I have seen my wife die in slow agony of cancer, and I find no mercy there. I find, moreover, that I myself, after years of harsh schooling and suffering, am not a whit better than when I was a happy boy—or rather an unhappy one. Men may grow cleverer, but they seldom or never grow better. I am considerably sceptical, therefore, about human progress upward.
     “‘Christ, Buddha, Gordon’—children of God! Then equally so all other good fellows, all loving spirits. That thought doesn’t help to make me a Christian. In the sense you mean all are mediators, so why select one for special honour? You say, ‘Because He was the best and highest.’ Not to me. There is some ground for believing that he loved men for their own sakes less than Buddha. Moreover, his claim to moral supremacy is, to me, the very proof of his flawed humanity. At all events He has delayed the world’s happiness for eighteen hundred years.
     “Finally, I hate the common cant of ‘loving God.’ It is a form of gross egoism, and means ‘I love myself and my own feelings and opinions.’ Anthropomorphically I cannot ‘love’ a Father whom I distrust, and when my brethren assure me that everything is right because it is, my reason revolts, and the God within me says, ‘accept nothing on such grounds, and distrust any Mediator who offers you any absolute solution of a World riddle.
                                       “Yours always,
                                                 “R. B.”
224 “It all amounts to this: a creed should be judged by its practical results, and Christianity has deluged the world with innocent blood purely owing to its loose terminology. Our talk began on this very ground—the looseness of religious definitions. Better to be a pure materialist or an atheist than a nebulous Christian. All the good in Christianity is summed up in the words ‘Love one another;’ all that is evil in such nebulosities as ‘Give Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar,’ &c., i.e., respect the status quô here, and look for results yonder. Scientific religion, on the other hand, says: ‘Clean this world and make it habitable, widen the area of health and joy, prove your love by acts of love, and change the status quô whenever it conflicts with human happiness.’ And it adds, ‘The other world, if it exists, can take care of itself; your plain duty is to make this world beautiful if you can.’”
                                                 “R. B.”

1 The Hon. Mrs. Noel.





     AFTER the death of his wife he wished to remain quietly at Southend, but instead of following his own inclination he listened to the advice of his friends and again took to roaming. After a few months spent in France he returned to London, settling again in a furnished house, and taking from time to time various trips to Southend, which little town had by association become very dear to him. It was during this period of roaming that several of his novels were written, notably, “The Martyrdom of Madeline” (1882), “Annan Water,” and “Love me For Ever” (1882), “Foxglove Manor,” and the “New Abelard” (1884), “The Master of the Mine,” “Matt,” and “Stormy Waters” (1885), and he also at that time was turning his attention very seriously to the writing and producing of plays. From his earliest years his tastes had inclined that way since, at the age of fourteen, he wrote a pantomime which was accepted by Mr. Glover, and produced at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The pantomime was a great success, and its youthful author received from the management the gift of a gold pencil-case as his reward. In the year 1883 his dramatic version of 226 “God and the Man” saw the light at the Adelphi Theatre, and this was followed by “Lady Clare” at the Globe. But his connection with the stage was altogether of too important a nature to be disposed of in a few words, and so I propose to deal with it at some length in a subsequent chapter.
     For many years he wrote plays in conjunction with Mr. G. R. Sims, and during that time the two made frequent trips to Southend. “On a holiday” (wrote Mr. Sims) “he lived every hour of the day. The long walk never tired him, the long drive never made him sleepy. He would sit far into the night and smoke cigarettes and talk and be up in the morning eager for work or play. Once at Southend we went to bed at three. At half-past eight he was up and ready for a stroll before breakfast. We walked about Southend for an hour. Suddenly my companion left me saying: ‘Go back to the hotel, I’ll be with you directly.’ When he came in I noticed that the knees of his trousers were covered with chalk. He had gone to the graveyard to see the grave of his wife. He had found the gate locked, and had climbed over the wall.”
     In the year 1884 he made his first and only trip to America. He had a contract to supply a play to Messrs. Shook and Collier, then managers of the Union Square Theatre, New York, but he went without having written it. On his arrival he offered for their acceptance a melodrama which was our joint work, and which has since become popular under the title of “Alone in London.” This, however, they refused, and it was produced by Mr. Buchanan himself at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, where it drew crowded houses. At the conclusion of its first run it was taken up by Colonel 227 Sinn, of Brooklyn, who, besides giving very fine terms, bought all the scenery which had been specially painted for it.
     While “Alone in London” was running at the Chestnut Street Theatre Mr. Buchanan made the acquaintance of Walt Whitman, whom he found “in his lonely lodgings in New Jersey—old, worn, weary and weather-beaten” The two poets drank brackish tea together and feasted on custard pie, for Walt Whitman was simple in his tastes, and he was, moreover, very poor. They parted with a promise to meet again, but the second meeting never came about, for Mr. Buchanan’s health again broke down and he had to hasten his return home. While in New York he was offered and refused the editorship of the North American Review, with a salary which was indeed princely.
     On his return to England he went again to Southend, taking this time a house which he furnished himself, so resolved was he to make Southend his home. This house, which had already been the home of Sir Richard Cunliffe Owen and Sir Edwin Arnold, was a quaint old country place with extensive gardens and eight acres of meadow, and it was known as “Hamlet Court.”
     “I spend the time between this and London” (wrote the poet); “without the stage I think I should go melancholy mad. It is not only a source of profit but of recreation, as I produce and stage-manage my own dramas in every detail. I think moreover there is moral gain in rubbing shoulders with non-literary people. Perhaps I can persuade you to spend a few days here. There is no lovelier spot when the spring becomes a certainty. Just now I am doing the influenza, and your letter 228 comes with sweet refreshment and memory of old times.” 1
     Since then, however, the builder has been busy, and Hamlet Court is no longer what it was. In those days it was a paradise for the poet to dream in, but now the fine old elms which formed the avenue, known as the “Lovers’ Walk,” have disappeared, and in the eight acres of meadow stands the fashionable Queen’s Hotel. There is a station, too, and the little hamlet is now known as Westcliff-on-Sea. It was from there that he issued his poem “The City of Dream,” a verse from which is now to be found upon his tomb. In publishing this work Mr. Buchanan had little hope of popularity. “The public don’t want poetry” (he wrote), “they want pretty verses, short snatches, lyrics got ’twixt sleeping and waking. Just now indeed folk seem to read little beyond shilling dreadfuls and penny papers. Literature will soon be a lost art.” 2 Thus it will be seen that in issuing the “City of Dream” the poet did so in a mood which was more or less despairing. Since his wife’s death, in 1881, he had published two volumes of poetry—“Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour” (1882) and “The Earthquake” (1885), and both had met with scant recognition. In all probability “The City of Dream” might have shared the fate of its predecessors, but it happened that the Right Hon. W. E. H. Lecky replied that year at the Royal Academy Banquet to the toast of literature, and in his speech he made the following complimentary allusion to the poem which had just been issued from the press.
     “It would be idle” (said Mr. Lecky), “it would be perhaps invidious, for me to mention names, many of which will rise unbidden to your minds; but it is not 229 I think, out of place to remind you, that it is since the doors of the last Academy Exhibition closed that the illustrious historian of the Crimean War has completed that noble historic gallery hung with battle pieces as glowing and as animated, with portraits as vivid, as powerful as any that have adorned these walls. And if it be said that this great master of picturesque English was reared in the traditions of a more artistic age, I would venture to point to a poem which has been but a few weeks in the world but which is destined, if I am not mistaken, to take a prominent place in the literature of its time—a poem which among many other beauties contains pictures of the old Greek mythology that are worthy to compare, even with those with which you, Mr. President, have so often delighted us. I refer to the ‘City of Dream’ by Robert Buchanan (hear, hear). While such works are produced in England, it cannot, I think, be said that the artistic spirit in English literature has very seriously decayed (cheers).”

     “DEAR MR. LECKY” (wrote Mr. Buchanan),—“How can I thank you sufficiently for the generous words you spoke concerning me at the Royal Academy Banquet? How can I express my sense of your goodness and your courage? Coming from even a smaller man, such praise would be very grateful; but coming from one whom I have regarded with reverence and admiration, as one of the clearest intellects of the age, to whom I owe inestimable gratitude, it almost overpowers me. And you knew what you were doing—praising a man who is not too much loved, and has met with little sympathy. What can I say further than that the act was worthy of you—worthy of one who is intellectually 230 fearless, and whose noble life has been devoted to truth.
     “Some day I should like, if I might be so honoured, to take you by the hand and thank you by word of mouth. Need I say in this connection that your books have long been a precious possession and help to me? Indeed I scarcely know any writer, except yourself and Herbert Spencer, to whom I have yielded perfect acquiescence. Henceforth, when I turn to those pages which I know so well and love so much, I shall feel something more than respectful admiration—a divine thrill of personal sympathy, very precious to a wanderer in the wastes of literature.”
                                       “Yours most truly,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”

     After a residence at Hamlet Court which lasted two or three years, the poet removed to a house on the Cliff, which is now known as Byculla House; then, finding that he was plunging deeper and deeper into stage work, he settled down in Maresfield Gardens, South Hampstead, where he lived for many years.

1 Letter to the Hon. Roden Noel.
2 Letter to the Hon. Roden Noel.


To Chapter XXIV: Play-Writing

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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