ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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Essays - ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism’ - continued

 

The Edinburgh Evening News (26 September, 1877 - p.2)

     ONE of the very prettiest literary quarrels which this century has produced is at present raging in London. Its interest proceeds not from the magnitude of the combatants, but from the virulence of their attacks. This, indeed, makes it all the more amusing. It is painful to see Titans like Bulwer and Tennyson “heaving rocks at each other.” The present struggle, however, between Mr Robert Buchanan and Mr Edmund Yates, if it can be called Homeric in any sense, is rather a “Battle of the Frogs and Mice” than an “Iliad.” In the current number of the Contemporary Review an article appears under the title of “The Newest Thing in Journalism,” in which sundry weekly papers, and especially Vanity Fair, Truth, Mayfair, and The World, are held up to ridicule. Mr Edmund Yates, the editor of the last mentioned journal, comes in for an extra allowance of the critic’s contempt. He is accused, among other things, of snobbishness, vulgarity, and a tendency to small scandal-mongering, the accusations being accompanied by voluminous quotations. A habit of making capital of the prince of Wales, by detailing the smallest minutiæ not only of what he does, but of what he does not do, is one of the leading counts of the indictment. The attack as a whole, whether justified or not, is so pointed and trenchant that Mr Yates naturally feels somewhat sore after it, and in this week’s World he publishes a reply in the form of an article with the elegant heading of “A Scrofulous Scotch Poet,” to which he signs his name. It had been reported, he says, that the writer of the Contemporary paper was Mr Robert Buchanan. He accordingly requested Mr Buchanan to contradict the report, and on Mr Buchanan’s failing to do so he considers himself justified in assuming its correctness. He makes no attempt to defend himself from his opponent’s charges, but accuses him of ingratitude and treachery. In 1861, he says, he was engaged in the part editorship of Temple Bar magazine. “To my private house one evening,” he continues, “bearing a letter of introduction from a common acquaintance, came Mr R. W. Buchanan, then a mere youth of two or three-and-twenty, very shabby, very dirty, very ‘creepy’ altogether. Mr Buchanan is in the frequent habit of quoting Mr Browning’s phrase about a ‘scrofulous French novel;’ but I am of opinion, having tried both, that a scrofulous Scotch poet is a far more unpleasant object in a room.” Mr Buchanan told him of his poverty, “which was positively appalling,” and of the assistance he had received from a well-known nobleman. “He talked glibly,” says Mr Yates, “he showed me scraps of his poems. As I listened to him, I tried to think of Burns and Chatterton; but as I looked at him, I could not help also thinking of the practical benevolence of the Duke of Argyll, and of the vaunted virtues of Keating’s insect powder.” Mr Yates procured him work, lent him money, and claims actually to have saved his life. “And now,” he says,” I, who stepped out of my way to do this man a kindness, and out of my own small means lent him money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am ‘a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for ten minutes;’ while Mr. Robert William Buchanan, who stings the hand that succoured him, and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer, the soi-disant guide, philosopher, and friend of ‘all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.’” Here be the amenities of literary life shown in an admirable light! For pure Billingsgate no one can equal your polished man of letters when he chooses to try his hand at it. The public verdict in this case will probably be the same as it was in a former celebrated quarrel in which Mr Buchanan was mixed up. “Arcades ambo,” the reader will say, and will thank his stars that he is neither a Scotch poet, nor a sensational journalist.

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Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph (27 September, 1877 - p.2-3)

     It was widely stated this morning that Mr Strahan was about to commence an action against Mr Edmund Yates for libel. In those lowest depths of journalistic Billingsgate, which Mr Yates wallowed in yesterday, occurs a passage which attributed to Mr Strahan the practice of not paying for his contributions. In justice to Mr Strahan, I should say that his brother publishers charge him with paying too much and too readily for his copy, but Mr Yates thought it right to hint otherwise, and another great literary trial was expected by the lovers of scandal. I have, however, the best authority for stating that Mr Strahan intends to take no notice of an attack upon his honesty which has by its violence defeated its own object. He prefers to let so much virulence work its own destruction. Mr Robert Buchanan, however, is considering the matter, and it is not impossible that he will appear in court to claim damages for a libel which represented him as scrofulous and covered with vermin. Heaven help us! What will be the next new sweet thing in journalism?

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The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (28 September, 1877 - p.8)

LONDON LETTER.
                                         LONDON, Thursday.

. . .

     I was one of those who always doubted the statement that Mr. Robert Buchanan was the author of the now famous article, “The Newest Things in Journalism,” which caused such a run on the last issue of the Contemporary Review; but I can no longer be in doubt now that I have read this week’s World. Under the heading of “A Scrofulous Scotch Poet,” and over the signature “Edmund Yates,” appears the latest development of this “newest thing.” Mr. Yates assumes Mr. Buchanan to be the writer, because the latter has left unanswered the former’s challenge to deny it, and he proceeds to pour upon the head of the wild Scotchman a tirade of personal abuse, which assuredly has never been equalled, certainly never excelled, in any English journal of late years. Mr Yates states that he became acquainted with Mr Buchanan in the winter of 1861, at the time he was engaged in assisting his old friend, Mr. Geo. Augustus Sala, in bringing out “Temple Bar.” Mr. Buchanan came with a letter of introduction from a common friend. This is how Mr. Yates describes him:—“A mere youth of two or three-and-twenty, very shabby, very dirty, very ‘creepy’ altogether.” As if this was not sufficiently venomous, he continues to speak of him as “an unpleasant object in a room,” and he adds:—“He talked glibly; he showed me scraps of his poems. As I listened to him I tried to think of Burns and Chatterton; but as I looked at him I could not help thinking of the practical benevolence of the Duke of Argyll, and of the vaunted virtues of Keating’s insect powder.” There is a great deal more of this kind of thing in the article, but I will ask leave to quote further the concluding sentences of this diatribe. They are:—“I have had no dispute with Mr. Buchanan; no word of anger has passed between us. When last I saw him I was his friend; when last he addressed me I was his benefactor; but now, without word or deed on my part, all is changed. I, who stepped out of my way to do this man a kindness, and out of my own small means lent him money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am ‘a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for ten minutes’; while Mr. Robert William Buchanan, who stings the hand that succoured him, and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer, the soi disant guide, philosopher, and friend of ‘all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.’” No words in condemnation of such a specimen of loss of temper need be added. The savage ferocity of the article itself is its own condemnation. Mr. Yates is anxious to be regarded as an aspirant for the office of editor of the Times. He has surely lost all chance after this. People may laugh over these violent sentences, and may admire the smart language in which they are dressed, as many are doing to-day, but the conclusion all have come to is, that if our journals “of society” are to descend to such hideous personalities as these we shall be best without them. Mr. Yates had far better have answered the Reviewer’s criticisms than have thrown mud at Mr. Buchanan, and specifically alluded to him as one “who has failed as a poet, a novelist, and a play-wright.”

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The Newcastle Courant (28 September, 1877)

     A SCROFULOUS SCOTCH POET.—This is the title under which Mr Edmund Yates slates Mr Buchanan in the World. Here are Mr Yates’s closing sentences:—“I have had no dispute with Mr. Buchanan; no word of anger has passed between us. When last I saw him I was his friend; when last he addressed me I was his benefactor. But now, without word or deed on my part, all is changed. I, who stepped out of my way to do this man a kindness, and out of my own small means lent him money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am ‘a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for ten minutes;’ while Mr. Robert William Buchanan, who stings the hand that succoured him, and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer, the soi-disant guide, philosopher, and friend of ‘all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.’” For roughness we never knew any one who could beat that; not even the man whom we call in to do our swearing when contributors send us bad copy.

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The Edinburgh Evening News (2 October, 1877 - p.3)

“THE NEWEST THING IN JOURNALISM.”

     I am able to state, says the London correspondent of the Glasgow News, that Mr Robert Buchanan is not responsible for the series of articles in the Contemporary Review entitled “Signs of the Times,” of which “The Newest Thing in Journalism” was one. These articles are written by a variety of people, and with regard to the particular article which has so stung Mr Edmund Yates, editor of the World, I hear two names mentioned of persons who are said to have had a hand in it. One of these is a certain Northern M.P., prolific in the production of political pamphlets; the other is Mrs Lynn Linton, the well-known novelist and Saturday Reviewer. Mr Yates’s gross and scandalous attack upon your townsman Mr Buchanan is everywhere condemned, and it cannot but do its writer much damage in literary circles.

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The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (2 October, 1877 - p.5)

FROM OUR LONDON
CORRESPONDENT.

                                             LONDON, MONDAY.

     I have authority to state that Mr. Robert Buchanan is not responsible for the series of articles appearing in the Contemporary Review, entitled “Signs of the Times.” With regard to the particular article which led to Mr Edmund Yates’ personal attack upon Mr. Buchanan in the World, I hear the names of two persons mentioned as having a hand in it, viz., Mr. Edward Jenkins, the member for Dundee, and Mrs. Lynn Linton, but I do not vouch for this absolutely. I may state that the spirit in which Mr. Yates’ scandalous article is viewed in literary circles in London is entirely in accordance with your excellent leading article of the 27th ult. Even if the statements of Mr. Yates were all true it is universally felt that he was the last man to make it known. But the whole thing is a gross misrepresentation, and an incident unparalleled in literature.

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Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (6 October, 1877 - p.6)

METROPOLITAN NOTES.
(From our own Correspondent.)
                                                   LONDON, Friday.

. . .

     I suppose the silence of Mr. Robert Buchanan for so many days after the appearance of that awful attack upon him by Mr. Edmund Yates, in the World, may be taken as proof that the Scotch poet was really the writer of the article, “A New Thing in Journalism,” in the Contemporary Review; but Mr. Yates was a bold man to put that letter in type on the strength of the fact that no answer to a letter addressed to Mr. Buchanan had reached him in twelve days. For this Scotch poet is a most difficult man to find through the post. He is usually staying in a wild and remote country in the far west of Ireland, but he is habitually sparing of the revelation of his address, and letters forwarded to his London address, I have reason to know, do not overtake him as a rule. As one who has some knowledge of each of these belligerents, let me say that Mr. Yates’ account of Mr. Buchanan does not convey a very correct impression of the man personally. Unquestionably the poet is personally somewhat unpopular among the men of his craft. He has not taken the pains to please or conciliate his confreres, and a good many of those who have been at one time or other his friends are found afterwards to be not on good terms with him. But apart from disputes and quarrels and personal differences, Buchanan is a good-looking, gentlemanly man, of pleasant manner and address, who would be a very welcome addition to any company so long as the company consisted of those between whom and himself no quarrel or coldness had previously come. And if Robert Buchanan is not a successful poet, so much the worse for the public; for there are certainly not more than half a dozen living men who have done finer work than he in that field of literary labour. It is a not less noteworthy fact that Edmund Yates, who in his rage cuts and slashes in this terrible fashion, is one of the most genial, engaging, and indeed fascinating of men. He has the happy gift of becoming popular wherever he goes, and it is difficult to imagine how anyone can say a word against him who has enjoyed the pleasure of his company. His best friends, however—unless they are among the too numerous men of letters and journalists who have been offended in one way or another by the Scotch poet—condemn him for the intemperateness of his castigation of the author of the article in the Contemporary. That article in the Contemporary, by the way, was, with all its faults, a clever piece of work.

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The New York Times (9 October, 1877)

[Note: The scan of the following article was a little difficult to read at the start, so there is one word missing. The original is available on the site of The New York Times.]

JOURNALISM IN ENGLAND.
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THE NEW ERA AT ITS WORST.

FEW PERSONAL ITEMS—THE WAR BETWEEN
A COUPLE OF LITTERATEURS—UNCLEAN
REVELATIONS—SENSATIONS IN “THE EAST.”

                                                                                                           From our Own Correspondent.
                                                                                                                  
LONDON, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1877.

     At last the old country has eclipsed the new. America may beat England at Creedmoor; the States may run Great Britain hard __ Philadelphia, but Jonathan’s supremacy in personal journalism is at an end. Rowdyism in the press is no longer a trans-Atlantic characteristic. John Bull has got even with Chicago and Cincinnati. There is a row in London just now worthy of the backwoods of journalism. The most extraordinary feature of the story is that the blackguardism is initiated in a high-class publication, and that the offending pen is wielded by a poet. The Contemporary Review is the medium of the sin, the sinner is Buchanan. The author is not unknown in the States. He has written some admirable verse, and he is the writer of a powerful novel called The Shadow of the Sword recently republished in New-York and Canada. He lately sued the Examiner for libel and recovered damages. The case arose out of an attack which Buchanan made on “the fleshly school of poetry.” The Examiner defended Swinburne, the apostle of that so-called school, and proved in court that Buchanan himself had written some certain uncleanly stanzas. Buchanan is an Ishmaelite among littérateurs and journalists. His arrogance borders on madness. He once wrote an anonymous article in praise of himself. He is the author of two dramas which failed—“A Madcap Prince” and “Corinne,” produced two years ago at the Lyceum. In connection with the first piece he was the cause of a clever jeu d’esprit. He was called before the curtain, and he appeared in a very outre costume. A satirical journal, edited by an American in London, called attention to the author’s strange attire. Mr. Buchanan replied, and charged the critic with having on this occasion had “a glass too much.” The editor, in reply, said: “It is true that out critic had a glass too much for Mr. Buchanan—it was an opera-glass.”
     The Contemporary Review has been waning in circulation since the staff went over to the Nineteenth Century, and made that periodical famous. Mr. Strahan, the editor-publisher, cast about him for a sensation. He applied to Buchanan. The September number of the Contemporary commenced a new series of articles called “Signs of the Times.” The first paper is devoted to “The Newest Thing in Journalism,” which is a fierce attack upon newspapers generally, but more particularly upon the new high-priced journals, The World, Truth, Mayfair, the Whitehall Review, London, and the almost effete Vanity Fair. The essay was not signed, and Mr. Buchanan may say that he has a right to shield himself behind the anonymous character of his work. But everybody knew who wrote the article, and one of the aggrieved editors wrote and asked if he would disavow the authorship, to which the poet made no reply. The article declares that “we know not where to put our hand upon more than two or three newspapers such as honest men may read in patience, and in some sort of endurance if not comfort.” Vanity Fair is denounced as lecherous and fleshly, the work of a snob, if not of a pimp. The editor of that poor reflection of kitchen manners which are promulgated as Mayfair morality, has certainly laid himself open to dissection, but perhaps Mr. Buchanan is hardly the man to assume superior airs and society tone. His swoop down upon the World is, however, in the worst taste, seeing that his onslaught is upon the editor personally rather than a critical review of his journal, and other persons are hit in cruel asides who should have been safe from the Buchanan club. He calls the editor a snob, in whose society “no respectable men, not to say gentlemen,” would be seen for 10 minutes. He charges him with retailing the secrets of private life and inventing calumnies against women. He sneers at the World’s “Celebrities at Home,” intimates that if Yates is received in “the house and club of Mæcenas” it is only because “he amuses as a buffoon or is serviceable as a butt.” The mention by the World of Miss Braddon is made available for a wicked reference to that accomplished lady’s marital relations. Mrs. Maxwell [Miss Braddon] is undoubtedly the wife of her husband. Their marriage is on the records, and they live a happy, exemplary, and useful life. How strange is the blindness of too many critics, who often, while condemning the bad taste of another, are guilty of the offense they decry. Buchanan professes to be shocked at Yates for admitting personal gossip about a lady into his columns, and thereupon in the same sentence he assails the reputation of one of the best and cleverest of women.
     To-day, when the clubs had almost forgotten the Contemporary article, literary and journalistic society has received a shock which has no equal in my memory. If Mr. Buchanan has sent up the sale of the Contemporary by his virulent essay, Mr. Edmund Yates has given his own journal, the World, such a fillip by his reply that the paper is “sold out” whenever you ask for it, and the presses are running off second editions. Whether the character of the article to which Mr. Yates has affixed his name will tend to advance the permanent interests of the World remains to be seen. That he is justified in resenting Buchanan’s gratuitous insults nobody denies. Indeed, while a thrill of horror seems to run through journalistic society at the way in which Yates has retaliated, there is no sympathy for Buchanan. His hand has forever been against everybody. He has stabbed friends and foes in the dark. He has committed acts of ingratitude that might fairly ostracize him from decent society. But the general opinion is that Yates has done the World no good in crushing a reptile upon its pages and leaving the stains of his dirty work to the gaze of all his readers. But that is Yates’ business, not mine. He justifies his bitter reply in some brief reminiscences, in which he sketches the nature of Buchanan’s attack upon him, and then, having hinted at the services he had rendered Buchanan at the outset of his career, he proceeds to tear his opponent to pieces in the following terms:
     “In the Winter of 1861 I was engaged to assist my old friend Mr. George Augustus Sala, under whose guidance a new magazine, Temple Bar, was about to appear. Even in those days Mr. Sala had comparatively little leisure, and he was good enough to leave much of the detailed management of the magazine to me, reserving to himself, of course, the power of veto as regards contributors and contributions. To my private house one evening, bearing a letter of introduction from a common acquaintance, came Mr. R. W. Buchanan, then a mere youth of two or three and twenty, very shabby, very dirty, very ‘creepy’ altogether. Mr. Buchanan is in the frequent habit of quoting Mr. Browning’s phrase about a ‘scrofulous French novel;’ but I am of opinion, having tried both, that a scrofulous Scotch poet is a far more unpleasant object in a room. He told me of his woes, of his poverty, (which was positively appalling;) of the kindness which had been shown to him and to a friend of his, another Scotch genius, then no more, by a well-known nobleman who is never tired of doing similar kindnesses; he made a most piteous appeal to me to give him work; and all the time he was talking he kept rubbing the fingers of one hand into the interstices of the fingers of the other in a manner which made me shudder. He talked glibly; he showed me scraps of his poems. As I listened to him, I tried to think of Burns and Chatterton; but as I looked at him, I could not help also thinking of the practical benevolence of the Duke of Argyll and of the vaunted virtues of Keating’s insect powder. I spoke to Mr. Sala about this young man of the name of Buchanan, and to the proprietor of the magazine. I obtained for him not only constant remunerative work, but advances of money from his employer, Mr. Maxwell, who in his own person and through his wife, née Miss Braddon, is sneered at and ridiculed in the Contemporary article. I myself, from time to time, lent him small sums to carry him on. His connection with Temple Bar lasted as long as I had anything to do with the magazine, for many months, during which I always endeavored to befriend him. That I carried out my intention is, I think, evidenced by the dedication of a book, which I suppose is still extant, written by Mr. Buchanan in conjunction with a Mr. Gibbon, and inscribed to me in affectionate and grateful terms. I have also one or two presentation copies of Mr. Buchanan’s poems, on the fly-leaf of which is written, in his own hand, my name with this line. ‘Non tu sine pectore corpus. From his sincere friend, R. B.’
     “For 10 years at least I have seen nothing of Mr. Buchanan. I knew, in common with the rest of the world, that he had failed as a poet, as a novelist, as a playwright; I knew that, shielded by the mask and cloak of pseudonimity, he had stabbed some great reputations in the back, and had had his moral ulcers laid bare by the scalpel of judicial cross- examination. Further than this I know nothing. I have had no dispute with Mr. Buchanan; no word of anger has passed between us. When last I saw him I was his friend; when last he addressed me I was his benefactor. But now, without word or deed on my part, all is changed. I, who stepped out of my way to do this man a kindness, and out of my own small means lent him money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am ‘a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for 10 minutes;’ while Mr. Robert Williams Buchanan, who stings the hand that succored him, and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer, the soi-disant guide, philosopher, and friend of ‘all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.’”
     The article is headed in large type “A Scrofulous Scotch Poet,” and is signed boldly “Edmund Yates.” It has been read aloud in many of the clubs. It is the talk of London. There was a rumor this evening that Buchanan had horsewhipped Yates, but I expect Buchanan will be content with an action for libel, which, it is said, he has already instructed his solicitor to commence. Truth has not replied to the Contemporary. The Whitehall Review has discussed “The Newest Thing in Journalism” with kid-glove moderation. Mr. Strahan is delighted at the sensation created by his September number. A Scotchman himself, he has no sympathy, nevertheless, with his Scotch contributor who has not selected his foes from among his English contemporaries. In his early days he was assisted by his able compatriots, Gibbon and Black, both distinguished Scotchmen in London, both novelists, both journalists. Buchanan has reviled the pair of them in print and out of print, in the newspapers, and in society. He and Charles Gibbon wrote Storm-Beaten together, a volume of prose and verse, published by Ward & Lock. One of the next Contemporary articles by Buchanan will be devoted to the drama.

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The Boston Daily Globe (9 October, 1877 - p.4)

A QUARREL IN GRUB STREET.
_____

     Isaac Disraeli has fished in muddy waters, and in relating the dissensions of authors he has stirred up more slime than one would have credited the most stagnant pool of literature with possessing; but there were foul spots from which the old angler drew back; there were miasmas where he refused to believe that any respectable trout would deign to hide itself. Such a one is the quarrel of Edmund Yates, editor of the London World, and Robert Buchanan, poet and essayist. Sing their wrath, O Muse, from its very inception.
     Edmund Yates is a literary freebooter. He has written Bohemian novels, belonged to Bohemian clubs, written foreign correspondence for half the papers in the English Provinces, and in the course of his rolling has picked up moss to such an extent, has become such a storehouse of fashionable scandals, that when Mr. Henry Labouchere conceived the idea of projecting into the crass air of journalism a light balloon of mundane tittle-tattle, he naturally asked Mr. Yates to sit in the editorial car and select the sand bags which were to accompany it as ballast. Yates had the light and feathery touch of the true gossiping pastry cook. He could give the neat twist to a doughy bit of scandal, which is the secret of the “cordon bleu.” “So Lord Tom Titmouse is dead. Poor fellow! He offered me twenty per cent., the last time I saw him, for any rich widow I might unearth for him.” “So Sir John Brute has refused to pursue his wife. It leaves the guilty lovebirds to repent in a garret of the Quartier Latin.” “So the Prince of Wales finds Marlboro’ House too small.” “So Bill Plunger of the Buffs was killed at polo. Dear old Bill! I never saw a stauncher horseman across a cramped country.” Mark the fillip with which the thing is done. Note the demnition aristocratic air it all has. Of course, such a gay, roystering dog as this was bound to succeed. And he did succeed. He succeeded so well that Henry Labouchere thought proper to sell the World to a select company of five journalists, including Yates and Archibald Forbes, the war correspondent, and to furnish a new tatler with gossip of his own; and then Mr. Lucy, who had been writing Parliamentary reports, began to reflect that he knew as much as another about Mr. Gladstone’s neck-ties and Dr. Kenealy’s assortment of umbrellas, and established a third newspaper; so that all three went rejoicing along the path that had been opened to them by a greater Bohemian than they, one Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, who is an illegitimate son of Milner Gibson, the statesman, and is noted for the tenacity with which he has clung to the coat-tails of good society.
     Then the Contemporary Review rose in its wrath. It printed, for the first time in its annals, an anonymous article. It declared that the World and its kith were written for the edification of the young man by the name of Guppy. It recalled the joy of that youth to think that “all those ’igh chaps had their little weaknesses like onesself.” It tried to explain why  Mr. Guppy’s soul leaped within him at the discovery that the first English society was as mean, indecent and ignorant as his own. It referred to the doings and opinions of Mrs. Lechery, Miss Love-the-Flesh and other denizens of Vanity Fair. It mentioned Mr. Yates’s weakness for introducing into his paper the name of the Prince of Wales, as another irresponsible being, the renowned Mr. Dick, was unable to keep Charles the First out of his memorial. That touched Mr. Yates in a very sore place. He was at Venice when the attack was made—those leaders of journalistic fashion are seldom at home—and being assured that Mr, Robert Buchanan was the author of the anonymous article, wrote to Mr. Buchanan to know if it was so. Long ago Mr. Buchanan had used the same Review to attack Mr. Swinburne and the Fleshly School under a pseudonym, and that seems the only ground for attributing the present onslaught to him. It was enough for Edmund Yates. He first announced that the unhappy young poet was “one of those self-sufficient, low-born lads, who, confident in their own genius, exchange the dung-fork for the steel pen and the country farmyard for the London grave.” He went on to explain how Mr. Buchanan once called on him, very shabby, very dirty, very “creepy” altogether; how in listening he tried to think of Burns and Chatterton, but was forced into reflections upon the vaunted virtue of Keating’s Insect Powder; and how “I, who, out of my own small means, lent this man money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am ‘a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for ten minutes,’ while Mr. Robert Williams Buchanan, who stings the hand that succored him and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer the soi-disant guide, philosopher and friend of all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.’” Which may be all very fine, but there can be little doubt that this fashionable writer, this intimate friend of Lord Tom Titmouse, Bill Plunger, and the Prince of Wales, has a decidedly unpleasant way of putting things, especially if Mr. Robert Buchanan turns out to be innocent of the objectionable article.
     Nor would we touch such pitch if it were not for the ore of consolation which Americans may find in it: that to whatever extent their newspapers may abuse the right of private inquiry into the lives of public men and women, the journals of proud and dignified England are many degrees worse.

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Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph (11 October, 1877 - p.2)

     Mr Robert Buchanan had better take care that he lives a life free from actions capable of being interpreted. His dear friends, the editors of the gossip papers, are seeking everywhere for some charge to bring against him, and won’t they revel if they get it? At present, they have found nothing save that he was once on a time poor and sick, and that, though now a veteran, he takes £100 a-year from the Queen’s bounty.

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The Hampshire Advertiser County Newspaper (13 October,1877 - p.6)

     You know what the World (I won’t say “and his wife”) says of Mr. Robert Buchanan—as contemporary (reviewer) reviewed! Well, I hear—and I tell the tale as it was told to me—that the “Newest Thing in Journalism” after all is not his! The authorship, two days after the Contemporary for September was out, I heard confidently attributed to Mr. Arthur A’Beckett, whilome of the Tomahawk. But now I hear it assigned still more confidently to the authoress of “The Girl of the Period” essay in the Saturday Review, Mrs. Lynn Linton.

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Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post (17 October, 1877 - p.8)

     That literary scandal of Edmund Yates and Robert Buchanan is still the talk of the Garrick and the Athenæum, and there is, I believe, but one opinion about Edmund Yates’ letter, that if Buchanan was the author of the skit in the Contemporary Review this was not the answer to make to it, and it is now said that article was not his at all, but Mrs. Lynn Linton’s, and I think this is the likeliest story. Robert Buchanan, it is said, intends to issue a writ against the World, and I hope he will, for this style of criticism is disgraceful to English journalism. You recollect how for a personal allusion to George Augustus Sala’s nose the Author of “The Gentle Life” was mulct in a fine of £500 and costs by a jury in Westminster Hall, and if Mr. Buchanan could only get a Scottish jury into the box to try his case he would get £5,000, for the Scotchmen are ferocious about one of their countrymen requiring sulphur for his back and vermin powder for his clothes. I do not know whether the story is true or not—probably it is, for Buchanan is even now a rough rugg-headed Kern; but this is not the sort of stuff to publish against a man in a public newspaper, and Edmund Yates is the last man in the world to take to throwing stones against his neighbours’ glass-houses.

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Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph (23 October, 1877 - p.2)

     A new page is about to be added to the history of “The Quarrels of Authors.” Mr Robert Buchanan, it will be remembered, wrote in the Contemporary Review for September a severe article on the London gossip journals, in which the World was especially condemned. I believe that no names were mentioned, but there were certain allusions in it to the career of Mr Edmund Yates which he too well uinderstood, and he replied with an attack upon Mr Buchanan, which, for indecent and outrageous personality, has not been equalled in our day. Mr Buchanan now feels himself free to deal with Mr Yates in person, and has, as I learn from Mayfair, prepared for him a castigation which, I have no doubt, is as severe as it is deserved.

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The Dundee Courier and Argus (29 October, 1877 - p.3)

     MR ROBERT BUCHANAN AND EDMUND YATES.—Mr Buchanan’s long silence, in the face of Mr Edmund Yates’ animated rejoinder upon the article in the Contemporary Review, must not be accepted as an indication that he intends to pass it over in contemptuous silence. He has, in fact, been engaged in the incubation of a reply which shall for ever overthrow his adversary. Avoiding the somewhat personal, not to say the chemical character of Mr Yates’ manifesto, Mr Buchanan proposes to heap coals of fire on that gentleman’s head, by attempting to prove, inter alia, that he was not the actual writer of some of the novels which are in circulation under his name. Mr Buchanan’s rejoinder will be published in a few days, I know that he offered it for publication in a high-class daily paper, but the editor peremptorily declined to have his journal mixed up in such a controversy.—Mayfair.

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The York Herald (31 October,1877 - p.5)

     The Contemporary Review for November contains a second article under the head of “Signs of the Times,” entitled “Fashionable Farces.” It is sufficiently racy, and will doubtless come in for a good deal of attention. But it is not, as some will suppose, from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan. The author is, I am told, one of the most clever dramatic critics of the day.

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The Entr’acte (24 November, 1877 - p.6)

IN RE CARTOONS.
No. 1.

     MR. EDMUND YATES is a well-known journalist and playwright. His recent remarks in reference to Mr. Robert Buchanan’s antecedents have considerably advertised his name lately.

(p.9)

entracteyates

The Argus (Melbourne) (8 December, 1877 - p.4)

LONDON TOWN TALK.
_____

(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
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                                                                                                                                       LONDON, Oct. 26.

. . .

     The clubs are still discussing the case of the World’s “scrofulous Scotch poet.” So personal an article has not appeared in any English journal since Theodore Hook edited the John Bull, nor has such language been used in print since Swift’s day. At the same time Mr. Buchanan’s attack was itself a personal one. He had quite a right to express his opinion about the personality of the papers in question, but not to gibbet any individual in connexion with them. The onslaught also appears to have been quite gratuitous and I am bound to confess if any man made a personal attack on me in any contemporary print, I should reply to him not with the feather end of my pen. Moreover, if Mr. Yates’s account of his relations with Mr. Buchanan is as he has stated them to be, the Scotch poet has no right to complain of his punishment; for he has combined “ingratitude” and “traitor’s arms” in a very inharmonious manner. Still, I hope there will be an end to these amenities of literature, which irresistibly remind me of a certain poem of Swift’s epoch, where two—well, let us say members of the Ramoneur Association—belabour one another with their soot-bags, to the great disgust of the general public. I am glad that the envoy whom the King of Dahomey is about to send hither “to gain an idea of the character of our civilisation” did not arrive this month, so that we may hope that little essay on the Scotch poet will escape his observation. It is certainly as “savage” as anything in Dahomey.

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FASHIONABLE FARCES

 

From The Contemporary Review - November, 1877 - Vol. 30, pp. 1041-1054.

 

SIGNS OF THE TIMES.

II.—FASHIONABLE FARCES.

THERE is, in this much-belauded little island, a relic of barbarism known as the Lord Chamberlain, whose chief business it is to see that only the right sort of ladies are admitted to a levée crush; and attached to the Lord Chamberlain, as a sort of literary appendage, is an individual known as the Licenser of Plays. Why plays should be “licensed” at all is another matter. Why dramatic authors should be subjected to a supervision which poets, novelists, and newspaper editors are generously spared, may well awaken reasonable speculation and wonder. It is well known however, that the Lord Chamberlain is virtuous; so must be the literary expert who tells him what is and what is not to receive a license. The last holder of the licensing office carried his supervision not merely to the extent of preventing the importation of questionable pieces from France, and of forbidding the performance of home-bred political satires;—he went much further, and objected strenuously to such lines as

“O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?
And shall I couple hell?”

This passage, as well as hundreds more which will occur to every Shaksperean reader, would, if it had appeared in the manuscript of any modem dramatist, have either been softened down to nothingness or expunged altogether. Stranger still, the functionary objected with all his might—and his might in this instance really made itself felt—against the repetition on the stage of the word God.

“Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!”

would have to be softened into

“Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O Heaven! Heaven!”—

1042 an alteration which, to say nothing of its poetical flabbiness, is merely throwing unnecessary difficulties in the way of unaspirated tragedians. Indeed, we are not so sure but that “the Everlasting”—being itself an expression savouring of profanity—would have been altered into “Providence,” or some other secular ambiguity.
     Strange to say, even under such superintendence, the morals of the English stage did not improve. Nay, on the contrary, there was manifest for years a downward tendency very much to be deplored. The late Licenser having died, there was considerable competition for his place, and several well-known literary men were named as his possible successors. After due deliberation, the choice fell upon Mr. Pigott, the present Licenser; and certainly no better choice could have been made. A cultivated man of the world, with no vested interest in the drama, Mr. Pigott entered on his duties con amore. It presently became apparent that he meant to make the ways as sunny as possible for English authors and actors. Natural expressions of rage, pity, or terror were no longer expunged; the name of God, with its solemn and solemnizing effects, was from time to time duly heard. Under this beneficent influence, the drama ought to have looked up, and flourished. Strange to say, again, it did nothing of the kind. The influence might be beneficent, but it was there; and there it should never have been. Mistakes ensued and are ensuing—which would have been perhaps impossible if dramatic literature had been left, like all other adult literature, to look after itself.
     Now, there can be no question in the mind of any rational observer, that during the last ten years the tendency of general society has been downwards, and that the tendencies of art, literature, and the drama have followed suit. We here in England, in 1877, are indeed reaping the fruits sown broadcast over there in Paris during the Second Empire. Here, as there, the lowest passions have had their apotheosis—in domestic manners and customs, in poetry, in fiction, on the stage. Gautier and Baudelaire have created much of our fashionable poetry. Flaubert and Feydeau have poisoned our fashionable fiction. Dumas the younger and Sardou have done their best—happily, or unhappily, in vain—to overshadow our English drama; which, escaping them, has fallen at last into the embraces of the social saltimbanques of the Palais Royal. Contemporaneous with these influences, and representative of them, has arisen “The Newest Thing in    Journalism,” of which we discoursed in September to the readers of this REVIEW. But it is altogether certain that no censorship, however wisely exerted, could have done any good whatever in these and kindred matters. An epidemic must have its run, and no intellectual office-holder can stay it. It is very sad and very disheartening; but government from above will never do. If it would 1043 do, the world would have been differently constituted. No amount of intervention, short of course of an earthquake or a miracle, will prevent poor human nature from having its wilful way.

     It is necessary, perhaps, to explain a little the present prospects of the English stage. Thanks partly to unwise clerical crusades, and partly to intellectual indolence, English students have been frightened away from the theatre, only visiting it on rare occasions, say once a year to see a pantomime, or once in ten years to witness the phenomenon of a Salvini. Many of them doubtless believe it to be in a bad way, and much of this belief is owing to the fact that it requires a licenser to look after its morals. Now, here as elsewhere, English students are labouring under a grievous mistake. The drama, as it exists, is well worth serious study, and without serious study it is not to be judged or understood. There is to be witnessed in England, nowadays, dramatic work as good, both on the part of author and actor, as may fairly be expected in so busy and so hasty an age as ours—work, at least, which may advantageously compare, in point of total effect, with the work of the age in verse-writing or in prose fiction. Before proceeding to form an estimate of this work, however, the student should disabuse himself at once of two haunting and mistaken impressions—(1) that a dramatic work is to be judged simply as literature, and (2) that dramatic literature, to be really elevated, must be written either in Greek trimeters or English iambics. More prejudice than can well be conceived has been aroused by the hallucination, still to be found in literary circles, that a great play must of necessity be in verse, and divided into five acts, A completely successful and completely interesting dramatic idyl by Mr. Boucicault or Mr. Wills—say “Arrah-na-Pogue” or “The Man o’ Airlie”—affords more hope for the drama than would the production of scores of undramatic tragedies; just as there is a thousand times more hope in the advent of a Jefferson or a Febvre, though neither of these admirable actors belongs to the sock-and-buskin school, than there would be in the resuscitation of a Vincent Crummles, however stately, or a Mr. Wopsle, however gifted. Our best drama takes the complexion of the times, and wears an easy undress, instead of using the cothurnus or the mask. To judge a modern play in its totality, to appreciate all its effects of harmony and art, one must see it from the front of a theatre, well put upon the stage, well acted, and carefully stage-managed. Till it appears in this final shape, it is altogether nondescript, scarcely to be entitled a play at all.
     It is grievously unfair, too, for students to turn to printed plays of the contemporary school, and to assert, often with unnecessary vehemence, that they are not first-class literature, generally indeed 1044 not literature at all. A positive injury is done to the drama, therefore, when two experienced dramatists, like Mr. Tom Taylor and Mr. W. S. Gilbert, issue their collected plays in the form of books, and directly or indirectly, challenge criticism on their verbal merits. Such a course gratifies literary curiosity, but multiplies misconceptions. A merely literary student, unaccustomed to the theatre, does not perceive, for example, how certain passages are necessarily made slipshod for stage exigencies; how too formal an art would be fatal to totality of general effect; how at every point the exigencies of the actor or actress must be studied, to make perfect success possible. The fact of the matter is, they were not written to be read at all. Let him go to the theatre and see them acted, and he will understand their value and appreciate their success. It is no answer whatever to this statement to say that the Greek drama of the classic period and the English drama of the Elizabethan age remain permanent literary possessions to this hour. Modern plays are composite structures, and owe at least as much to the actor and stage-manager as to the author. Scenes and effects are realized, not left to the imagination. Instead of the poetry of words, we get the poetry of situation, of picture, and of scene. Plays which can be read are quite exceptional; indeed we cannot think of one modern example.
     It is no part of our present purpose, however, to criticize modern dramatists, from the literary standpoint. What we carefully wish to point out is that no person has a right to pronounce judgment upon them unless he is an experienced theatre-goer. It is all very well for an intellectual Podsnap to put the contemporary drama behind him, but such conduct is simply unjust, and really means that literary people would claim, relatively to theatrical people, far more importance than they are generally entitled to. So much being understood, it remains to be said that there are in England at the present moment a number of men who are doing really good work for the theatre, and doing it in a thoroughly English way. Mr. Tom Taylor, Mr. Charles Reade, Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Wills, Mr. Merivale, Mr. Palgrave Simpson, Mr. Craven, Mr. Boucicault, and some others, form in themselves an English school which only needs encouragement to attain its due rank in the critical estimation. Nothing can be honester and fairer than the success of Mr. Taylor in “New Men and Old Acres” and in “Clancarty”—wholesome plays, with enough literary merit to act thoroughly well. Mr. Reade has given the world some of the strongest dramas of the day; and surely there is pathos and poetry in “Masks and Faces.” Mr. Gilbert is a humourist pure and simple; “Trial by Jury” is good, and so was “The Happy Land.” Mr. Wills has touched high- water mark with the “Man o’ Airlie.” Mr. Merivale’s “All for Her” is a sound play of a sound 1045 school, and the author’s other plays are highly meritorious. Mr. Palgrave Simpson has again and again done fine work; so has Mr. Craven. Of Mr. Boucicault we need scarcely speak;—he has produced the prettiest dramatic idyls of this generation. Most of these gentlemen have at one period or another made money by adaptations “from the French,” but their best work is more or less their own, and possesses qualities not always to be found either in our current poetry or our current fiction.
     If, as we have seen, we have some good plays, it is no less certain that we have some praiseworthy actors. Such artists as Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Matthews, Mr. and Mrs. Vezin, Miss Ellen Terry, Mr. Henry Irving, Mr. Honey, Mr. Neville, Mr. Cecil, Mr. Clayton, Mr. Emery, Mr. Coleman, and Mr. Phelps—to quote a few well-known names at random—are surely entitled to the respect, and at times to the admiration, of all intelligent people. Any one who has witnessed the acting of Mr. Jefferson as “Rip van Winkle,” or of Mr. Vezin in “The Man o’ Airlie,” or of Mr. Matthews in “A Game of Speculation,” or of Mr. Emery as “Dan’l Pegotty,” or of Mr. Irving in “The Bells,” must surely have come away from the theatre, if not with “edification,” at least with an honest sentiment of respect for the profession which could show such acting. Yet, despite all this, it is still the fashion to assert that good acting is a rarity—a thing almost as extinct as the dodo. The intelligent public keeps away from the theatre, and the drama is at a discount to this hour.

     Meantime, while English authors and actors have been working their hardest to establish a home-school of drama, their efforts have been more or less neutralized by contagious Continental influences. The late Licenser of Plays, animated by a too blind enthusiasm of morality, thought he was doing a wise thing when he forbade the performance in this country of the principal works of Dumas Fils and Sardou. Now, dramas of this class, though doubtless open to the criticism which has been lavished upon them, and which has caused them to be classed in France under “L’École brutale,” are undoubtedly works of art. They are, moreover, fiery social satires, and true satire is never entirely unwholesome.
     Strange to say, however, English society is at one with the censor in thinking these comedies highly immoral; and the same society would doubtless condemn the “Œdipus Rex,” or (to compare small things with great) “Marion Delorme.” Incidents like Marion’s horrible bargain to rescue Didier from death, or the last scene of “Lucretia Borgia,” are doubtless offensive enough to good taste, and we should certainly contemplate with a shudder their obtrusion upon our English stage; but we should feel the same repugnance if we heard that there was a chance of the immediate 1046 production of “The Cenci.” Such things are lifted by the dignity of art out of the region of mere brutality— they are perfectly pure and admirable in their place; but, once thrust upon the stage, they would be unanimously voted “inexpedient.” It is quite otherwise with the best comedy of the Empire. With certain exceptions, which will occur to every one, these comedies deal with natural passions, introduce natural characters, picture natural scenes. Their dialogue is, for the most part, good and pure; their general tone is that of artistic self-respect. Just as far as “The School for Scandal” is above a contemporary burlesque, are they above such imbecilities as the “Timbale d’Argent,” the “Cent Vierges,” and “Héloïse et Abelard.” Yet the Licenser of Plays forbade their representation; and Society—O virtuous Society!—endorsed the censure!
     Nothing, perhaps, could better illustrate the existing state of things than an incident connected with the production at a leading theatre of an adaptation of “Les Danischeff,” a play animated by at least one admirable leading idea. The story of this piece is simple, and turns on Russian manners and customs. Osip, a serf, deeply in love with Anna, another serf, is devoted to his young master, Count Vladimir, who also has a violent passion for Anna. Circumstances occur by which Osip, absolutely against his will, is forced to marry the woman he loves; yet in his deep nobility and self-devotion he abstains from his conjugal rights, and keeps his bride pure and unsullied in the cottage where they live together. Finally, by means of a subtlety of Russian law, he divorces her and enters holy orders, and she becomes the virgin bride of the man she really loves. This subject, pure and beautiful in itself, was considered so “dangerous” that the adapter, an English nobleman, in preparing the piece for the stage, actually cut out the excellent “cottage scene” altogether—thus effectually spoiling a capital play, and awakening the regret and astonishment of all sensible critics. At a later period the scene was restored in its entirety, and we have not heard of any particular harm having occurred to the individuals present at the representations.
     Having made it quite clear what we are not to see, let us carefully inquire what we may see—what, in a word, society patronizes and encourages as well worth seeing. We have not far to look, or to listen. Close at hand, under the particular patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, Therésa is singing the sort of song that was sweet in the ears of Falstaff. Not far away, Théo is warbling in similar measures. And there, to our amazement, is Chaumont, charmingly drest, acting charmingly, and singing, with no voice to speak of, charming little songs of the boudoir.
     May we spend an evening with Chaumont? The Licenser good- humouredly says we may; so with an air of virtue we take our seats in the Gaiety Theatre, and see around us a good deal of the 1047 fashion and the beauty of London. Yes, Society—good, bad, and indifferent—is really present. The curtain rises on “Madame attend Monsieur.” The scene is an elegantly furnished apartment, inhabited by a lady of the demimonde. Supper is laid, and the protector of the lady presently appears. He is about to make himself comfortable, when a voice is heard which he recognizes as that of his lawful wife. In terror and in despair, he hides himself in the adjoining apartment. Enter Madame Chaumont, as the wife. She has discovered that her husband means to sup there with an indescribable female, and she has come to take the guilty pair by surprise. Now begins the long monologue of which the piece is chiefly composed. The little actress examines piece by piece the details of the apartment,—finds a lady’s slipper, and screams with delight as she discovers it is far too big for her own pretty little foot,—rushes hither and thither uttering a fluent stream of comments and explanations, in the rapidest of French. The audience is delighted; it is clear the actress may go what length she pleases, and certainly she does not stop short. What she really does is unmentionable. At last a loud sneeze betrays her husband. She drags him forth, falls upon him like a tiger; he is meek and contrite, as a husband should be. Finally, screaming and chattering, she loads him, piece by piece, with the furniture of the apartment, or as much of it as he can carry; and as she drives him off beneath his load, the curtain falls. Everybody is charmed. The ladies titter, and talk it all over.
     After a little interval, the curtain rises again—this time on “Toto chez Tata.”* Enter Chaumont in the dress of a French schoolboy, with all the comic awkwardness of his tribe, on a visit to the salon of the French actress—i.e., lorette. More unmentionable business, more indescribable double entendre. Nevertheless, it is convulsing. “What humour!” cries a fashionable Lady Tippins, in her usual decolleté condition; “so simple, so innocent, and all that sort of thing, you know!” The curtain falls a second time. Let us wait a little longer, and see what is to come next.
     The curtain rises; this time on “Un Wagon.” We are introduced now to a French household en famille, with the addition of one or two intimate friends. Enter Chaumont, as the innocent daughter of the house just come home from school. She has travelled home by train in a lady’s compartment, and her naïve narration of what she has heard carries commotion among the assembled household and guests. Her travelling companions have been lorettes—or, shall we say plainly, prostitutes?—and they have uttered many things compromising to the gentlemen present.

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* It is perhaps needless to say that the order of this performance is imaginary, and that “Madame attend Monsieur” and “Toto chez Tata” were not performed on the same evening.

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1048 Soon the narrative is pointed by an imitation of the lorette’s walk. Chaumont hitches up her petticoats, assumes what is known as the “Grecian bend,” walks mincingly as if on high-heeled boots, and shows a dazzling amount of silk stocking. At last, when everybody is rendered desperate by her revelations, her father takes her by the hand, and recommends her in future to travel, not in a lady’s compartment, but in a smoking carnage. So the curtain falls on an enraptured house.
     The ladies and gentlemen whose morals would have suffered by witnessing “Diane de Lys” or “La Femme de Claude” disperse to their several homes—there, many of them, we fear, to regale themselves with the choicest morsels of “the newest thing in journalism.”
     If it is expedient that we should familiarize ourselves, even at some risk to our national virtue, with the best specimens of French acting, that is surely no reason why the French drama, licensed and unlicensed, should run rampant on the English stage. Of late years there seems to have arisen in theatrical circles a positive mania for everything and everybody Parisian. By critics without number, Parisian acting has been vaunted as inimitable, until homebred artists have been driven to sheer despair. Turn by turn, each species of French play, from the comedy of the Empire to the farce of the Republic, has had its apotheosis;—only the very best being set aside by the censor as prejudicial to domestic morals. Every conspicuous French play has been adapted for our stage. So common, since Lord Derby’s memorandum, has this practice become, that a vigorous trade has opened between Parisian authors and English managers, and Messrs. Michaelis and Pitroou, the accredited agents of Parisian authors, have again and again received enormous sums for their clients. Before the production of a new piece in Paris, it is customary to invite one or more English managers to be present at its performance. If one is not present, or if he fails to bite, communication is opened elsewhere after production; telegrams are sent, chronicling “enormous success,” “great enthusiasm,”—and by the next post arrive parcels of “opinions of the press.” M. Sardou and M. Dumas receive a thousand guineas for the right to adapt the unadaptable. That sum was paid for “L’Etrangère,” which was a disastrous failure at the Haymarket, and “Dora” has been purchased by the management of the Prince of Wales’ Theatre for a corresponding sum. Mr. Hollingshead paid dearly in hard cash—and quite as dearly in managerial credit—for the production of “Rose Michel.”

     Curious to ascertain what the best sort of “adaptation” is like, we made our way recently to the Prince of Wales’ Theatre—an establishment distinguished for its Robertsonian comedy and its Robertsonian acting. The Lord Chamberlain having said it was 1049 all right, that our morals were quite safe, we paid our money without scruple. The play announced was “Peril,” an adaptation of “Nos Intimes,” and its leading feature was a “seduction scene,” in which Miss Robertson was chased and chivied round a stage absolutely buried in upholstery. How the lady managed to move about without damaging many of the lighter articles of furniture, was matter of earnest speculation, in which the motive of the play was quite forgotten. Its chief points seemed to be (1) its splendid real furniture, and (2) its glorious new costumes from Paris. There was a little of what is called “character” acting, notably by Mr. Arthur Cecil; but the general impression, pace the upholstery and dresses, was that conveyed by first-class amateurism. The whole affair seemed to bear the same relation to the real drama as “the newest thing in journalism” does to real literature. The first inspiration was obviously from Paris, but the play was not Sardou’s, and the performance was certainly not Parisian.
     Such being the condition of the best “adapted” drama patronized by Society, what is the condition of the worst? To ascertain this, we must betake ourselves to a species of theatre which the more thorough-going patrons of the Prince of Wales’ would doubtless hold in contempt.
     All our readers who have been to Paris have at least heard of the Palais Royal Theatre, where a highly-spiced after- dinner entertainment is offered to the bourgeoisie of the gay city. Palais Royal farces have one point in common with the higher drama born of the Empire—they invariably turn on the violation of the Seventh Commandment; but whereas in the ennuyé comedy we feel duly what is known as the “weight of the centuries,” and are in a certain degree philosophical and problem-haunted,—in the licentious farce we play at high jinks in a manner at once side-splitting and pantomimic. The French are not a humorous people; their attempts at humour are certainly not edifying; and a French farce is a wild romp of vile situation, varied by a soft murmur of bad suggestion, very disagreeable from the insular point of view. We had once, and not very long ago, a good rough farcical manufacture of our own, contributed to by such writers as Maddison Morton, Oxenford, Stirling Coyne; it afforded scope for much horseplay on the part of actors like the late Mr. Wright and the late Mr. Paul Bedford; and although very vulgar, it was really very harmless. More than this, it presented us at times with some really excellent studies of low life and character. The farce of the Palais Royal is quite another thing. Its characters consist of artists about town, grocers on the rampage, theatrical managers, opera-dancers, grisettes, lorettes, and what Falstaff humorously termed “bakers’ wives.” The 1050 theme of its jest is “dowlas, filthy dowlas,” throughout. Its morality is that of “La Mariée de Fontenay-aux-roses;” its social teaching that of “Un Bon Enfant.” It is, in fact, Paul de Kock put riotously upon a reckless stage. The dialogue is a high-pitched scream from beginning to end. The situations have a fatal resemblance to what is technically known as a “rally” at the end of a scene in a pantomime, when everybody rushes on to bonnet everybody else, and fling raw carrots and cabbages wildly about the stage. The scenes represent the coulisses of a theatre or the gardens of the Mabille. There is a constant popping of champagne corks; a constant display of high-heeled boots and flesh-coloured silk stockings; a constant smell of the smoke from bad cigars. Frantic wives rush about in pursuit of errant husbands. Errant husbands hide in cupboards and under supper-tables from frantic wives. The lorette looks on smiling, and the garçon flourishes his napkin with a grin.
     Having thus spoken of the Palais Royal as it is at home, we will now see how its influence dominates our own stage.
     A year or two ago, the public being jaded with burlesque and weary of opera bouffe, it occurred to some aspiring dramatist to “adapt” the Palais Royal farce for the English stage; and, really, a great deal of adaptation was necessary, to make the thing palatable at all to insular taste. The attempt succeeded, however, and since that hour there has always been at least one theatre where Parisian adaptations have constituted the leading fare. The vulgar-genteel, who buy “the newest thing in journalism” and follow the latest thing in fashion, took heartily to the highly- flavoured entertainment. English authors, some of fair reputation, found it far easier work to warm up the cold Palais Royal dishes than to invent original subjects for themselves. Managers looked more coldly than ever upon home-bred productions. The glorification of French farce began, and it has only just now reached its full completion.
     In former days, when English authors looked to the Continent for inspiration, they invariably selected subjects which were capable, with due manipulation, of resembling home-products of the soil. Nowadays, no such attempt at verisimilitude is made. Although the scenes and the names of the characters are turned into English, the manners and customs are hopelessly and absurdly Parisian. Thus, in Mr. Burnand’s “new farcical comedy,” written for Mr. Toole, and founded on MM. Duru and Labiche’s Palais Royal play of “La Clé,” it is in vain to christen the hero Mr. Spicer Rumford, and to transfer the scene of his adventures to London. The story is that of a weak-minded married man with strong proclivities for stopping out all night. His wife is rich, and jealous; so that he has some difficulty in obtaining the means of dissipation. 1051 Eluding his wife’s watchful eyes, and pretending to be engaged in legal business, Mr. Spicer Rumford finds his way to the lodgings of the Countess Asteriski, a female of more than doubtful reputation, or rather of no reputation at all. Here he meets a number of “foreign noblemen,” who cheat him at the gaming table, and rob him of his money and his watch and chain. In the midst of all this, the gaming-house is entered by the police, but detection is made impossible by an extraordinary pantomimic change—the roulette table turning into a piano, and all the guests being discovered with musical instruments. Drunk and dizzy, armed with a trombone, and clad in the Ulster coat belonging to some much bigger man, Mr. Rumford finds his way into the street, and after divers adventures, drifts home—there to be savagely interrogated by his jealous wife. It turns out, however, that Mrs. Rumford, during her husband’s absence, has been interviewing a “foreigner” in Kensington Gardens, and paying him liberally in exchange for certain letters damaging to her character. Husband and wife agree to hold their tongues about each other’s peccadilloes, and the play ends with their touching reconciliation. Is it not clear throughout that we are listening, not to Mr. Burnand, but to Paul de Kock; that the scene is not London, but the naughty Lutetia of the Parisians?
     The character of Mr. Spicer Rumford may be considered as typical It occurs, more or less modified, in all our farcical “adaptations.” There is invariably a watchful wife, herself generally too intimate with a suspicious “foreigner.” The motto of all these productions might, indeed, be that of M. de Pontmartin, “Se marier n’est pas se convertir!” From a Palais Royal point of view—and why not, now, from ours?—a husband is not only a ridiculous creature as a husband, but he is a recalcitrant person who has plenty of wild oats of his own to sow. This is not the point of view of the high comedy of the Second Empire. “Vous connaissez, monsieur,” writes M. Dumas, “certaines situations nées de l’indifférence d’un mari et de l’oisiveté d’une femme.” But with the frisky “bakers’ wives” and rampant greengrocers of the Parisian farce the situation springs, not out of cultured indifference and idleness, but out of mere vulgar tipsiness and lust. The high comedy deals with the salon and the boudoir; the low farce is of the shop, shoppy, and full of the manners and customs of gigmen out for a holiday. In the one, it is Paul de Kock; in the other, it is Balzac. According to the Lord Chamberlain, therefore, Balzac is bad for our morals, but Paul de Kock is the very philosopher we want!
     In “The Great Divorce Case,” another adaptation of French farce, two married barristers, on the plea of pressing affairs, go forth to spend the night in wild debauch, and fall into the society of two unprotected “ladies,” who are living alone at the Langham HoteL The Lord Chamberlain, who objected to the “Supplice 1052 d’une Femme,” thought “The Great Divorce Case” just the sort of thing to be licensed and to be seen.
     We may observe that the Criterion Theatre, where the farce last named was successfully produced, is closely connected with the Restaurant of the same name. Here have been produced, we had hoped for the exclusive delectation of the night-side of London, the pleasant trifles from the French named “The Great Divorce Case,” “Hot Water,” and (last not least) the “Pink Dominos.”
     Now, not only has the Lord Chamberlain graciously permitted the “Pink Dominos” to be performed, but Society has emphatically endorsed his approval. What says the Editor of the World?

     “Now that the Lord Chamberlain has visited the Criterion Theatre, and has informed both Mr. Albery and Mr. Wyndham that he sees nothing to object to, I suppose we may all go in perfect safety. There are difficulties in the way, however, inasmuch as the virtuous indignation of the British public at the idea of anything immoral being placed upon the British stage is filling the theatre to excess.”

This, though sarcastic, is quite true. The “Pink Dominos” was falling very flat indeed when the critic of the Daily Telegraph, in a manly and outspoken article, took strong objection to its plot and dialogue. “Thus bad begins, but worse remains behind.” We have it on the authority of the newspapers of the period that on the conclusion of a recent fashionable wedding the numerous bridesmaids, suitably attired in “pink,” repaired to witness the performance of this latest and lowest Parisian farce, where, in the house of one Sir Percy Wagstaffe, we are introduced to the following characters: Sir Percy himself and his lady, Mr. and Mrs. Greythorne, and Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs. Lady Wagstaffe is a gay woman of the world, Mrs. Greythorne is a simple creature with the most implicit faith in her husband’s goodness, and Mrs. Tubbs is an elderly lady with severe notions of moral propriety. The husbands are, all three, men of dissipation,— Mr. Greythorne, perhaps, being the least immaculate, inasmuch as he deliberately deceives a young and charming wife; and to each of these three gentlemen lying comes so easy that it is by no means difficult to conceal the secret of “vagrant amours.” Things being at this pass, Lady Wagstaffe and Mrs. Greythorne, determined to test the virtue of their respective husbands, send to each of them a letter supposed to be written by an unknown lady, and containing an invitation to supper at Cremorne, where there is to be a masked ball. The real writer of both letters is Rebecca, Lady Wagstaffe’s maid. The gentlemen receive the letters, fall into raptures at the possibility of “une bonne fortune,” and individually invent excuses for not passing the evening at home. At the same time Mr. Tubbs—in the absence of Mrs. Tubbs, who has gone to visit a sick friend—also determines to go to Cremorne. 1053 Act the second begins in the Cremorne Restaurant, showing a coup d’œil of doors opening into tiny supper-rooms for “private parties.” Here the ladies and the lady’s maid, all masked and wearing pink dominos, make their appearance. Now begins, fast and furious, what is called the “fun” of the performance. Lady Wagstaffe is made hot love to by Mr. Greythorne, Mrs. Greythorne is similarly wooed by Sir Percy Wagstaffe, while Rebecca in her turn is pursued by an errant nephew of Mr. Tubbs. Tubbs himself, in a state of intoxication, is discovered offering supper to a “young lady” who has come to Cremorne with her “mamma.” Confusion follows on confusion, in a manner too pantomimic for description. The third act takes us again to the drawing-room of Sir Percy. The mendacious gifts of the husbands now come into full swing. It is explained that they had from the beginning seen through the trick, and had been having a hearty joke at the expense of their wives. All is forgiven, and Rebecca, the skittish maid, is taken into the service of the severe Mrs. Tubbs. The curtain falls on a pretty picture of conjugal bliss.
     It is no part of our present purpose to preach a homily on this poor theme. Judged on their own merits, such miserable farces as this and other effluvia of the Palais Royal might well be left to produce in Heaven’s good time their own inevitable nausea; but seeing that they form part of a phenomenon which is threatening to eclipse more or less the better style of English drama, they are entitled to a consideration in nowise due to them on their actual merits.

     We come back to the point at which we began this article. The very hint of a possible suspicion that a farce might be “suppressed” has, we see, sent crowds to witness the representation. Once label fruit “forbidden,” and it will be plucked at all hazards. “One must see the ‘Pink Dominos,’” says dear Lady Tippins, “because everybody says the Lord Chamberlain ought to have suppressed it, and may suppress it, you know.” Why, in the name of all that is honest, this shifting of the burthen of virtue upon the shoulders of a salaried official? If a play is bad, let the public hiss it off the stage. If it is silly, let silly people go to see it. But to have our morals regulated from above, and to leave the fate of the drama in the hands of a paternal sciolist, is a condition of affairs not to be thought of. The true antidote for bad French “adaptations” is good English plays of home manufacture; and good English plays would be more plentiful if authors of merit had sufficient dignity and self-respect to refuse, at any price, to do the unclean work of “adaptation,” or even “expurgation.” As for the English drama, it will doubtless live on, notwithstanding these foolish and unwholesome importations; but so long 1054 as it feels either the substance or the shadow of any supervision but that of the spectator’s conscience, it will certainly continue unworthy of England and Englishmen.
                                                                                                                                                               * * *

     (Note.—To the first article of this series (“The Newest Thing in Journalism”) the editors of the several papers criticized replied in their own columns. Having been hit, it was only natural that they should hit back, and we certainly hare no fault to find with them for this. Indeed, we should have been glad if they had been able to make a better defence. But we are sorry that two of them allowed themselves to ascribe our strictures, which were made solely on public grounds, to an endeavour on our part by “sensational” means to make up for a fall of circulation consequent upon the setting up of a rival publication. The theory is a comfortable one to them in their circumstances, and we feel sorry to rob them of the solace of it; but all the same we have to say that there has been no fall of circulation, and therefore no effort needed to recover what was not lost. And we are still more sorry that one of them—the Editor of The World—made our article an occasion for showing that “The Newest Thing in Journalism” could descend to a lower depth even than we had supposed. In a way for which there is no precedent in literature, he produced a vitriol bottle, and attempted to damage the face of his critic beyond recognition. The critic he assumed to be Mr. Robert Buchanan, and named him accordingly. Mr. Buchanan writes to us as follows:—

     “SIR,—Mr. Edmund Yates, calling himself the Editor of The World, has recently published in that journal a personal attack upon myself, in which he treats his readers to an account of our acquaintance sixteen years ago; affirms that he ‘saved me from starvation,’ that he lent me money, and that, in gratitude for these services, I ‘dedicated a book’ to him. For full particulars I must refer you to The World itself. At the time of its publication, I was many hundreds of miles from London, and I have not yet determined what course of procedure will best vindicate my own reputation and be of most public benefit. Meantime, I think I may safely leave my case to the moral analyst, who will be able to appraise the production of Mr. Edmund Yates at its true worth.
                                                                           “I am, &c.,
                                                                                         “ROBERT BUCHANAN.”

     As we print this letter, a copy of The World for October 24th reaches us. From this we gather that the Editor, after his furious attack on Mr. Buchanan, suddenly reflected that he might after all have been attacking the wrong person, and wrote off to a lady in Italy, asking her if she was his critic! This lady, instead of imitating Mr. Buchanan in his silence, replied in haste, asserting her innocence. Had she not done so, we might have had a still more terrible exhibition, in the shape of assault and battery No. 2.
     Not incurious to see if the denunciations of our contributor had told in any way on the phenomenal journal, we turned over the leaves of this same number of The World. Of course the Prince of Wales is in the “Memorial” again, to begin with:—
     “During the Prince of Wales’s tour in India there was attached to him, as his personal attendant, a stalwart Afghan, who, in full national attire, was always by day at his Royal Highness’s beck, at night slept across the door of his room or tent. The faithful Afghan came to England with the Prince, and dwelt in peace at Sandringham, affably patronizing the establishment. But when the Turko-Russian war broke out he became restless, and smiled no more. At length the fighting devil in him could no longer be repressed; he appealed to Mr. Knollys for indefinite leave of absence, and his petition was granted. He departed with all speed to the Turkish army in Asia, and recently a communication has been received from him in which he expresses a modest confidence that he has already despatched several Russian souls to the infernal regions; and that, with the help of Allah, he will do a little more in the same line of business. I may be permitted to hope that ‘the Prince’s Afghan’ is not among the captives of the recent Russian success.”
     How cheerful and playful is this talk of butchering Russian souls!
     Leaving the Prince of Wales, the Editor then turns to his fellow-countrymen of the industrial class, and gives his opinion of them. Here it is:—
     “The British workman aims at securing the highest wage he can for the worst workmanship; at getting the most he can out of his employer, and giving the least; at shirking his work when he can, and thus cheating his employer; at enjoying his own ease in his dishonest, debased, knavish, cowardly manner. Those who come in his way he strikes if he can, if he dares, if they are unprotected. It is the same instinct as that which makes him pound the defenceless wife of his bosom to a jelly. When the obstacles to his depraved and currish ambition are too strong thus to be disposed of, the British workman contents himself with secretly whispering a curse, like the puddle-blooded craven and cur that he too often is.”
     “Puddle-blooded craven and cur” is strong; but, after all, it was hardly to be expected that the “newest thing in journalism” could have much sympathy with those who work for an honest living.—EDITOR.)

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The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (1 November, 1877 - p.2)

OUR LONDON LETTER.
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                                   LONDON, WEDNESDAY.

. . .

     Mr. James Gordon Bennett has just been fined £2,000 for a libellous advertisement which appeared in the New York Herald. Mr. Robert Buchanan, in the November number of the “Contemporary Review,” writes that he is considering what steps he shall take with respect to Mr. Yates’ recent article in the World. Mr. Buchanan has another sprightly and severe article in the “Contemporary,” and severely handles our “fashionable farces” adapted from pieces at the Palais Royal Theatre, the basis of which is always a breach of the Seventh Commandment. These nauseating dramas which, like “the newest thing in journalism,” Mr. Buchanan attributes to the corrupting influence of the French Empire, are not only bad in themselves, but are preventing the production of good plays. English theatrical managers are becoming more and more shy of home productions, and give absurd prices for the right to adapt French plays. They not unfrequently burn their fingers, for English actors cannot always exhibit that light sparkle which is the only good characteristic of these plays, and then the piece wont go down. When these plays succeed they owe their success to downright vulgarity. The motif of all of them is the same—that marriage is an absurdity, and that every husband has the right to deceive his wife and every wife her husband.

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The Falkirk Herald (1 November, 1877 - p.6)

—It is reported that Mr Robert Buchanan has prepared an answer to Mr Edmund Yates’s article “A Scrofulous Poet” which appeared in the World. If it is true that “the editor of a leading newspaper to whom Mr Buchanan offered his rejoinder for publication declined to have anything to do with the business” we may reasonably expect it is what our Yankee friends would call “hot.” Both combatants have had experience in journalistic fisticuffing, and know well how “to hit straight from the shoulder.”

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The Western Mail (3 November, 1877 - p.2)

     I am curious to see Mr. Robert Buchanan’s reply to the terribly scurrilous attack made on him by Mr. Edmund Yates with regard to his article on the “Latest Thing in Journalism.” Mr. Robert Buchanan can hit hard when he likes, and in the article on which he is engaged he will no doubt be merciless. It is said he is going to deny that Mr. Yates is the author of the novel “Black Sheep,” the best which is published in his name. If he does bring forward this charge it will, of course, be only one head of his indictment, for he is as great an adept at scurrility as Mr. Yates.

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Berrow’s Worcester Journal (10 November, 1877 - p.6)

     The Contemporary is, as usual, wonderfully solid, and the question really arises whether one small mind if capable of digesting all this literary food. ... Mr. Alfred Austin, on the poetic interpretation of nature, is uncommonly well worth reading. Those predisposed to the lighter kind of literary food will probably turn to the only unsigned article written, according to Mr. Yates, by Mr. Robert Buchanan, who chose to denounce the newest thing in journalism, and led to a bludgeoning proceeding of which we have by no means heard the last. Mr. Buchanan is said to be executing revenge by means of an article on poetic satire. The article it seems is to tell the public that some of the books passing under the name of Mr. Yates were, in fact, not written by him. Such puerility is only worthy of a past period in literature which cannot be too soon forgotten. What Mr. Buchanan—if the writer be indeed Mr. Buchanan—discourses upon in the Contemporary of this month is fashionable farces, as showing a decline in public morals and taste. Why should arguments be drawn from English adaptations of farces from the Palais Royal? There has unquestionably been an improvement in the dramatic taste of the public, nothing much to boast about, perhaps, but an improvement for all that. We have not got to the sublime pitch yet, but we have recovered greatly since the time when people used to go and see wretched burlesques, destitute of wit and not free from indecency, and not possessing even the merit of giving good music.

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The Graphic (10 November, 1877 - p.7)

     In the Contemporary, Mr. F. W. Newman writes on “The War Power,” by which he means the power a Government has of involving in war the nation which they represent. ... —Mr. Donaldson furnishes an amusing article on the “Characters of Plautus,” and then follows a paper also on a theatrical subject, namely, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s attack on some of the popular plays of the day, such as the Pink Dominos, the Great Divorce Case, &c. We have seen most of these pieces, and are unable to discover the immoralities which this modern Histriomastix discovers in them. To us they seem to belong to an unreal world, the characters of which are about as devoid of moral responsibility as the clown and pantaloon in a pantomime.

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