ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THE LAST MONTHS OF ROBERT BUCHANAN

 

In Chapter 30 of her biography of Buchanan, Harriett Jay deals with the final months of his life in these few brief paragraphs:

“    The next morning, Friday, October 19th, his high spirits had not deserted him, for I heard him whistling merrily before he came in to breakfast. I asked him if the muddled vision had troubled him again, and he replied in the negative, assuring me that he felt particularly well in every way. Breakfast over and the morning papers read, we set off on our bicycles together.
     After a ride in Regent’s Park, which lasted close upon two hours, we returned home. He partook of a hearty lunch, and then fell asleep in an easy chair beside the fire. He awoke refreshed, and after he had drunk a cup of tea and had written some half-dozen letters, proposed that we should cycle again. “I should like to have a good spin down Regent Street,” he said. Those were the last words he ever spoke, for five minutes later the cruel stroke had descended upon him which rendered him helpless as a little child.
     For eight months, passed in the endurance of much pain, his life was spared. On the morning of the 10th of June, 1901, he passed away in blessed unconsciousness, in the sixtieth year of his age.”

News of Buchanan’s stroke and subsequent reports of his condition appeared in several newspapers for the next few weeks:

The Observer (21 October, 1900 - p.5)

ILLNESS OF MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.
_____

     We regret to hear that Mr. Robert Buchanan, the well-known poet, novelist, and dramatist, is seriously ill. He was seized with apoplexy at his London residence at five o’clock on Friday afternoon, which has resulted in paralysis of the right side and complete loss of speech. Under the care of Sir William Broadbent, Mr. Buchanan was last night reported to be holding his own as well as could possibly be expected under the sad circumstances. He is fifty-nine years of age.

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The Times (22 October, 1900 -p.7)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, who is suffering from cerebral hæmorrhage, resulting in paralysis of the right side and complete loss of speech, shows no symptom of improvement. Yesterday afternoon at 2 o’clock the following bulletin was issued by his medical attendants:—“Mr. Buchanan continues in the same critical state.” Later intelligence was in no way more reassuring.

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The Morning Post (22 October, 1900 -p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, the well-known author, has been stricken with paralysis of the right side, and has suffered entire loss of speech. Last evening’s bulletin reported that there was no improvement in the critical condition in which he had been since the seizure on Friday afternoon. Mr. Buchanan, who is fifty-nine years of age, is at his London residence.

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Daily Express (22 October, 1900 -p.5)

MR. R. BUCHANAN PARALYSED.
_____

SERIOUS CONDITION OF THE WELL-KNOWN
DRAMATIST AND NOVELIST.

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, poet, novelist and man of letters, is suffering from cerebral hemorrhage, which has resulted in paralysis of the right side and complete loss of speech.
     His condition shows no signs of improvement.
     The following bulletin was issued at three o’clock yesterday afternoon by Mr. Buchanan’s medical attendants, Dr. J. G. Gorham and Dr. A. Stodart Walker:—
     “Mr. Buchanan continues in the same critical state.”
     Later news last evening was not more reassuring.

___

 

The New York Times (22 October, 1900)

ROBERT BUCHANAN VERY ILL.

     LONDON. Oct. 21.—Robert Buchanan, the novelist, has had a cerebral hemorrhage, which was followed by paralysis of the right side and complete loss of speech.
     His condition is very critical.

___

 

The Scotsman (Tuesday 23 October, 1900 - p.4)

     Dr Gorham, of Clapham, saw Mr Robert Buchanan yesterday morning, with Dr Stodart Walker, of Edinburgh. The following bulletin was issued:—“Paralytic condition same as yesterday, and Mr Buchanan has passed a bad night. Otherwise there is no change to record.” Dr Gorham, of Clapham, saw Mr Robert Buchanan later, with Dr Stodart Walker, and the following bulletin was issued:—”Mr Buchanan passed a restless night, and there is little change in the hemiplegia and aphasic conditions, but on the whole his general health shows some improvement.”

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Daily Express (23 October, 1900 - p.2)

     The subject acquires a very pathetic interest now that Mr. Buchanan is stricken with paralysis. He has done excellent work in adaptation, notably “Sophia” (from Fielding’s “Tom Jones”), though he is less happy in original dramatic work. He has always been an ardent controversialist, throwing himself with passionate insistence into every question of the hour. To his great honour he always fought for what he believed to be the weaker side. As a hard-hitter he probably has no equal. May he long be spared to renew his battles and to add his share to the colour and interest of life. We should be the poorer without him.

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Daily Express (25 October, 1900 - p.5)

Mr. R. BUCHANAN’S CONDITION.
_____

     At eleven o’clock last night the following bulletin was issued on Mr. Robert Buchanan’s condition:—“There is no change to record. The general strength is fairly maintained.”
     The bulletin is signed by Drs. Gorham, Harry Campbell, and Stodart Walker.

___

 

The Times (26 October, 1900 - p.7)

     The following bulletin was issued at 11 o’clock last night in regard to Mr. Buchanan’s illness:—“Robert Buchanan’s condition practically remains unchanged, but his strength is fairly maintained, and he takes a certain amount of nourishment. The paralysis of the right side is still complete, and his speech is limited to the words “yes” and “no,” but his mental faculties are a little improved, and he is quite sensible of the efforts of his devoted nurses and friends to promote his comfort.”

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The Times (27 October, 1900 - p.11)

     At 11 o’clock last night the following bulletin was issued with regard to Mr. Robert Buchanan’s illness:—“The condition of Mr. Robert Buchanan remains unaltered. The paralysis shows no sign of mitigating, and there is no further recovery of the power of speech. He is still but partially conscious.”

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The Era (27 October, 1900 - p.12)

     MR ROBERT BUCHANAN, the well-known poet and playwright, who has been suffering from paralysis, is still in a dangerous condition. His strength is fairly maintained, and he takes a certain amount of nourishment, but the paralysis of the right side is complete, and his speech is limited to the words “Yes” and “No.” His mental faculties are a little improved, and he is quite sensible of the kindness of his nurses and friends. Mr Buchanan is a native of Staffordshire, where he was born in 1841. His father, Robert Buchanan, was a schoolmaster, journalist, and social lecturer. Mr Buchanan was educated at the Glasgow High School and the University. He began life practically with a halfpenny in his pocket, came to London with his great friend David Gray in 1860, and began to write for newspapers. In 1863 he brought out his first book of poems, “Undertones.”

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The Observer (28 October, 1900 - p.6)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.
_____

     There is a slight improvement in the condition of Mr. Robert Buchanan since Friday night. He had a good night’s rest and takes some nourishment, and is more sensible of his surroundings, but the paralysis of his right side and his inability to speak still continue unchanged.

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The Times (29 October, 1900 - p.9)

     A slight improvement in the condition of Mr. Robert Buchanan was reported on Saturday. He had had a good night’s rest, took some nourishment, and was more sensible of his surroundings, but the paralysis of his right side and his inability to speak continued unchanged. At 11 o’clock last night the following bulletin was issued:—“Mr. Buchanan has passed a very restless day. He has been conscious at intervals, otherwise his condition is unchanged.—J. G. GORHAM, M.D.”

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The Times (30 October, 1900 - p.7)

     The subjoined bulletin was issued yesterday with reference to the serious illness of Mr. Robert Buchanan:—“Mr. Robert Buchanan’s condition still remains critical. The paralysis shows no sign of abatement, and there is no improvement towards a return to consciousness. He is unable to utter more than ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’”

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The Era (3 November, 1900 - p.15)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.
_____

     Mr Robert Buchanan, the well-known poet and playwright, who has been suffering from paralysis, and is still in a dangerous condition, is a native of Staffordshire, where he was born in 1841. His father, Robert Buchanan, was a schoolmaster, journalist, and social lecturer. Mr Buchanan was educated at the Glasgow High School and the University. He began life practically with a halfpenny in his pocket, came to London with his great friend David Gray in 1860, and began to write for newspapers. In 1863 he brought out his first book of poems, “Undertones.” It was handled rather viciously by certain of the critics, and they prompted Mr Buchanan to reply, perhaps somewhat injudiciously, to several who had attacked him. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that Mr Buchanan, whose talents nobody would deny, became a fighter, and like the late Charles Reade, scented danger and war afar. In 1865 he published his now forgotten book of “Idylls and Legends of Inverburn.” The next year came out his “London Poems,” which at once landed him into the foremost rank of writers of sterling honest poetry. Thenceforth amongst the writers of great verse Mr Buchanan had to be reckoned with. Quickly followed then volumes of verses every year. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements was “The City of Dream” in 1888. In 1871, by the way, he made a violent attack in the Contemporary Review on the fleshly school of poets, one of his most pungent satires being directed against Rossetti and his followers. This, although it was signed in the name of Thomas Maitland, brought down upon Mr Buchanan an avalanche of abuse, and in later years he saw the folly of his own youthful exclamations. The prefix to perhaps one of the greatest novels in the English language, “God and the Man,” explains Mr Buchanan’s real recalcitrant sentiments. “God and the Man” was turned into a play called Storm-Beaten at the Adelphi Theatre in the late eighties. One of his most successful plays was A Nine Days’ Queen. A Man’s Shadow, which he did for Mr Tree, and The Charlatan must be ranked amongst his successes. For Mr Thomas Thorne at the Vaudeville Theatre he adapted many plays from the old novelists, including Sophia, Joseph Andrews, Clarissa Harlowe, A Midnight Marriage, and The Romance of the Shopwalker. Besides this Mr Buchanan was always turning out novels that more or less made their mark. For Mr Comyns Carr at the Comedy Theatre he wrote Dick Sheridan, in which Mr H. B. Irving played the title-rôle, and made a distinctive advance in his profession. When Mrs Langtry took the Opera Comique Theatre it was Mr Buchanan’s A Society Butterfly with which she commenced her campaign and brought down the wrath of a well-known dramatic critic, causing a controversy that was almost a nine days’ wonder. Neither side gave in, and nobody knows to this day the real secret of the trouble. Lady Clare should not be omitted from the list of Mr Robert Buchanan’s successes, and certainly amongst his books “The Shadow of the Sword” should be particularly referred to as one of those marvellous works in which this talented author drew some of the finest conceptions of the study of honour and conscience that have ever been presented to the reading public. Mr Buchanan as a poet, a dramatist, and a novelist holds a unique position, inasmuch that no other novelist, with, perhaps, the exception of Lord Lytton and Charles Reade, has ever been able to win success in three different departments of literature. Whatever anyone’s opinions of Mr Buchanan may be in any particular sphere in which he sought to secure renown there can only be one final verdict in regard to his all-round talent.

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The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (3 November, 1900 - p.14)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan has been a hard fighter in his time, and it is extremely gratifying to note that men to whom he had been antagonistic are joining his friends in helping him in his hour of need. Old enmities are forgotten around the sick bed of a distinguished writer who, because he had the courage of his convictions and feared not to wound susceptibilities when he had anything to say, made foes or friends. Behind his impetuosity is, however, a generous nature, and he is as quick to forgive and forget as he is to attack.

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The Times (5 November, 1900 - p.6)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan was on Thursday last safely removed in an ambulance to the neighbourhood of Streatham- common. The change has been beneficial, and many of the urgent symptoms have disappeared. The extreme weakness and paralysis, however, remain, and the patient is still watched with great anxiety by his nurses and medical attendants.

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The Morning Post (5 November, 1900 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan was on Thursday safely removed in an ambulance to the neighbourhood of Streatham- common, under the superintendence of Dr. J. J. Gorham, one of his medical attendants. The change has been beneficial, and many of the urgent symptoms have disappeared. The extreme weakness and paralysis, however, remain.

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Daily Express (Wednesday, 7 November, 1900 - p.5)

SAD NEWS OF MR. R. BUCHANAN.
_____

     Although it is evident that Mr. Robert Buchanan has now passed the dangerous stage of his illness, his recovery will probably be marked by a sad affliction, which is indicated in the following bulletin issued by his medical attendants last evening:—
     “Mr. Buchanan had a good night, and has taken nourishment, but the paralytic symptoms still remain. There is little hope that he will ever recover his speech.”

___

 

The Scotsman (7 November, 1900 - p.8)

     The following bulletin was issued last evening regarding the condition of Mr Robert Buchanan:—“Mr Buchanan had a good night, and has taken nourishment, but the paralytic symptoms still remain. There is little hope that he will ever recover his speech.—Harry Campbell, J. J. Gorham.”

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The Scotsman (8 November, 1900 - p.4)

     Mr Robert Buchanan had a bad night on Tuesday, but was calmer and more conscious yesterday.

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The Morning Post (9 November, 1900 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan passed another bad night on Wednesday, but the paralytic conditions are not aggravated.

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The Glasgow Herald (12 November, 1900 - p.9)

     I understand that a proposal was yesterday made to more than one London manager, and was very favourably considered, to organise a huge benefit for Robert Buchanan. That gentleman is still alive, and his physical strength is indeed said to be increasing, although he is still speechless from paralysis, and it will be a very long time indeed before he is able to work again. Now, therefore, is the proper time to organise a benefit, which is sure to be very influentially supported.

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The Scotsman (13 November, 1900 - p.4)

     Doctors Gorham and Harry Campbell saw Mr Robert Buchanan yesterday. They state that the patient continues to gain strength, but other conditions are unchanged.

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The Echo (17 November, 1900)

FUND FOR ROBERT BUCHANAN

     Some friends of Mr. Robert Buchanan have formed themselves into a committee with the object of raising a fund for the maintenance of the author and dramatist, whose work, it is feared, is finally interrupted. Subscriptions should be sent to Mr. Frederic Harrison, Haymarket Theatre.

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The New York Times (17 November, 1900)

LONDON LITERARY LETTER.
_____

Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
William L. Alden.

     LONDON, Nov. 6.—

     ... Mr. Robert Buchanan is lying at the point of death with an apoplectic stroke. The doctors give no hope of his recovery, and before this letter reaches New York Mr. Buchanan will probably have left us. This is not the time for any estimate of his work. We can only grieve over the approaching loss of a many-sided-man who, although he frequently said and did things apparently for the purpose of making enemies, has always been known by his friends to be a warm- hearted, genial, and even gentle man.

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The Leicester Chronicle (17 November, 1900 - p.5)

     The case of Robert Buchanan is sadder even than appears in the bulletins announcing paralysis, loss of speech, and clouded mental faculties. For more than two years preceding  this attack he was subject to pneumonia and heart disease, following on influenza. Next came insomnia, and the sturdy spirit, breaking down, he was plunged into profound fits of melancholia. A little more than two months ago, he made a miraculous recovery, and, with characteristic energy, resumed his work. He wrote a serial story, finished a play, and was making rapid progress with his autobiography, when the blow fell. He was talking with a friend in the highest spirits, discussing future plans, when, without warning or signal of danger, he was stricken down, paralysed and speechless. It is little more than 40 years since Buchanan came to London. He told, in a pathetic story, welcomed by Thackeray, in the then young “Cornliill Magazine,” how he and his companion having nowhere to lay their heads, passed the night in the Park, how his comrade, a poet of promise, caught cold and died. Since then, as author and dramatist, he has been much to the fore, and might be expected to have made provision for his old age. To some extent he did. But four years ago, entering into a speculation that proved disastrous, he became bankrupt, the copyright of his works disappearing with his other assets. A small pension was granted him from the Civil List, barely sufficient to keep the wolf from the door. In his last extremity his  friends and fellow-workers in literature are endeavouring to raise a fund that  may make comfortable his remaining days.

[Note:
This item appeared in various provincial newspapers, including The Scotsman (17th November) and The Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer (24th November). It was reprinted across the world, including Australia (The Sydney Morning Herald), New Zealand (The Ohinemuri Gazette - 4 January, 1901) and America (The Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, Indiana - 9 February, 1901).]

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The Gloucester Citizen (22 November, 1900 - p.3)

     The appeal for Mr. Robert Buchanan has so far resulted in a sum of £850 being subscribed. Mr. Buchanan’s old friend, Mr. John Coleman, is looking after him. I am afraid there is very little prospect that this gifted author will be able to resume his work, and most careful and expensive nursing is necessary to restore him to any measure of comfort.

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The Era (24 November, 1900 - p.12)

     THERE is, we are sorry to hear, little or no change in the condition of Mr Robert Buchanan, and Mr Beerbohm Tree, with that generosity for which he is always noted, has proposed to get up a big benefit on behalf of the suffering dramatist at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The programme will be announced shortly.

___

 

The New York Times (29 December, 1900)

LONDON LITERARY LETTER.
_____

Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
William L. Alden.

     LONDON, Dec. 18.—

     ... Mr. Robert Buchanan is still alive, and at times he is said to be somewhat better. There is, however, no longer the slightest ground for hope that he will recover. How long he may linger in the state of living death in which he lies no one can foretell, but even his most sanguine friends now admit that he is little more than a living corpse. It is a sad fate to overtake a man who was so full of life. He had made mistakes like all the rest of us, but they will be forgotten, and men will remember only the noble qualities which were incontestibly his.

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The Dundee Evening Post (7 January, 1901 - p.4)

     A London correspondent writes to-day:—I learn from an old friend of Mr Robert Buchanan, who has recently seen him, that little, if any, improvement has taken place in the condition of the afflicted poet. He is absolutely helpless, and quite incapable of mental effort. There is not the smallest chance that he will write another line.

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The Edinburgh Evening News (5 February, 1901 - p.4)

     MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S ILLNESS.—There is, we regret to hear, says the “Westminster Gazette,” no material improvement in the health of Mr Robert Buchanan. He is able to recognise his friends, and at times to hold converse with them; but it is greatly to be feared, from the nature of his malady, that the gifted writer will not again be able to use his pen.

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The Hull Daily Mail (14 February, 1901 - p.2)

     Mr Robert Buchanan, I regret to say, lies in a very miserable condition. He has shrunk to a shadow, is half paralysed, and his memory is very nearly gone. He cannot call to mind that he ever wrote anything. Steps have been taken to help him, and I am sure that Scotsmen in London and elsewhere will see to it that so gifted a man does not end his days in destitution.—“A Man of Kent,” in the “British Weekly,” to-day.

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The Gloucester Citizen (15 February, 1901 - p.3)

     The accounts of the condition of Mr. Robert Buchanan grow even sadder. Paralysis gains upon him, and memory has almost entirely failed, so that, in the words of a friend, “He cannot call to mind that he ever wrote anything.” His financial position makes matters worse. Unless something definite is done to assist him, this brilliant writer, a gifted poet, and author of so many popular dramatic works, must end his days shortly in the most miserable destitution.

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The Guardian (16 April, 1901 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, whose illness a few months back aroused widespread interest, is still lying in a half-helpless condition; and it is now announced (says the “Westminster Gazette”) that his devoted attendant, his sister-in-law, Miss Harriet Jay, the well-known authoress and actress, is confined to bed with an attack of pneumonia supervening on influenza.

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The Echo (27 April, 1901 - p.1)

’TWEEN COVERS.
_____

(By Our Own Bookworm.)

     Robert Buchanan! “Bonny fighter,” novelist, publicist, dramatist, and poet. What a congeries of qualities the name conjures up. Truly a knight of the pen if ever there was one. Ever ready for the joust and the tournament, he smoked for the affray, for the lists where sarcasm, satire, and wit were the weapons of offence and defence. His career (for alas! it must be spoken of in the past tense) has been so comet-like, so brilliant and changeful, so errant and evanescent that it has never had time to impress itself as anything uncommon or extraordinary on our somewhat obtuse and impervious intelligences. But here was a fine and a rare genius, clouded indeed to our view by aberrations perverting to our vision, although comforting to our baser metal that genius is after all like unto other men except in its genius. It is, however, less humiliating to him than to us that his imperfections have partially blinded us to the unalloyed excellence of his work.

_____

     If greatness is to be measured by the hostility of other men, then assuredly Robert Buchanan is one of our most heroic figures. Even in his novels and dramas he has not been able to lay aside his love of fire-eating. In his political, social, and religious essays he has thrust us in our most cherished beliefs, and over-toppled the idols we have most idolised. But it is in his poetry that we find his true self, the revelation of the spirit of “the poet of modern revolt.” It is in this light that Mr. Buchanan’s poetry has to be considered if we are to find his true significance, and we are therefore grateful to Mr. Stodart-Walker for the fine judicious discrimination and judgment he displays in his estimate (Grant Richards) of the poetical attainments of one who must undoubtedly be placed in the front rank of modern poets. Mr. Walker wisely believes that in viewing Mr. Buchanan as a poet he is concerning himself with the Buchanan that is of importance in contemporary literary aspirations.

_____

     What was Robert Buchanan’s mental attitude? An attitude of revolt against accepted traditions, of opposition to conventional formula. He could never bring himself to believe that the opinion of the majority was necessarily right. It was thus he set himself against the national idols, the Church, our political and ethical nostrums. The impostor who had foisted himself into high position was his especial object of attack. In his own picturesque and forcible language he said, “I’ve popt at vultures circling skyward, I’ve made the carrion hawks a byeword, but never caused a sigh or sob in the breast of a mavis or cock robin.” In another place he says, “My errors have arisen from excess of human sympathy, from ardour of human activity.” Indeed, it was this excess of human sympathy for the downtrodden and the helpless that raised in him the spirit of revolt.

_____

     His song is always for the poor and the distressed, of “The Little Milliner” and her lover, the poor clerk, of Liz, whose “all I want is sleep, under the flags and stones,” and the dreamy labourer,

Who toiled away, and did his best
To keep his glad heart humble.

It was said of him by a supercilious critic, who meant it unkindly, that his idylls were of the gallows and the gutter, of costermongers and their trulls. Such an impeachment would be rather out of date if brought forward now. But Mr. Buchanan could write of other things when he chose. Some of his poems, as, for instance, “To Galatea,” have an almost Ovidian lusciousness and voluptuousness. Others again have a Byronic gloominess and mysticism. For poetic idealism and for a sympathetic and reverential treatment of a subject for which he was not commonly reputed to have much reverence, his ballad of “Mary the Mother” stands alone and unrivalled. While the hostility and enmity aroused by his strenuously expressed opinions continue to exist we can hardly hope that his work will receive the consideration it deserves. But with the rise of a new generation it may be confidently hoped that he will be assigned his proper place.

                                                                                                                                                           D. M. S.

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Robert Buchanan died on Monday, 10 June, 1901.

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Next: The Buchanan Obituaries

 

[The Last Months of Robert Buchanan]    [Obituaries 1]    [Obituaries 2]

[Obituaries 3: Buchanan and Besant]    [Obituaries 4: Buchanan and Besant 2]

[The Funeral of Robert Buchanan]    [The Grave of Robert Buchanan]

[Back to Biography]

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

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

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
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