LETTERS FROM COLLECTIONS
Folger Shakespeare Library:
(I’d like to thank the Folger Shakespeare Library for letting me add these transcripts to the site and Rebecca Oviedo for providing the photocopies. I have placed the group of letters to Augustin Daly on a separate page.)
1. 8 Letters to Augustin Daly (1875 - 93)
(Including a copy of a letter from William Terriss to Buchanan regarding the American production of A Man’s Shadow.)
2. Letter to William Hepworth Dixon - .
66 U. Stamford St
Hazlitt says that literary experience means simply the relation by individuals of the truths they have read or learnt before twenty. This is only partly true, but I would ask you to let its part-truth apply to my case. I am now twenty, getting on for twenty one, and in spite of the necessary inexperience you have once or twice mentioned, am—I think— able from my range of reading to deal with some provinces of English poetry. This may be egoism; but may I beg you, in your goodness, to test me? You see, I am doing all I can to elbow my way in the world, and I feel very miserable when you tell me my youth is an obstacle to my eating bread and butter—or, which is the same thing, getting it.—Wont you give me one trial with a tolerably good book of poems, and show me an opportunity of uttering part of the little I know, in your columns? Macaulay had an article in the Edinburgh Review when he was twenty; and I myself am doing responsible work for responsible journals.—I wish you would try me with Miss Procter’s forthcoming volume of lyrics. I liked her former book much.
I will thank you, here, for your candour. You did not attempt to deceive me by the cruel falsehood about “no vacancy.” You said to me—“You are young, consequently inexperienced. I do not like to place very responsible work in your hands.” This was true kindness, I think. But do you in your heart believe that judgement is simply the result of continual contact with the materials for judgement; that the man who criticises poetry can criticise it without being in some respects a born poet? Poetry differs materially from science, exactly so called; it is the recognition of the significance of things visible by the aid of the imagination, the colouring and beautifying of things visible by aid of the fancy. Could not John Keats at twenty (in his letters) criticise poetry better than Gifford at fifty? Could not Shelley at twenty write truer things of poetry than the Edinburgh Reviewer who slaughtered “Christabel” or the burly Doctor who thought Shakspere an irregular spasmodist:—But I bore you. Take my excuses for troubling you, and do give me a trial. I have thoughts to utter, my own thoughts—give me a chance of uttering them, and do not measure my experience by that of the generality of individuals. Large experience is often condensed into a short life, by hard blows & incessant moral responsibility.—If ought but strict justice & pure truth should appear in what I write, never trust me again.
R. W. Buchanan
Hepworth Dixon Esq.
[’only’ inserted before ‘partly true’.
‘give’ crossed out before ‘me an opportunity’ and ‘show’ written above.
‘born’ inserted after ‘in some respects a’.
‘at twenty’ inserted after ‘John Keats’.
‘Large’ inserted before ‘Experience is often condensed’.
If Buchanan is telling the truth about his age then this letter would have been written some time in 1862 prior to his 21st birthday on August 18th. I have no accurate dates for when Buchanan was living at 66 Upper Stamford Street, but going by surviving letters, he was there in December 1861 and had moved to Haverstock Hill by June of 1862. Another possible clue as to the date is Buchanan’s mention of reviewing “Miss Procter’s forthcoming volume of lyrics.” Adelaide Procter’s A Chaplet of Verses was reviewed (not by Buchanan) in The Athenæum on June 14th, 1862. So I would suggest that this letter dates from 1862, prior to June.]
3. Letter to Alexander Strahan - 1st February, 1873
6 Wells Road
Feb. 1. 1873
I enclose “Kitty Kemble” for next month’s St Pauls. It is quite new and very strong. “Poetry & the Drama” by “Walter Hutcheson” in a day or so; and a St “Abe”.
Can you let me have some cash to-day? Answer per Bearer.
A. Strahan Esq.
[This letter was originally sold with the (20) proof sheets of ‘Kitty Kemble’ for The Saint Paul’s Magazine corrected by Buchanan, which are now held by the Folger Library.
Buchanan wrote under several pseudonyms for Strahan’s magazines. For example the September 1872 edition of The Saint Paul’s Magazine contained the following pieces by Buchanan:
John Mardon, Mariner: His Strange Adventures in El Dorado Part II by the author of St. Abe
‘Prose and Verse’ by Walter Hutcheson
The Ballad of the Wayfarer by T. M. ]
4. Letter to Nicholas Trübner - .
58 Upper Gloucester Place
My dear Sir,
Could you kindly favour me with a call—as before—to-morrow morng on your way to the City? I wish most particularly to see you.
I suppose you have heard of all the changes on the “Contemporary Review”—If I can be of any service to you there, I shall be glad.
I have just come over again from Ireland, & finding my usual chambers occupied, am temporarily here—No 58.
N. Trübner Esq
[‘58’in the address and the body of the letter is double-underlined.
‘up’ crossed out before ‘over again’.
While Buchanan was living in Ireland he used rooms in Upper Gloucester Place for his visits to London. Letters to Browning from January 1874 to February 1878 have addresses at either 51 or 16 Upper Gloucester Place, so one presumes this letter fits somewhere in this time period. The mention of the ‘changes on the “Contemporary Review”’ could refer to the removal of James Knowles as editor in 1877. Knowles was no friend to Buchanan whereas his successor, Alexander Strahan was, so this would make sense of Buchanan’s offer of help. Consequently I have tentatively dated the letter as 1877.]
5. Letter to The Academy - 7th July 
What is a Tragedy?
Hamlet Court, Southend, Essex, July 7.
Sir,—I think we are getting very “mixed” in our definitions when Mr Hall Caine describes my play of “Partners”, founded on Daudet’s novel of Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé, as a melodrama, and thereupon suggests that a Melodrama should be so called because it does not end in the death of the leading character. The difference between Tragedy & Melodrama is in reality technical. The first is a form of art where the old unities of time & place are generally preserved, and where the action moves grandly & monotonously towards the final consummation, foreshadowed from the outset, of a sublime death; in which, moreover, all the interest is subordinated to the one central purpose, to the one solemn issue, generally spiritual & ennobling, & the very essence of which is moral or religious concentration. A melodrama, on the other hand, is a varied picture of life & incident, a mélange, a mingled web of thought, passion, & character, and may or may not end tragically,—the point being that its style & treatment, not its catastrophe, differentiate it from tragedy. The great Sophoclean Trilogy is tragedy pure & simple. Most of Shakspere’s serious plays, notably “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” are melodramas. Such masterpieces as “Hamlet” & “Lear” are of twofold character, extremely melodramatic in their style, highly tragical in a certain monotony of characterization and moral suggestion. Of course, the more popular & etymologically correct definition of Melodrama—ie. drama accompanied with musical effects—will scarcely serve us here; but it is a good & right definition, if we insert the word “varied” before the adjective “musical,” and imply that the drama itself is many-mooded.
I learned with deep regret that Mr Hall Caine’s fine play, quite tragical in its character, had been vulgarized & made absurd by a “happy ending.” There is a superstition among managers that “happy endings” can reform a serious & monotonous theme, & render it pleasing to the vulgar; but the truth is, the public care little how a play ends, so long as it is not depressing, and deficient in relief, throughout. A very popular & not quite worthless play of the late Watts Phillips, “Lost in London,” is a case in point. The piece is a melodrama, though the end is tragical in Mr Caine’s sense, but the action throughout is all alive with life and comedy—effective if very conventional; so that average spectators enjoy it, and do not by any means resent the heroine’s pathetic death just before the fall of the curtain. I think Mr Caine should have nailed his colours to the mast, standing or falling by the absolutely & inherently tragic nature of his theme. To change the dominant note at the last moment into a doubtfully lively one, was something like singing through all the magnificent verses of the Old Hundredth, & then suddenly breaking into “Haste to the Wedding.” Fortunately, this is an error which can be easily corrected, for the preservation of a piece which has justly received high encomium.
I am &c.
[Quotation marks around title crossed out.
‘Partners’ originally underlined, but the line is crossed out.
‘thereupon’ inserted before ‘suggests that a melodrama’.
‘old’ inserted before ‘unities’.
‘, foreshadowed from the outset,’ inserted after ‘final consummation’.
‘, moreover,’ inserted before ‘all the interest’.
‘, a mélange,’ inserted before ‘a mingled web’.
‘Macbeth’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Lear’ are all originally underlined, then the lines crossed out.
‘characterization and’ inserted before ‘moral suggestion’.
‘Lost in London’ was originally underlined, but the line has been crossed out.
‘& inherently’ inserted before ‘tragic nature’.
After ‘dominant note’ ‘into’ is crossed out and ‘at’ written above.
‘magnificent’ inserted before ‘verses of the Old Hundredth’.
Buchanan’s signature is double-underlined.
This was Buchanan’s reply to a letter of Hall Caine, published in The Academy on 7th July, 1888. Buchanan’s letter was published in the next edition of The Academy on 14th July, 1888 (image available here). For Caine’s letter and more information, see the Letters to the Press section.]
Library of Congress:
Letter to Robert Browning - 13th May 1865
May 13th 1865
My dear Mr Browning –
I did care to hear your opinion– More, much more, than you may have imagined. If it were courteous to explain what I think of you, you would know what value I set on every line from your hand.
And what you say, coming from such a quarter, is like new blood to me—blood, heaven knows, very much needed by my very irritable & despondent nature.
Ever yours truly
Robert Browning Esq.
Smithsonian Institution - Archives of American Art:
Letter to Thomas Buchanan Read - 26th February 1871.
Feb. 26th 1871
My dear Mr Read –
I have asked Strahan to post you “Napoleon”– Tell me, please, if you get it. If you can send me anything of your own, I will be grateful.
I only know the little Ed: of your poems pubd here by Trübner. They make me long to know more.
Do you ever meet in Rome a young Scotch artist named Walter Maclaren? If so, please tell him to write to me; he is a dear friend.
Yours most truly
T. Buchanan Read Esq.
[Walter Maclaren is mentioned in Chapter XI of the Jay biography, regarding Buchanan’s move to Bexhill in 1865:
“After a time their domestic circle was enlarged by the appearance upon the scene of the late Mr. Gentles and Mr. Walter Maclaren, who has since become so well and widely known as a painter of Italian scenes.”
Four paintings by Walter Maclaren ]
Baylor University, Waco, Texas - Armstrong Browning Library
Letter to G. R. Sims - n.d.
25 Maresfield Gardens
Dear Sims –
In drawing out Bill I stupidly omitted the word “two”—will you kindly write it in with your initials following, thus: ‘two – G. R. S. ?
Awfuly sorry to trouble you, but the thing as it stands is informal. Please return it by my man.
I shant forget your kindness, but shall return it somehow or other in another way.
G.R. Sims Esq.
Shall be glad to hear about Cousin Phil – Am reading the French play.
[The collaboration of Buchanan with G. R. Sims produced five plays for the Adelphi Theatre, from The English Rose (first produced 2nd August 1890) to The Black Domino (1st April 1893). The Maresfield Gardens address gives a similar time frame for the date of this letter - although I don’t have the exact dates, he was living there from August 1890 to November 1894.
The letter seems to refer to a financial transaction. This could either be Buchanan cashing in his share of one of their plays (Sims mentions in Among My Autographs that Buchanan received £2500 for his share in The English Rose) or it could refer to Buchanan borrowing money from Sims (according to the reports of Buchanan’s bankruptcy in July 1894 he owed Sims £805).
I have no idea who or what ‘Cousin Phil’ is, or the ‘French play’ which Buchanan is reading.
The Armstrong Browning Library also has Mary Buchanan’s photograph album, selections from which are available on this site.]
Colorado College, Tutt Library - Alice Bemis Taylor Collection:
Letter to Benjamin Webster Jr. - 28th June, 1867.
June 28th 1867
I send you some lines to Miss Terry,—to which you will kindly sign my name in full, as I do not wish to seem an indiscriminate contributor. I should like to see a proof.
I wrote to Mr Webster Sen. some weeks ago on business, & have received no reply of any kind. However, I have no right to trouble you with your father’s affairs.
Benjamin Webster Esq Jun.
[‘your father’ crossed out and ‘Mr Webster Sen.’ written above.
The ‘Miss Terry’ referred to is Kate Terry (sister of Ellen and grandmother of John Gielgud) who retired from the stage in August 1867. In June of that year she was appearing in Dora by Charles Reade at the Adelphi Theatre, which was managed by Benjamin Webster Snr. She had also appeared in a play by Benjamin Webster Jnr. (Ethel; or, Only a Life) the previous year.
The mention of writing to the manager of the Adelphi ‘on business’ could indicate that Buchanan was writing plays at this time, although he had nothing produced between The Witchfinder in 1864 and A Madcap Prince in 1874.]
Harvard University - Houghton Library:
1. Letter to Dr. Thomas King Chambers - 5th June, 1870.
June 5th 1870.
Dear Dr Chambers,
The public announcement came suddenly, & we knew wd: reach you, long ere we could communicate the tidings. Much of “this too, I owe to thee, Jaffar!”
You think “Orm” morbid—and Death too, & Theology, and Celticism, I fear. If you mean morbid in the sense of hopeless & unwholesome, read the book thro’ line by line from 1st page to last, & then I will believe you. “Orm” is only a prologue—a sad general statement—and on my Soul, my thoughts of God & the world are not morbid ones, rather utopian ones & glorious. The portal is more shadowy than the Edifice; I shall try to let the Sun get into that.
All kind wishes & thanks from both of us. I am better, tho’ still “a creaking Door.”
T. K. Chambers Esq. M. D.
[Autograph file, B. *46M-400. Houghton Library, Harvard University.
The quotation, “this too, I owe to thee, Jaffar!” is from Leigh Hunt’s poem, ‘Jaffar’.
The ‘public announcement’ referred to is the award to Buchanan of a Civil List Pension of £100 per year, which occurred on 12th April, 1870. Browning had been instrumental in getting the pension for Buchanan (mainly on the grounds of Buchanan’s ill health) and it would appear from this letter that Dr. T. K. Chambers, who had connections with the Royal household, had also leant his assistance in the case. Dr. Chambers is mentioned in Chapter 17 of Harriett Jay’s biography and for further information, his obituary in The British Medical Journal (31 August, 1889) is available online.]
2. Letter to Nicholas Trübner - 27th February, 1880.
97 Burton Road
Feb. 27. 1880
Dear Mr Trübner,
I send this to your private address, as I wish the whole of the arrangements for my book to be as secret as possible.
I am now ready to put my book to press under the title of
The City of Dream:
a New Pilgrimage.
I wish it to be not in one volume, but in three small vols, to be published simultaneously, or at intervals of a month. Thus:
Revolt—The Groves of Pan.
Each vol. to contain about 150 pp. & to be published at 3/6. The complete work, 10/6.
I think, if you exercise due energy, keep the requisite mystery about the authorship &c. that we may have a great success. The poem deals with the one subject which is now absorbing intellectual attention.—I think I shall inscribe it to Herbert Spencer.
I should like to see you, & arrange everything at once. Shall you be at Ludgate Hill on Monday?—or could you call upon me here any time tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon?—With kind regards
Nicolas Trübner Esq.
[Autograph File, B. *54M-179. Houghton Library, Harvard University.
‘Private’ is double-underlined and written at an angle opposite the address.
Above ‘Private’, ‘Important’ has been written in pencil in another hand.
‘(Sunday)’ is inserted after ‘tomorrow’. (February 27th was a Friday, Buchanan presumably expected Trübner to read the letter on the Saturday and possibly visit on Sunday 29th.)
The date of this letter is significant since The City of Dream was not published until April, 1888 by Chatto & Windus. The plans outlined here for a three volume edition, published anonymously and dedicated to Herbert Spencer were subsequently revised. It appeared as one volume, under Buchanan’s name, with fifteen sections, and was dedicated to John Bunyan.]
3. Letter to Messrs. Fields & Osgood, New York City - 22nd September .
42 East 23rd Street
New York City
I have ready a poem of some importance, entitled “Schopenhauer; or, the New Buddha”, & can offer you the use of it in the ‘Atlantic Monthly’ for one hundred dollars, payable on acceptance of M.S. Do you care to consider it?
Messrs Fields & Osgood.
[Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, Papers (MS Am 1429) (1014) Houghton Library, Harvard University.
 added in another hand after the date. This is correct. Buchanan was in America from around August, 1884 to the summer of 1885.
‘a’ inserted after ‘ready’.
The Atlantic Monthly did not take the poem but it was published in The North American Review in May 1885 (pp. 445-455).
I’d like to thank Mary Haegert of the Houghton Library for her help in acquiring these letters.]
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