ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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What I did on my holidays. A Trip to Oban and Kirkintilloch

with an introductory note (and two epilogues)

 

To begin at the end. In February, 2015, I received an email from Catherine Bull saying that she owned Soroba Lodge, Buchanan’s ‘White House on the Hill’, and she then sent me this photograph:

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Catherine said that her house “is much further up the hill to where the farm cottage is and the hotel at the bottom” and the photo was taken “from the bottom of the hill, it can only be seen in winter when the trees are bare”. She added “if you had continued up past the b&b you may have seen a track with gates, this track runs approx. a mile up the hill to the lodge”.

So, the following account of my attempt to find Buchanan’s house in Oban is rather redundant. I didn’t find it and made assumptions based on an old map and a census return which were totally wrong. The fact that I failed to see the Lodge I blame on the trees.

I could have just deleted this page, or edited the account to hide my embarrassment, but then I’d lose some nice photos of Oban and, besides, it does serve as a warning, to myself as well as others, that the search for Buchanan is beset with obstacles and false trails. One should never succumb to the temptation to speculate. So, here it is, ‘What I did on my holidays. A trip to Oban and Kirkintilloch’ - my apologies to anyone who read it before I added this bit and on the strength of my ‘discovery’ made a pilgrimage to the Soroba Farm Cottage to pay obeisance to the shade of Buchanan - I jest. And, of course, many thanks to Catherine for setting me straight.

_____

 

What I did on my holidays. A Trip to Oban and Kirkintilloch

 

     In September, 2013, I took a trip to Scotland and spent a day in Oban looking for Robert Buchanan’s house. A few years ago I had done a little research via google and was convinced I’d found it, at least there was a Soroba House Hotel, with a website that mentioned Robert Buchanan living there - or at least that was how it stuck in my mind, and besides, how many white houses called Soroba were there in Oban? And if it wasn’t Buchanan’s house then, being a hotel, someone should know about the history of the area. So, a week before we set off (it was a family holiday and I’d only been allowed one day to do ‘Buchanan stuff’), I put ‘Soroba House Hotel’ in google to get the postcode for the satnav, only to find that it had closed down. The website had disappeared and I began to wonder whether it had said Buchanan had lived in that particular house, or whether it just meant he’d lived in the area. I emailed the Lorn Archaeological and Historical Society, and the Secretary, Joan Kemp, suggested I try the old maps of the area on the National Library of Scotland’s site. I found this one from 1927:

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Buchanan’s letters from Oban have three addresses, usually it’s just ‘Soroba’, but he also uses ‘Soroba Lodge’ and ‘Soroba Cottage’. According to the 1871 census, Buchanan’s family was living in ‘Sorobaw Cottage’. To get a clearer picture of the various Soroba properties at the time, I also acquired the census pages either side of the one which lists Buchanan:

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[Soroba crofts]                                              [Soroba Cottage]                                               [Soroba House]

Judging by the map (which admittedly is from 1927, so things could have changed in sixty years) I reckoned Buchanan lived in ‘Soroba Cottage’, which lies behind and above ‘Soroba House’.

     So, off we go to Oban (which I thought was a very pleasant little seaside town, but the wife disagreed) and then on to Soroba. We drive up to the closed ‘Soroba House Hotel’ and I have a look around.

SorobaHouseHotel02

There’s a hill behind it, but no discernible way up, apart from going through somebody’s back garden, but there’s nobody at home. So, back into the car and we drive on a bit and find one of those roads which look like they might be private. I leave the car and walk up. The first house is new, but I knock on the door - nobody home. Walk on a bit and come to this:

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And further up the road I finally find this:

Sorobacottage

Now, hand on heart, I cannot be sure that this is where Buchanan lived. It is called Soroba [Farm] Cottage, it’s in the same place as the Soroba Cottage on the 1927 map, it is high on a hill, overlooking Oban (which you can’t see because the trees have grown), and it is painted white. Which all fit the descriptions of Harriett Jay’s ‘White House on the Hill’. It also looked to me (not an architect), ignoring the obvious renovations, as though it could have originally been built in the 19th Century. I did knock on the door (nobody in) and wandered round the back in case I could see any evidence of the 1870s. Then I panicked and wondered if Oban had got CCTV cameras and whether the police were on the way to investigate this suspicious character who was checking out all of these empty houses, looking through windows and wandering round their back gardens. So, I took a couple of photos of the views.

Down to Oban (with trees):

obanviewfromcottage

And up beyond:

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Then walked (rather quickly) back to the car and the waiting wife. We then went back to Oban ...

obanharbour

... and wandered round a bit before driving back to where we were staying in Stirling. I have to say there was no evidence in Oban of Robert Buchanan, which was as expected. I did make enquiries at the Tourist Office (silly foo’ me) and they suggested I try Waterstones. However, as we sat on a bench, watching the big ferry set off for the Western Isles, I did spot this boat in the harbour, which, given Buchanan’s The Outcast and his unproduced play, seemed a nice coincidence.

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The holiday over, we set off from Stirling on the way back to Stoke, but made a slight detour to the Auld Aisle Cemetery at Kirkintilloch, where David Gray is buried. The cemetery itself is easy enough to find, it’s a vast place and I was a bit worried that the grave would be too hard to find. However, I then spotted the old part of the cemetery, which is separated from the rest. I have to admit though that I missed the monument to Gray and wandered round the whole place, which is a bit overgrown, with several collapsed tombs - wouldn’t want to go there at night. Luckily my son,  Chris, was with me, and after I’d given up and was on the way out, he spotted it, near the entrance. We must have walked straight past it.

 

The Auld Aisle Cemetery at Kirkintilloch

The entrance:

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Scary:

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The grave of David Gray:
[click pictures for larger versions]

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The inscription, written by Lord Houghton:

THIS MONUMENT OF
AFFECTION ADMIRATION AND REGRET
IS ERECTED TO

DAVID GRAY

THE POET OF MERKLAND
BY FRIENDS FROM FAR AND NEAR
DESIROUS THAT
HIS GRAVE SHOULD BE REMEMBERED
AMID THE SCENES
OF HIS RARE GENIUS
AND EARLY DEATH.
AND BY THE ‘LUGGIE’
NOW NUMBERED WITH THE STREAMS
ILLUSTRIOUS IN SCOTTISH SONG.

BORN, 29TH JANUARY, 1838;
DIED, 3RD DECEMBER, 1861.

Graysgrave4sm

The plaque was, presumably, once attached to the monument. Now it just leans against it. The inscription reads:

DAVID GRAY - THE POET OF MERKLAND - 1837-1861

ERECTED BY THE TOWN COUNCIL OF THE
BURGH OF KIRKINTILLOCH
IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE POET’S DEATH

HIS EPITAPH

BELOW LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS TRACED IN SAND
HE DIED, NOT KNOWING WHAT IT WAS TO LIVE
DIED, WHILE THE FIRST SWEET CONSCIOUSNESS OF MANHOOD
AND MAIDEN THOUGHT ELECTRIFIED HIS SOUL.
FAINT BEATINGS IN THE CALYX OF THE ROSE.
BEWILDERED READER, PASS WITHOUT A SIGH
IN A PROUD SORROW! THERE IS LIFE WITH GOD,
IN OTHER KINGDOM OF A SWEETER AIR,
IN EDEN EVERY FLOWER IS BLOWN. AMEN.

 

Behind the grave:

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I also came across this video of David Gray’s grave on youtube. I didn’t think of doing one myself, seeing as how it doesn’t move about much.

Soroba Lodge (again)

In January 2016 I received another email from Catherine Bull to which were attached the following pages from An Old Oban Pictorial by Mrs. Agnes D. Black.

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Catherine did point out that the additional artwork on the picture above was provided by her husband, when he was a lad (click the picture for a larger image).

Aside from the drawing of Soroba Lodge, the most interesting revelation in these pages is the bit about Marie Corelli. I had no idea that the two authors shared a connection to Soroba Lodge. It is not mentioned in the three letters from Buchanan to Corelli which have survived in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and it does not turn up in the following passage from Buchanan’s 1896 pamphlet, Is Barabbas a Necessity?

     ‘At the moment of issuing THE DEVIL’S CASE (which has been in type, by the way, for many months), I see that Miss Marie Corelli has written and published a new story called The Sorrows of Satan. Miss Corelli, using a very wise discretion, does not present her book to the Critics, but I have read one review of the work, and more recently the work itself, from which it appears that the Devil of a maiden imagination, so far from resembling the true and only Devil whom I interviewed on Hampstead Heath, is merely the sentimental yet wicked Lucifer so dear to Laura Matilda. He is, in short, the blasé, evening-party-haunting, and wholly superfine young ladies’ Devil of Lord Byron, Bulwer Lytton, and Satan-Montgomery, and has nothing in common with the great Original. I might have known, of course, that the author of Barabbas, who was content to swallow the whole camel of Christian thaumaturgy at one gulp, and who had pictured to us as genteel a Jesus as ever had “marble limbs” and Apollo-like proportions, would never write anything to give offence in the upper circles of society and religion; but when I saw the title of .her book I was a little afraid that I had been forestalled, and that the real Satan, forgetful of his pledge to me, had been powwowing at Earl’s Court with Miss Corelli, Mr. Gladstone, and the Prince of Wales.
     Now, I like Miss Corelli. Whatever the authorised Critics may say of her, she has won her public—a very large one—by sheer energy of pluck and talent. I have taken Tea with her, and I have it in her own pretty handwriting that I am a Great Poet, that she sits (metaphorically) at my feet, and that she has drunk rapture and inspiration from my masterpieces of song. I was a little surprised, therefore, when she went out of her way, about a year ago, to call me “a Scottish Playwright,” and to say that “there would be something inexpressibly funny in a Robert Buchanan pronouncing doom on the Christ, if it were not so revolting.” This, alas! after all the Tea, all the missives on pink-tinted paper, and all the adoration! But I fancy that the angry little lady conceived, for some reason or other, that I was one of her adverse critics, and that I had inspired my friends to treat her writings cavalierly. She actually believed, I fear, that I, the very Ishmael of Authors, who never had a Log rolled for me in my life, had been in league against her with the Nonconformist Conscience and the Daily Chronicle! Hence the sudden and startling “’Tilda, I hate you!” from Fanny to her dearest friend.
     Now, in saying that I “pronounce doom on the Christ,” Miss Corelli is guilty of the very injustice which she resents, very rightly, in the organs of criticism. She has not read my WANDERING JEW, or, if she has read it, she has failed to understand it—I may say, indeed, that she has not even tried to understand it, for, whatever else she may lack, she certainly does not lack intelligence. Let me add now, that I am in full sympathy with her in her revolt against the inexpressible indolent Reviewer of the period, and that I resent, almost as indignantly as herself, the imbecile abuse with  which anonymous impudence and envy assail every kind of talent and individuality, when it appears. Miss Corelli is both talented and individual, and is trying with all her might, and in spite of all that scribblers may say of her, to express herself seriously in literature. I contend, therefore, that unknown writers on newspapers have no right to drive her mad with insults only worthy of Gavroche or Bailey Junior. It is a favourite expression with Miss Corelli to say, when she reads an adverse and insulting review, that it is “inexpressibly funny.” If she finds it so, it might be better to treat it with silent indifference, but I prefer to think that she, like the rest of us, finds it irritating and painful. We all like praise; personally I love nothing better than rapturous admiration—such as Miss Corelli gave me a year or two ago.’

_____

 

Soroba Lodge (and again)

 

In 2016 Soroba Lodge was put on the market, and details are available on the Zoopla site. Although there are several photos of the interior, it seems a little intrusive to add them here, so here’s the exterior and the view of Oban from Soroba Lodge.

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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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