ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 12
A Child's Song of the Season.
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN.
WHERE Cinderella stitches,
Her sisters?—they are creatures
Oh she has seen them passing,
“This, and this only, would quite content me,
“I would not speak, I would keep from view,
“But oh to see them moving and flitting
“Little Jesus with golden hair,
O’er Cinderella’s pallet small,
Some might deem it a poor device,
All night long, as she slept, above her
“To-night the queen of the fairy land
“Little Jesus with golden hair,
O’er Cinderella’s bosom,
The door flew open slowly
The sun was shining. Before the door
And Cinderella, unseen by them,
“These are thy sisters, and theirs!” her Guide,
She stood amid them, and felt their breath
In flashing slippers and luminous dresses,
But Cinderella’s heart grew bright.
“These are thy sisters!” said the Child.
Then Cinderella became aware,
Mammon was there with his yellow skin,
Belial, swollen with lust and pride,
Cinderella hath hidden her face:
Then spake the Child, and on His hair
Poor Cinderella started,
‘Cinderella: a Child’s Song of the Season’ was published in Good Words, November, 1876.
(Zululand, January 2, 1879.)
IN the wilds of Isandúla, far away,
Then our soldiers look in one another’s eyes, . . .
So an English cheer arises wild and shrill,
Soon upon them in their living thousands fell
’Tis to struggle with the avalanche’s force!
Back to back, all sides surrounded, slowly led,
But ’tis only for an instant they refrain,
Still as stone, our soldiers face the savage crew—
And as fast as one form falls, another springs—
“Save the colours!” shrieks a dying voice, and lo!
“Save the colours!” and amidst a flood of foes,
“Save the colours!”—They are saved—and side by side
Bless the Lord, who in the hollow of His hand,
* Lieut. Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill (24th Regt.), Lieut. Teignmouth Melvill (24th Regt.), both killed while escaping with the colours, Jan. 22, 1879.
‘The Battle of Isandúla’ was published in the Contemporary Review (April, 1879 - p.153-156). The Guardian (4 April, 1879 - p.6) described it as follows:
‘The Contemporary Review contains a poem on “Isandula” by Mr. Robert Buchanan. Its versification is spirited, but it cannot be said to be on the whole successful. In particular, there is an obvious jar in speaking of the Zulus as “devils,” “tigers,” &c. This is not the way in which brave men or the bards who worthily sing brave men’s deeds speak of opponents in fair fight.’
The poem is particularly interesting given Buchanan’s regular anti-war and anti-Empire stance - one presumes that was the reason it was not included in The Poetical Works of 1884. The battle of Isandula (or Isandlwana - best pronounced with a Welsh accent and the mellifluous tones of Richard Burton as in the prologue to the 1964 film, Zulu) took place on 22nd. January 1879 (the date is misprinted in the subtitle but corrected in the footnote) and, according to Wikipedia, it remains “the greatest British military defeat at the hands of native forces in history.”
(I’d like to thank Phil Johnson of Keele University Library for originally taking the time to find, scan and send me a copy of the poem.)
(Respectfully inscribed to PROFESSOR SANDERSON, of Cambridge.)
ONCE on a time—ah, why not say,
The elder was a reverend creature,
‘Sad news, dear Plato, on my word!
Plato smiled sadly, blink’d his eyes,
‘You grant, that wise research is needed?
‘Sometimes you’ve eyed with wonder, maybe,
Puck started up, as if to run,
‘Ah, Puck,’ replied the gentle sage,
He ceased; the other blankly gazed
1 As remotely bearing on the humanitarian question involved in the topic of vivisection, may be recorded the fact that Mr. Labouchere’s notice of a bill to class Bears as domestic animals, and so save them from brutal torture, was greeted with ‘laughter’ by the House of Commons. I have been so often at issue with Mr. Labouchere that I should like on this occasion to do homage to his courage,—a courage all the more noble that it overcame the possessor’s own characteristic dread of ridicule. The senior member for Northampton is likely to be remembered, not as a society journalist, but as a politician of the most unselfish kind.
‘A Canine Suggestion’ was published in Belgravia (April, 1884 - p.163-167). The letter which accompanied its submission is available here.
Alone! alone in London!
Then nightly, over London,
At last, alone in London,
Alone! alone in London!
‘Alone in London’ appears on the first page of The Olympic Programme and Looker-On (7 November, 1885) - Saturday’s programme of the first week of the London production of Alone in London, the play by Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay. The poem is unsigned but one assumes it is by Buchanan.
I first came across the following two poems in an article about the Maybrick Murder Case in The San Francisco Call of November 21st, 1897. James Maybrick died at his home in Liverpool on May 11th, 1889 and his wife, Florence (an American) was subsequently arrested for his murder, tried and sentenced to death by Justice James Fitzjames Stephen. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and the case continued to attract publicity on both sides of the Atlantic until Mrs. Maybrick’s eventual release in 1904. The public defence of Mrs. Maybrick, according to the article in The San Francisco Call, was championed by the London edition of the New York Herald:
“Editorial invective was not deemed sufficiently forceful for the occasion, so Robert Buchanan was called upon to contribute an appropriate auxiliary, to be limited only by the bounds of poetic license, with the following result. ... Buchanan’s wrathful satire, copied in extracts throughout Great Britain, touched the Christian sentiments of the people, while the exposures resolutely made by the Herald from day to day, in defiance of all threats of prosecution for libel and contempt, made a profound impression on the Liberal Ministry, and particularly on Home Secretary Matthews.”
The first poem also appeared in The Echo on the same day as its publication in the London edition of the New York Herald: 16th August, 1889. This differs slightly from the version reprinted in The San Francisco Call in 1897 (Justice Stephen is not mentioned by name), so I have included both versions below. This first poem was never published in book form, but the second poem from The San Francisco Call, ‘The Ballad of Resurrection’ (which was also first published in 1889) was reworked by Buchanan and included in The New Rome in 1898 under the title ‘The Jew Passes’. This later version includes references to Buchanan’s The Wandering Jew, with Christ still forced to wander the earth, this time until the abolition of capital punishment.
The Echo (16 August, 1889 - p.2)
THE GOOD JUDGE’S SOLILOQUY.
The following appears in the New York Herald to-day:—
Grave in his place, black cap upon his head,
That evening o’er the walnuts and the wine,
“How sweet it is,” he mused, “to sit on high,
“‘May God have mercy on your Soul,’ Yes! These
“I, who am God’s Judge in a Christian land,
“Judge? And a good Judge, too, my critics swear!
“And yet, Morality (which in its youth
“I think (and here he smiled and filled his glass)
“Books (moral books), newspapers (moral, too),
“To thrive, and to be moral! To succeed,
“That creature whom I judged?—Humph!—How I prest
“I hold Adultery (which I’m afraid,
“And so they doom’d her, an Adulteress!
“‘May God have mercy?’ I, at least, I trust,
“Judge in a land whose need I hold in scorn,
“I, who am Atheist in a Christian land,
“Let an Adultress die! They waste their breath
The San Francisco Call (21 November, 1897)
By ROBERT BUCHANAN.
Grave in his place, black cap on his head,
That evening o’er the walnuts and the wine,
“How meet it is,” he mused, “to sit on high,
“‘May God have mercy on your soul,’ Yes:
“I, Stephen, God’s judge in a Christian land,
“Judge? And a good judge, too, my critics swear,
“And yet Morality (which in its youth
“I think,” and here he smiled and filled his glass,
“Books (moral books), newspapers (moral too),
“To thrive, and to be moral. To succeed,
“That woman whom I judged? Humph! how I prest
“I hold adultery (which I’m afraid
“And so they doom’d her, the adulteress—
“‘May God have mercy?’ I at least, I trust,
“Judge in a land whose need I hold in scorn,
I, Stephen, atheist in a Christian land,
“Let the adultress die: They waste their breath
(Inscribed to Mr. Justice Stephen.)
Christ awoke on his bed
Christ arose from his bed,
“Eighteen hundred years
“Surely now at last
He lit his lamp and arose
Christ stood fair and bright
Slowly along the dark
He came to a City great,
Passing the empty mart,
Dark at the temple door
And an altar light burnt there,
“And the only God we know
“Strong as when time began,
And lo! from earth and sea,
Christ went with shining feet,
“How long, O Lord, how long,”
“Reach down thy hand,” it moaned,
Still and unseen crept he
High as the Cross it stood,
“Rabbi!”—again that cry
“Reach down thy hand,” it moaned,
“The lie, the blight, and the ban
“Master, master,” she said,
And all his soul was stirred,
And the heavens grew black as night,
He walked upon the sea,
Beneath his cross he stood,
Christ crept back to his bed,
‘The Good Judge’s Soliloquy’ did engender some comment in other newspapers:
The Nottingham Evening Post (17 August, 1889 - p.2)
Mr. Robt. Buchanan’s latest bêtise “The Good Judge’s Soliloquy,” is certainly the worst of the many departures from good taste which the Maybrick incident has afforded. He represents “the good judge”—and there can be no doubt at whom the jibe is directed—as weighing the situation “o’er the walnuts and the wine,” “with a smile serene and superfine,” and musing thus—
How sweet it is . . . to sit on high,
“May God have mercy on your soul!” Yes, these
It is difficult to imagine a more gratuitous and shameful libel than this. A good many persons, some from political partisanship, and some from unreasoning sentimentalism, have impugned the impartiality of Mr. Justice Stephens during the Maybrick trial, but it has been left for Mr. Robert Buchanan to insinuate that he “made those twelve good jurors acquiesce,” sentenced the prisoner with his tongue in his cheek at the awful words, “May God have mercy on your soul,” and, finally, “smiling at the merry dance of death,” “shrugged his shoulders and enjoyed his dinner.” We do not think it will be worth the judge’s while to take any notice of this mean and outrageous attack upon his honour, but if Mr. Buchanan does not suffer in person he will assuredly lose the last shreds of any reputation he has hitherto enjoyed.
The Lancashire Evening Post (17 August, 1889 - p.2)
The New York Herald publishes a poem by Mr. Robert Buchanan, suggested by the Maybrick case. It opens with an attack on Mr. Justice Stephen which is certainly unwarrantable. Mr. Buchanan sneers at the judge as an atheist, and makes him, in a soliloquy, mock the faith which prompted the words, “May God have mercy on your soul.” Unfortunately Mr. Buchanan is nothing if not extravagant. In the second part of the poem, Christ wakes to walk abroad on the earth, and finds a woman condemned to the gallows for adultery, who cries to him for help.
Christ crept back to his bed,
If the whole conception of this were imaginative, it would be a very powerful piece of writing, but its source of inspiration in a case which Mr. Buchanan judges, in his own peculiar fashion, really ruins the effect of literary skill.
Star of the East (19 August, 1889 - p.2)
Journalistic enterprise often overdoes a thing. The Maybrick case provides an admirable example. The London evening papers have been veritable pickers-up of unconsidered trifles in this matter, every morsel of intelligence has been eagerly printed, and a fairly faithful photograph of public opinion has been presented to the world. But is it not going a little too far when a newspaper begins to analyse the constitution of a jury, and enumerates the trades and occupations of the jurymen, and other facts private and otherwise, with a view to eliciting whether there was the smallest probability of their being prejudiced against the woman condemned by their verdict. The New York Herald must be blamed for this solecism against journalistic good taste and manners, and also for publishing as it did the other day some scurrilous verses from the pen of Robert Buchanan with reference to the case of Mrs. Maybrick.
The same journal seems to think that Mr. Matthews is in a position somewhat similar to that of Buridan’s ass. Many dilemmas, it says, surround Mr. Matthews. If Mrs. Maybrick is guilty she must be punished, if the “law is no respector of persons.” If she is not guilty, or if the question is clouded by a reasonable doubt, she ought to be pardoned. If he executes her a large number of Englishmen will execrate him. If he commutes to imprisonment for life, people will ask why; and, does he substantially abolish capital punishment? If he pardons, he will be charged with countenancing “trial by mob.” If he upheld the sentence the Radicals will call him bloodthirsty; and his own party may in some measure declare that he brings the Conservatives into unpopularity.
The Nottingham Evening Post (20 August, 1889 - p.2)
The extraordinary step adopted in regard to the Maybrick case by the latest recruit to London daily journalism has aroused general and righteous indignation. It was the journal in question which gave publication to Mr. Robert Buchanan’s outrageous attack upon Judge Stephens last week, and yesterday it gave the names of all the jurymen, with their trades and addresses, and short biographical sketches, bristling with that sort of unsavoury gossip that the reporter would be able to pick up from the men’s neighbours or in the nearest bar. It is quite possible that one or two libel actions may repent the proprietor of the paper in question of his temerity, and serve as a warning to other journalists whose enterprise is too prone to overleap the bounds of good taste and discretion; but at any rate it is to be hoped that public opinion will be expressed very decidedly against this latest development of the New Journalism. It is bad enough that Ministers charged with the dreadful responsibility of life or death should be subjected to rancorous imputations by partisan journalists; that judges, who have nobly upheld the high and honourable traditions of the English bench, should have their impartiality impugned by thoughtless men and women who do not trouble to make themselves acquainted with all the facts of the case; but when it comes down to striking at the jurymen, there is a very real danger ahead. It has been said that the whole purpose of the Constitution is to get twelve men into a jury-box, but if the methods of the New Journalism are to succeed men will shun that box as they do a plague-house. Hitherto a wholesome and a necessary anonymity has surrounded it. Its occupants are usually men of no note, whose opinions or characteristics are unknown to either side; they arrive at their verdict without fear or favour; and when it is given they return to the obscurity from whence they came. Once you upset all this you strike at the root of the jury system. Contrast, for instance, our own experience with the States. Here with the anonymity that surrounds the jury-box, challenges are practically unknown; but in the States, where the interviewer has full play, there is not a trial of any importance where hours and even day are not wasted in getting a jury together. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the general outcry which has been evoked by this latest scandal of journalism will warn the proprietor of the paper in question that there are some limitations of enterprise which must be observed.
On 22nd August, 1889, the death sentence on Florence Maybrick was commuted to life imprisonment. On the following day The Coventry Herald published a long article (available here) which included this passage relating to Buchanan’s poems.
“. . . Still more censurable have been the comments made on the conduct of the Judge. An extreme example of these has been seen in a copy of verses written by a poet and play-writer, who, though he has always been known as a person given to violent language and extravagant opinions, has in this case given vent to opinions and language which are a disgrace even to him. Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN has employed the keen edge of verse to assail Mr. Justice STEPHEN with intent to murder his reputation. He has represented him as a cynic and atheist gloating over the fate of the prisoner, as saying to himself that “hanging culprits” gives variety to life and as congratulating himself on having pressed the issue home “unmoved by weak compassion.” A multitude of people who have not the excuse of being poets and do not appear to be altogether lunatics have also, though in more moderate language, charged the Judge with pressing the case against the prisoner. There is no ground for any of the accusations against Judge or jury; there is every reason to believe that both acted throughout with the utmost care and conscientiousness, and there is certainly no reason to believe that either Judge or jury was not deeply affected by the solemnity of the duty entrusted to them, and moved also by the ordinary human feelings that the situation of the miserable woman naturally evoked.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on 6th October, 1892. Buchanan’s poetic tribute was published in The Daily Telegraph on 8th October. The poem was also reprinted in various newspapers at the time, but was not included in either The New Rome or the 1901 Complete Poetical Works.
The Daily Telegraph (8 October, 1892 - p.5)
’Tis o’er! He leaves the lonely road
The only one of all our knights
His path was not where factions cry,
Calm were the ways his white steed trod,
He drew aside from friends and foes
’Twas something—nay, ’twas much!—when Life
Far off it seemed! too pure, too sweet,
And if we sighed to think he sought
When all the beauteous gods were dead
When all the white Immortal throng
The voice is dumb! the song is o’er!
And we, the remnant which remain
Into the glooms of God he goes,
Nay, for despite his life-long quest,
He who, like him, is stainless, learns
Peace to the Knight who kept his vow,
Oct. 6, 1892. ROBERT BUCHANAN.
The Dover Express (14 October, 1892 - p.2)
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN in a telegraphic message expressed the deep concern she felt on account of the death of the Poet Laureate, for whom she entertained sincere regard and deep admiration. The finest poetical tribute to the genius of Alfred Tennyson just made public has come from the pen of Robert Buchanan, who seemed to draw inspiration from the subject of his elegiac strain. In calling the author of the “Idylls of the King” the “Sir Galahad of Song,” he used a happy form of phrase pretty certain to be often repeated. Among foreign newspapers the Paris Temps must be credited with having contained the best and completest article on the departed poet. So far as the paper mentioned is concerned Paris had an advantage over New York.
Alfred Austin was appointed Poet Laureate on 1st January, 1896. His first published work in the post (although not sanctioned by the Government) was a poem in praise of the Jameson Raid - according to wikipedia, “a botched raid on Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic carried out by British colonial statesman Leander Starr Jameson and his Company mercenaries (“police” in the employ of Belt and Rhodes’ British South Africa company) and Bechuanaland policemen over the New Year weekend of 1895-96. It was intended to trigger an uprising by the primarily British expatriate workers in the Transvaal but failed to do so. ... The raid was ineffective and no uprising took place, but it was an inciting factor in the Second Boer War and the Second Matabele War.” Austin’s poem, ‘Jameson’s Ride’, appeared in The Times on 11th January, 1896. Buchanan’s response was published in The Star, but I have not found the original, only the following extract. The poem was not reprinted in The New Rome or the 1901 Complete Poetical Works.
Edinburgh Evening News (15 February, 1896 - p.4)
A NEW VERSION OF “JAMESON’S RIDE.”
Mr Robert Buchanan in the “Star,” under the heading of “A Rhyme for the Time,” gives the following, among other verses:
There was a little Dutchman, and he had a little gun,
But to the little Dutchman came flying through the air
“For there the great god Jingo has built his proud abodes,
“Beware! lest in the nighttime you find yourself undone!”
By nighttime rode the robbers the Dutchman’s land to raid,
But round the little Dutchman there rose an armed flock,
They whipt the Jingo raiders, and they threw them into quod,
Cried loudly, as the tempest gather’d over land and sea,
The little Dutchman answer’d, with a chuckle and a nod,
“Your Bibles and your Charters and your bullion I despise:
“I’ll put my mark upon you, for the eyes of men to see!”
It hurt him very little, but it left him, after all,
The following poem was published under this title as the concluding piece in Archibald Stodart-Walker’s anthology, A Beggar’s Wallet, published in November, 1905 on behalf of Edinburgh’s Royal Victoria Hospital for Consumption. The book was intended to be sold at the “Great International Fair to be held in the Waverley Market, in the month of November, 1905”. Stodart-Walker reprinted the poem in the third part of his series of articles, ‘Some Celebrities I Have Known’, in Chambers’s Journal of 13th February, 1909. A Beggar’s Wallet is available at the Internet Archive.
THE LIFE SONG OF BUCHANAN.
AN UNPUBLISHED FRAGMENT LEFT BY THE LATE
“LORD, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!”
“Lord, I believe, and yet, O Lord, how chill
“The dumb and wistful yearning and desire
“And lo! instead of gladsome faëry gold,
[By kind permsission of Miss Harriet Jay].
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