ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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PLAYS

 

John Cassidy in Robert W. Buchanan (Twayne Publishers Inc., 1973) felt that “at least three of his plays—Sophia, Joseph’s Sweetheart, and Dick Sheridan—deserve printing and perhaps staging” but I doubt that will ever happen. As with his novels, it is assumed that Buchanan wrote his plays purely to make money and, to a large extent, that is undoubtedly the case. However, reading Harriett Jay’s biography, it is clear that the theatre was in Buchanan’s blood from a fairly early age. In Chapter IV there is an extract from Buchanan’s autobiography where he waxes lyrical about his teenage fascination with the plays and players at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. In Chapter VIII Harriett Jay describes his first attempts at writing for the theatre, The Witch-finder and The Rathboys (in one performance of which Buchanan himself played the part of the hero, Shadrack the Shingawn). Then in Chapter XXIV: Play-writing Harriett Jay deals with Buchanan’s later theatrical successes and the inevitable failure. Despite all the money he made from the theatre, in 1894 he was declared bankrupt. As he said to Henry Murray (the co-writer of A Society Butterfly, the play which ruined him):

“We are all gamblers. Man is a gambler by nature and predestination, and life itself is a gamble. The tradesman, the City man, the professional man, the artist, are gamblers alike, and the artist is the biggest of all, for he stakes his brains against the public stupidity, and the odds are heavily against him.”

Harriett Jay closes her chapter on Buchanan’s theatrical adventure with the following:

“Looking back upon that experience, I think now that the man whom I then regarded as his bitterest enemy, since he brought about his financial disaster, was in reality a friend in disguise. For several years he had been living in a fool’s paradise, veritably gambling away the best hours of his life. What part had he, who from first to last was a Poet with the deep poetic heart, among the worldlings of finance? All his thoughts and dreams were of higher and nobler things, and au fond all his daily prayer was to escape again into solitude and to be alone with his first love. It was only half a heart he could give to money getting. He awoke from his folly disillusioned, wretched, dispirited, but the punishment he had received was really given to him in mercy, for from that time forth he saw both himself and the world with very different eyes.”

Further insight into Buchanan’s working practices as a playwright is given in the autobiographies of two of his collaborators, G. R. Sims and Henry Murray; the latter providing a great deal of information about the disastrous A Society Butterfly. Following his bankruptcy Buchanan (and Jay) continued to produce plays, including the very successful comedy, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown. A final, ironic twist in the career of Buchanan ‘the writer of plays’, is Good Old Times. He wrote this with Harriett Jay but it was not produced until five years after his death, by which time the title had been changed to When Knights Were Bold and the sole writing credit belonged to ‘Charles Marlowe’ (Jay’s pseudonym). It went on to become one of the most popular plays of the early twentieth century, playing in London as a Christmas entertainment until the eve of the Second World War.

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1. Theatre Reviews

Information about Robert Buchanan’s 53 plays in chronological order, from The Rathboys in 1862 to When Knights Were Bold in 1906. (Individual plays are also accessible from the Play List below.)

 

2. Short Plays

Three one-act curtain-raisers written by Buchanan.

 

3. Other Plays

Information about some other plays by Buchanan which did not make it to the stage.

 

4. Buchanan’s Theatrical Ventures in America 1884-1885

Material relating to the year Buchanan and Jay spent in America.

 

5. Poetry Readings

Reviews of the Buchanan’s short career as a performer of his own poetry, plus material on other performances of his poems, including ‘Fra Giacomo’, which ‘toured the halls’ as a one-act play.

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The Plays:

i. Full Length Plays, produced:

The Rathboys. (An adaptation of Michael Banim’s Crohoore of the Billhook. In collaboration with Charles Gibbon.) 1862. [reviews]

The Witchfinder. 1864. [reviews]

A Madcap Prince. 1874. [reviews]

Corinne. 1876. [available at the Internet Archive] [reviews]

The Queen of Connaught. (An adaptation of Harriett Jay’s novel, written in collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1877. [reviews]

The Nine Days’ Queen. 1880. [reviews]

The Mormons: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives (Original title: The Exiles of Erin: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives. Partly based on Buchanan’s poem.) 1881. [reviews]

The Shadow of the Sword. (An adaptation of Buchanan’s novel.) 1881. [reviews]

Lucy Brandon. (An adaptation of Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford.) 1882. [reviews]

Storm-Beaten. (An adaptation of Buchanan’s novel, God and the Man.) 1883. [reviews]

Lady Clare. (An adaptation of Georges Ohnet’s Le Maître de Forges.) 1883. [reviews]

A Sailor and his Lass. (In collaboration with Augustus Harris.) 1883. [reviews]

Bachelors. (In collaboration with Hermann Vezin, adapted from a German play by Julius Roderich Benedix.) 1884. [reviews]

Constance. 1884. [reviews]

Lottie. (An adaptation of Harriett Jay’s novel, Through the Stage Door. Presumably written in collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1884. [reviews]

Agnes. (An adaptation of Molière’s L’École des Femmes.) 1885. [reviews]

Alone in London, or, A woman against the world. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1885. [reviews]

Sophia. (An adaptation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.) 1886. [reviews]

Fascination, or, The way we live. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1887. [reviews]

The Blue Bells of Scotland. (An adaptation of Buchanan’s novel, A Child of Nature.) 1887. [reviews]

Partners. (An adaptation of Daudet’s Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé.) 1888. [reviews]

Joseph’s Sweetheart. (An adaptation of Fielding’s Joseph Andrews.) 1888. [reviews]

That Doctor Cupid. 1889. [reviews]

Angelina! (An adaptation of Alexandre Bisson’s Une Mission Délicate.) 1889. [reviews]

The Old Home. 1889. [reviews]

A Man’s Shadow. (An adaptation of Jules Mary’s Roger-la-Honte.) 1889. [reviews]

Theodora. (An adaptation of Victorien Sardou’s Théodora.) 1889. [reviews]

Man and the Woman. 1889. [reviews]

Clarissa. (An adaptation of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa Harlowe.) 1890. [reviews]

Miss Tomboy. (An adaptation of Vanbrugh’s The Relapse.) 1890. [reviews]

The Bride of Love. 1890. [reviews]

Sweet Nancy. (An adaptation of Rhoda Broughton’s Nancy.) 1890. [reviews]

The English Rose. (In collaboration with G. R. Sims.) 1890. [reviews]

The Struggle for Life. (An adaptation of Alphonse Daudet’s La Lutte pour la Vie. In collaboration with Frederick Horner.) 1890. [reviews]

The Sixth Commandment. (An adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.) 1890. [reviews]

Marmion. (An adaptation of the poem by Sir Walter Scott.)1891. [reviews]

The Gifted Lady. 1891. [reviews]

The Trumpet Call. (In collaboration with G. R. Sims.) 1891. [reviews]

Squire Kate. (An adaptation of La Fermière by Armand d'Artois and Henri Pagat, and Buchanan’s novel, Come Live with Me and Be My Love.) 1892. [reviews]

The White Rose. (An adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's Woodstock. In collaboration with G. R. Sims.) 1892. [reviews]

The Lights of Home. (In collaboration with G. R. Sims.) 1892. [reviews]

The Black Domino. (In collaboration with G. R. Sims.) 1893. [reviews]

The Piper of Hamelin: a fantastic Opera in two acts. 1893. Music by F. W. Allwood. [available at the Internet Archive] [reviews]

The Charlatan. 1894. [reviews]

Dick Sheridan. 1894. [reviews]

A Society Butterfly. (In collaboration with Henry Murray.) 1894. [reviews]

Lady Gladys. 1894. [reviews]

The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown. (Written in collaboration with Charles Marlowe - pseudonym of Harriett Jay. This play was later adapted into the musical comedy, Tulip Time, by Worton David, Alfred Parker and Bruce Sievier.) 1895. [available at the Internet Archive] [reviews]

The Romance of the Shopwalker. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1896. [reviews]

The Wanderer from Venus. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1896. [reviews]

The Mariners of England. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1897. [reviews]

Two Little Maids from School. (An adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr. In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1898. [reviews]

When Knights Were Bold. (Original title: Good Old Times. In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1906. [reviews]

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ii. Short Plays, produced:

Only A Vagabond. 1880. [A short play, loosely based on Buchanan’s poem, ‘Attorney Sneak’, which was presented as an opener for The Nine Days’ Queen and Lady Clare.] [reviews]

A Dark Night’s Bridal. 1887. [A one act play, based on a prose sketch by Robert Louis Stevenson, presented as an opener for Sophia.] [reviews]

The Night Watch. (A one act drama produced posthumously (April, 1902) at a benefit for the Buchanan Memorial Fund.) [review]

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iii. Other Plays, unproduced:

The Flying Dutchman. 1878. [more information]

A Hero In Spite Of Himself. 1884. [more information]

The Squireen. (Written in collaboration with Aubrey Boucicault.) 1891. [more information]

The New Don Quixote. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1895. [more information]

The Heavenly Twins. (An adaptation of Sarah Grand’s novel The Heavenly Twins, written in collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1896. [more information]

The Maiden Queen. 1896. (A comic opera in two acts. In collaboration with Harriett Jay. Music by Florian Pascal. Copyright performance at Ladbroke Hall, 6th April, 1905.) [more information]

The Diamond Necklace. (In collaboration with Harriett Jay.) 1900. [more information]

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iv. Plays produced, but not written by Buchanan:

The Flowers of the Forest. (By J. B. Buckstone.) 1883. [reviews]

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Further information about performances of Buchanan’s plays at London’s Adelphi Theatre is available at The Adelphi Theatre Calendar site:

Storm-Beaten 1882-83 Season
The Bride Of Love 1889-90 Season
The English Rose 1890-91 Season
The Trumpet Call, The White Rose 1891-92 Season
The Lights Of Home, The Black Domino 1892-93 Season

 

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

 

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