LETTERS TO THE PRESS (1)
The Athenæum (22 November, 1862 - No. 1830, p.669)
James Macfarlan.—A Correspondent sends us the following:—“Nations have their poets, and so have small communities; and the poets of each class are too often compelled (in the words of Pamphlet, in ‘Love and a Bottle’) “to write themselves into a consumption before they gain reputation.” To flutter away a butterfly life in the Poet’s Corner of a provincial newspaper, and to have in prospect the epigrammatic epitaph of a small editor, is the destiny of the humble muse; but it now and then happens that a local rhymester passes away unnoticed, less from deficiency of mental power than from the impossibility of comparing his power with that of less restricted intellects. To James Macfarlan, a young writer famous in Glasgow and the surrounding district, and who has just died in indigence, belonged an amount of spontaneous genius which, under more favourable circumstances, might have produced verses of not ephemeral worth. The son of an itinerant pedlar, and without education or intelligent companionship, Macfarlan managed to write such lyrics as the following:—
The sunset burns, the hamlet spire
Gleams grandly, sheathed in evening fire,
The river rolleth red.
The flowers are drenched in floating haze,
The churchyard brightens, and old days
Seem smiling on the dead.
From pendent boughs, like drops of gold,
The peaches hang; the mansion old,
From out its nest of green,
Looks joyful through its golden eyes
Back on the sunset-burnished skies
A smile o’er all the scene.
The running child, whose wavy hair
Takes from the sunset’s level glare
A purer, brighter tinge,
Rolls on the grass; the evening star
Above yon streak of cloudy bar
Hangs on Day’s purple fringe.
Where latest sunshine slanting falls,
Above the ivied orchard walls,
The tall tree-shadows lean,
In waving lines of shade, that nod
Like dusky streams across the road
With banks of light between.
The streams are gilt, the towering vane
Stands burnished; and the cottage pane
Seems melting in the sun;
The lost lark wavers down the sky,
The husky crow slides careless by,
The golden day is done.
The above is not first-class, and it is one of the poorest pieces produced by its author; but it is the only piece which I can lay hands on in time to procure an early insertion of these lines, and it is at least vastly superior to the ordinary contributions to Poet’s Corner. Among the ‘City Poems’ and the ‘Lyrics of Life’ (two small volumes published some years ago), and among numerous contributions to All the Year Round, there are many really fine poems,—extraordinarily fine as emanating from the mind of a man who for many years trudged about as a common pedlar, whose days were spent in hardship and poverty, and who was destined to die, when only thirty years of age, a pauper. On the causes of Macfarlan’s misfortunes, apart from the serious misfortunes of a low birth and a wretched education, it would be tedious to dwell; but it has now become necessary to point out the fact that his wife and child are without a penny, and that they have a certain claim on the benevolence of all men and women who love letters. I am sorry that this brief obituary resolves itself into an appeal to private sympathy. The local poet, however, being useful in his way, and the humble kinsman of the poet of a nation, deserves some little kindly recognition. Some few of your readers will be satisfied with the fact that Mr. Charles Dickens believed in Mr. Macfarlan and assisted him most cheerfully; and these few may regard favourably the subscription, at present being raised in Glasgow, for the benefit of widow and child.
[Note: I came across this ‘letter’ through finding Buchanan’s letter to William Hepworth Dixon (editor of The Athenæum) which must have accompanied it, in the James Macfarlan section of the Gerald Massey site:
Nov. 14, 1862.
Dear Mr. Dixon,
To procure insertion of the enclosed in the Athenæum, I think that it will only be necessary to point out two or three facts. Macfarlan’s little books have received highly favourable notice in your columns; Macfarlan himself was an object of interest to very many discerning men, including Mr. Dickens; and the poor fellow’s widow & child are nearly, if not absolutely, starving! It is important that the case should be noticed at once.
Hepworth Dixon Esq. ]
David Gray’s Monument
The Athenæum (12 August, 1865 - No. 1972, p.215)
DAVID GRAY’S MONUMENT.
Bexhill, near Hastings, August 7.
David Gray, the young poet of the Luggie, the pure and shining spirit who passed from earth so speedily, and whose writings have gained a loving circle so soon, has received the last honour which local sympathy can confer upon him. A monument—the result of subscriptions sent in from all quarters of the land, and from all classes—has been erected over his grave in the Auld Aisle Burying Ground, Merkland, Kirkintilloch. Of the obelisk form, the memorial is composed of the finest white granite, from the Wigton Bay Quarries. The basement consists of three blocks, in which is placed the needle, the height of the whole being eleven feet. Near the top of the needle is sculptured a harp surrounded with a garland of bay-leaves. This is 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.” The monument, from its elevated site, commands an extensive prospect, embracing most of the spots made familiar by the poet’s song—the Luggie, the little Bothlin, and the faint blue background of the Campsie hills.
Of course, and unfortunately, there was a ceremony; it will be long before good people perceive the bad taste of talking commonplace on such graves. The feeling was admirable, but the effect must have been wearisome mockery. Somebody was called into the chair. Mr. Sheriff Bell made a speech, full of the best possible sentiment, but far from the purpose. The worthy sheriff, indeed, occupied a good deal of time in telling how many people had met David Gray and befriended him, and how kind it was of those people to have done so. He quoted one letter to show that a young authoress had admired Gray’s poetry; and another to prove that a local professor thought Gray a genuine poet. This was idle drifting about a question which the mere subscription to the memorial had settled; and it sounded very like “patronage”—that vapid insipidity against which poet after poet has driven shafts of song, which drove Clare mad, and which measures the faculty divine by the tattle of a tea-table. I am not blaming Sheriff Bell, who was manifestly at a loss what to say or do. Forced into a corner, he was constrained to speak; and on such an occasion, what could he talk to the purpose? Silence, that respect which is too deep for speech, would have been the best consecration of such a ceremony. The proceedings appropriately ended with the stereotyped vote of thanks.
The last ceremony is over now, however. David Gray is left to his sleep, his poems remain in the hearts of the loving circle they have gained. Old David, too, the father of the poet, lies also in his grave. With a strange halo, a confusing wonder, around his simple life, he pined away in the shadow of that son whom he loved with a love transcending that of woman. His last cry was the poet’s own plaint, “I am weary.” That manifestation of the divine faculty, that lurid sorrow which shone upon the face of the dying boy, changed the current of the old man’s peaceful days, and thenceforward life was a puzzle which his untaught brain could not solve, an unrest which made the simple round of daily duty meaningless and without joy. The mother lives, a tender, simple-hearted woman, and will be cared for. But now that the two Davids, father and son, are joined once more, the pathos of the homely tragedy is complete, and its abode henceforth is, not in the little weaving cottage, but in the hearts of those who love the singer.
In the writing of the inscription, Lord Houghton did the last good office for the young poet in whom he took such tender interest. His should have been the last words; they told the whole tale, and perfected the whole ceremony.
The Dundee Courier & Argus (24 August, 1865)
THE POET OF MONKLAND.
IT is seldom that Scotland can do anything to please critical Southern friends. Her religion, her poetry, her taste, all equally outrage English refinement. If there is a place where this aversion to the North more particularly centres, that place is London. So intense is Cockney antipathy to all our ways, and all our modes of thought or of action, that a Scot can never get fairly naturalised in Cockneydom without flattering this weakness. It is not many years since Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN left Glasgow for London. His success in that city has been heard of with pleasure by old friends here. But the pleasure is somewhat marred when they find him writing the letter which appeared last week in the columns of the Athenæum upon the Poet of Monkland’s monument. Most of the readers of this paper have heard something of the author of “The Luggie.” The story of his pure and brief life, of his genius and death, as told by Mr JAMES HEDDERWICK, has made multitudes who knew nothing of DAVID GRAY while he lived sigh in sorrow over his premature departure. The son of honest and industrious parents in that small weaving village Kirkintulloch, sitting in the shadow of Glasgow, DAVID was destined for something better than the loom. In common with so many of the Scottish peasantry who have striven to advance their offspring, GRAY’S parents dedicated him to the Church. The pulpit, worthily filled, is the noblest place man can occupy. In pursuance of the design that DAVID GRAY should occupy it, he entered the University of Glasgow, and passed with success through the curriculum there. But, while devoting himself with commendable assiduity to the acquisition of the special culture of the university, his spirit revelled in a literature it is generally considered should rather be eschewed during “student life.” But however the rank and file of undergraduates may conform to the antiquated routine of university life, there are always some minds incapable of being thus ground into “professionals.” DAVID GRAY’S was one of these. He was, it is true, proud of his university, and felt honoured by having his name enrolled among its alumni; but there was something beyond the university that had for him surpassing charms. From his earliest years WORDSWORTH and THOMSON had been the poets of his affection. Following the example of the bard of Rydal Mount, GRAY chose an humble theme on which to attune his muse, “The Luggie.” This small stream, flowing past his native village, was utterly unknown until he selected it as the subject of his song. There was nothing remarkable about the “Luggie.” But with a genius akin to his, in whom the meanest flower that blows awakened “thought too deep for tears,” it was not necessary it should be remarkable; “though not likely to attract a painter’s eye, it sufficed for the poet’s love.” The tiny stream is sung of in strains of sweet and pensive meditation, reminding us not a little of the Bard of Lochleven—like GRAY, a student of Divinity, and like him also, wooed from the sterner walks of theology by the graces of poesy. More illustrative of GRAY’S genius and more eminently original than even “The Luggie,” are those sonnets he has entitled “Under the Shadows,” all, or at least nearly all, written during the closing year of his life. As exhibiting the pathos and beauty of these sonnets, we select the last of them, as it lies before us in the Poet’s own somewhat quaint but beautiful caligraphy, dated Sept. 27, 1861, and entitled “My 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 sign
In proud sorrow! There is life with God
In other kingdom, of a sweeter air;
In Eden every flower is blown! Amen.”
These lines were written amidst the glories of the waning year; and by the 3d of December—within little more than two months—the Eden sung was reached. Thus, while yet scarcely twenty-three, the Poet passes into that land of “shadows.” DAVID GRAY was gathered to his fathers near his native village. His place of rest is a bit of elevated tableland about a mile to the south of Kirkintulloch, in the shadow of the Campsie Hills. Friends who knew and loved him thought some memorial of his genius should be raised on the spot where his dust reposes. The idea of this memorial was first suggested by a gentleman foremost in every good work, Mr WILLIAM LOGAN, Glasgow. The funds necessary to “give bond in stone” to the appreciation of GRAY’S genius were quickly raised; and a granite obelisk, the “monument of the affection, admiration,, and regret” of friends, tells the story of his life and fate who sleeps below. It is but a few weeks since this monument was raised, and naturally enough, as we thought at the time, the thing was done with touching, though not ostentatious ceremony. The Scotch are accused of making too little of the solemnities of the grave. Our dead are consigned to their last resting-place in silence, a custom in which we stand unique among nations. We were, therefore, rather pleased to see the silence broken at the tomb of the bard. Sheriff BELL is known as a most genial and accomplished man, and upon him it devolved to say the few things fitting to be spoken upon the occasion. The Sheriff’s address gave unmistakable evidence he fully appreciated the genius thus fallen in all the leaves of his spring.
Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN, however, fails to see it exactly in that light, and has addressed a letter to the Athenæum on the epistle, full of superciliousness and sneering, for which the Athenæum has been so long conspicuous. The ceremony we thought so natural is denounced, and the bad taste of talking common-place on such graves rebuked. Common-places are rather a bore, whether in the churchyard or out of it. But it is simply a piece of impertinence to describe Sheriff BELL’S speech as commonplace. ROBERT BUCHANAN knew DAVID GRAY better than the Sheriff; but nowhere, that we have seen, has he given a better estimate of his powers. Mr BUCHANAN says some things about the elder DAVID GRAY, meant not to be commonplace, but striking. To those who knew the old man, they exhibit as great a misconception of his character as could possibly have been put upon paper. “Life, after his boy’s death,” we are told, was “a puzzle to his untaught brain, an unrest which made the simple round of duty meaningless and without joy.” We dare say ROBERT BUCHANAN thinks this very far from commonplace; but, if not commonplace, it is something worse, being simply nonsense. Mr BUCHANAN resents the patronising, but is there not a tone of the arrogance of the patron in that reference to the old man’s “untaught brain?” From his sublime height the author of “Undertones” looks down with the mingled compassion of the poet and philosopher upon the puzzle the death of the younger has proved to the elder GRAY. Now, what is the fact? This simple and unostentatious village weaver had read the riddle of life and the mystery of death in a book where both are unfolded with a clearness which the most rustic intelligence and the most untaught brain can comprehend. His life, it is true, passed on a narrow theatre, but it was passed as “ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye;” and, being so, duty could never degenerate into the “meaningless.”
[Note: The report of the ceremony from The Glasgow Daily Herald is available here, and there are photographs of David Gray’s monument in the Miscellanea section of the site.]
The Athenæum (10 November, 1866 - No. 2037, p.608)
November 6, 1866.
A provincial newspaper contains the following paragraph, which I find copied into the Bookseller of October the 31st:—
“Mr. Robert Buchanan.—Authors seem to have forgotten that their best weapons are those which they are most accustomed to wield, and that the public appreciate literary warfare far better than legal. 1f the reports which are current in certain circles be well founded, the law courts will have plenty to do before long in settling the disputes between various literary gentlemen of more or less reputation. First of all, Mr. Robert Buchanan—a poet of whose genius there can be no doubt—chose, from motives of personal friendship and gratitude, to dedicate his last volume to Mr. Hepworth Dixon, of the Athenæum. The critic of the Westminster, who, being a poet himself, has, perhaps, a right to devote himself to ‘the choking of singing birds,’ chose to fall foul of this dedication, and to attribute ‘sycophancy’ to the poet, whereat are great wrath and a threatened lawsuit. The same plaintiff will appear in another action against Mr. Bentley, the proprietor of Temple Bar, for publishing his name as that of the author of a poem called ‘Hugo the Bastard.’ Mr. Buchanan does not deny his paternity; but as the piece is not a favourable specimen of his style, he thinks that he has a right to maintain his anonymity if he chose.”
Now, who may have favoured the writer of this paragraph with his information, I am at a loss to guess; for I am quite unconscious of having expressed to anybody (save one rather intimate friend) my opinion concerning the two affairs in question; and since some readers whom I respect may be led to believe me rasher than I ought to be, I feel bound to volunteer a little explanation.
The objectionable passage in the Westminster Review was as follows:—“Mr. Buchanan’s ‘London Poems’ are disfigured by one of the most sycophantic prefaces we ever read,”—meaning, of course, the dedication to Mr. Hepworth Dixon. I will not deny that these words of the anonymous writer gave me a certain pain; for when one is bitten, it matters little whether the attack come from a pure breed or a mongrel. Let one who has undergone a sore struggle in the pursuit alike of bread and fame examine his feelings towards the first man who whispered confidence and afforded help, and he will know what my feelings were and are towards Mr. Dixon. With me at east, gratitude towards those who brought the cup of water, while priest and Pharisee passed by, is a passion deep as tears,—as pure as the elements drunk down in that refreshing draught, and as eternal. These things are trifles to all the rest of the world, but they are immortal memories to the recipients; and whosoever forgot them or feared to utter his gratitude for them, would assuredly be doomed to a dog’s paradise—the comfortable, painless region where there is yelping and wagging of tails, but no shining of souls. The word “sycophantic,” as written in the Westminster Review, expressed every imputation which to a pure mind is horrible and loathsome,—reflected hideously on my private character as a man,—tampered foully with my holiest private feelings,—and, in a word, was distinctly of that complexion which the law terms libellous. Yet a very little reflection convinced me that to seek redress from the cowardly author of the assault would be to demean a stainless reputation to the brutal level where such base things are conceived and perpetrated,—to pass into the foul region whither no man, howsoever earnest his indignation may be, can venture with clean feet. So I left the assaulter to his dog’s paradise, content that he should howl and rot there, and faintly hoping that the consciousness of public contempt might prevent him from ever again venturing on the highways of literature.
The affair in which Mr. Bentley is concerned is of infinitely less consequence, yet was, in fact, more likely to result in a lawsuit. Some years ago, a London publisher requested me to hand over to him some of my juvenile writings, for use in a magazine; and I complied, on the express understanding that, as they were early and immature work, they should be printed anonymously. Shortly afterwards, that publisher ceased business, and the writings, by some extraordinary means, fell into the hands of the publisher of Temple Bar. On one of the pieces appearing some months ago, under my signature, in Temple Bar, I wrote to Mr. Bentley and protested—against the signature; and that gentleman responded by a distinct promise that nothing of the kind should occur again. But another poem appeared shortly afterwards, with my signature, and I protested still more strongly, and Mr. George Bentley, in a letter, just received, replies: “Until your letter drew our attention to it, we were ignorant that your name had been appended to the poem in question.” That is how the matter stands, and I am puzzled to guess how the wind should have carried it so far. I have now reason to believe that Mr. Bentley intended no discourtesy, and that the whole difficulty has arisen through the awkward and peculiar way in which my manuscripts were transferred to the hands of his editors.
I cannot conclude this letter without calling attention to a careless statement in the Examiner, that the ‘London Poems’ consist of my contributions to magazines. This is as injurious as it is untrue. Only three of the seventeen poems were previously printed—one in the Argosy, and two in the Fortnightly Review. I have found it necessary to write variously for bread; and although, in so doing, I attempt to write well and responsibly, I should only under very extraordinary circumstances reprint what was so written. What is produced to serve one purpose, and serves it, is quite unlikely to serve another and a higher purpose; and although it is at all times a misfortune to the man and a disgrace to the country that an original writer should be compelled to drudge with his pen for subsistence, the public has been too generous to judge me by any productions save those which, in the intervals of labour, I have carefully nurtured, and which I am able boldly and candidly to avow.
[Note: The review of London Poems in the Westminster Review is in the Reviews section. The poem ‘Hugo the Bastard’ is also available on this site.]
The Spectator (15 February, 1868 - p.13-14)
MR. BUCHANAN ON LITERARY MORALITY.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE “SPECTATOR.”]
SIR,—It would be highly reprehensible on my part to reply in any but the most friendly terms to the thoughtful reviewer of my Essays in last week’s Spectator,—since I am (I believe) indebted to that writer for much kind appreciation and high- minded sympathy. Still, I am bound to protest, and I will do so as briefly as possible, against several errors on his part, and at least one total misconstruction.
Firstly, I reject wholly and unreservedly the criticism which implies that there is any such thing as a distinctively “immoral nature,” and I repeat that every nature, however strange and crooked to scrutiny, is moral up to that point where it diverges into insincerity. I do exclude absolute morality from my definition, although admitting that a definitive standard, called for practical purposes “moral,” is necessary to the welfare of the State. Perfectly honest and sincere utterance is all the critic has any right to insist upon; and on this showing Walt Whitman as much as Professor Seeley, and Mr. Swinburne as much as the author of the Christian Year, have their full claim to a hearing. But, you rejoin, “If any man’s natural instincts are below the standard requisite to bring out the full proportions of his subject, the work is immoral, and will be immoral in its effects, however sincere.” I thought I had answered that objection very fully in my article. In such a case, “the question of immorality need not be introduced at all. It is settled by the decision that the work under review is not literature.”
The fact of the matter is, that if a work is to be judged by its effects, we shall soon have no true standard of criticism whatever. It would not be difficult to show the terribly immoral effects (as I and others call them) on many minds of even pure and truly artistic productions, works crowned and chosen for the great library of nations. Does Milton’s severe white lamp dazzle no poor seekers after truth? Have the Greek tragedians wrecked no hapless human souls? Does Wordsworth’s cold white hand lead always to the day;—does it push none into darkness? Yet who shall compute the well-doing and the ill-doing? True literature is a lightning. It glorifies and it withers; it beautifies and it blinds.
Put the public out of sight altogether; away with effects—they are incalculable. Is a work sincere and is it beautiful? That is the only question criticism has to answer. If the answer be in the affirmative, out with the critic’s label, and the work is—“moral.”
Secondly, I have to point to some misconstruction in your estimate of my remarks on “eternal” as distinguished from “contemporary truth,” and on the true mission of the Student. Your reviewer grants so much, that I am amazed to find him granting so little. I by no means insist that tenderness and calm of manner are invariable signs of communion with eternal truth, and I quite agree that “rough and broken utterance” is the characteristic of many a true prophet or student. But the underlying mood in every case is calm and grand—disturbed by no brutalities of thought. A broken or rough utterance is quite consistent with calm and with tenderness; not so a brutal or a rowdy utterance. And the student may show heat, but it is white heat,—and white is calm.
When your reviewer mentions as denunciators Carlyle, and then Isaiah, and then, again, St. Paul, and even Jesus himself,—all in the same breath,—I can scarcely conceive him. The Hebrew prophet seems to me the perfection of a student, and so does St. Paul; while I place Christ in a diviner category still. But nothing can be further removed from their method than the wild and, as I hold, insincere brutalities of our German Scotchman. “So far from rough and broken utterance being a sign that the student has held no communion with eternal truth, we should hold it the truest sign that he has, that is, if the special sphere of his study has been, as in the case of every true prophet, rather divine life than divine thought.” In the last part of this sentence we have the heart of the whole misconstruction. Directly we pass beyond the horizon of “contemporary truth” and reach the region of “eternal truth,” divine life and divine thought are one.
For the rest, your reviewer does little justice to Mr. Mill, and much undervalues the work which such students are expected to do.
Thirdly, let me disclaim once and for ever your reviewer’s fancy that the lazaretto crying of Mr. Matthew Arnold is to be confounded with the heart wrung utterance of “fate-stricken men.” Your reviewer calls Walt Whitman a “straining and self-inflated egoist;” I call Mr. Arnold a thin egotist, faintly inflated with intellectuality. I shall certainly not call him “fate- stricken,” because he lacks faith. Why should men whine out merely for that reason? Alfred de Musset had exhausted life, and therefore his lack of faith deepened into strange sadness. Faith is not a jewel to be worn by intellectual prudes; it is the crown of life. On every side of me, every day, I hear literary youths saying, “Alas, I don’t believe!” and writing clever little articles with a sceptic tendency. To such I would merely reply, “Stop whining after what you do not understand! Do you love anything; books, men, women, the world? Have you grappled with life, and suffered? Is faith all you yet need, or are there a hundred directions yet remaining for your activity.” If Mr. Arnold were converted to- morrow, he would perhaps wear the crown to life somewhat offensively. I wish him the crown with all my heart, but he is no King David. I alter nothing of my opinion upon him and his colleagues, although I readily plead guilty to “bad and flippant taste” in one paragraph you quote. Further, you cite two bits of verse, neither contemporary,* in answer to my remark en passant that Mr. Arnold loses all his grace when approaching contemporary thought; and you class Mr. Arnold with “fate-stricken” men. Mariners bruised and beaten by storms, havenless, homeless, pale with hunger or withered with disease, raising wild eyes to the blue rift in the cloud, praying, perhaps blaspheming,—these are the “fate- stricken” creatures,—defeated and defiled at every effort, spat upon by the elements, scourged by the passions, shrieking for bread or for light, lifting the poor forehead to the lightning flash, and blessing the footsteps of Death as he comes in thunder. He who is inflated, as is written of Mr. Arnold in the very same number of the Spectator, “with an intellectual scorn for unintellectual persons” has nothing in common with the fate-stricken. He is a trifler, a theorist, who has only half lived, and therefore sees only one side of human life and thought.
* Our correspondent appears to have some esoteric and peculiar interpretation for this remarkable word. Both quotations are the latest reflections of a modern mind on modern phenomena.—ED. Spectator.
Lastly, I will admit my “visible leaning to make Charity the be-all and end-all of the Divine Mind.” With the “awful fires” your reviewer speaks of I am well acquainted. I see them everywhere, pitiless, horrid, unexplainable, save by that very Charity I hold as the only light, both human and divine. I want no fresh assurance of the tortures and inhumanities the fate-stricken suffer; I only want to be assured that a God, and not a Setebos, is looking on; and the assurance comes to me from the lips of Charity, standing by deathbeds, walking where there is little light,—the last of the angels lingering among us, now that Faith has returned to heaven, and Hope, gone mad, is singing an old wild song that there is no God. —I am, Sir, &c.,
[Mr. Buchanan does not understand either Mr. Carlyle or Mr. Arnold, and should not criticize what he does not understand. He understands even less that last remark of our own, which he criticizes somewhat too eloquently.—ED. Spectator.]
The Spectator (22 February, 1868 - p.15-16)
MR. BUCHANAN AND HIS REVIEWER.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE “SPECTATOR.”]
SIR,—I hardly expected to have had to complain of unmannerliness on your part; yet when, instead of leaving silently, or honestly answering, my letter printed in your issue of February 15, you merely remark that “Mr. Buchanan does not understand either Mr. Carlyle or Mr. Arnold, and should not criticize what he does not understand,” you are neither just to yourself, nor courteous to me. Suppose I had so retorted on your reviewer’s flippant and unfair estimate (as I deem it) of Walt Whitman? or suppose I were so to retort on the reviewer who describes Emerson (to my mind the most wondrous living illustration of spiritual insight mingled with severe common-sense perception of the tendencies of his time) as merely “unreal and romantic?” Would you have acquitted me of bad and flippant taste for so doing?
No man, I believe, can be more fully awake than I am to the good influence of Mr. Carlyle as a great spiritual force, or to the merits of Mr. Arnold as a dilettante; but in the paper you criticized, my business was merely to point out where these writers had subsided into insincerity and brutality in the one case, and self-inflated egotism and retrograde perfection on the other. To my mind, their sins against the race blot out all their services to the nation or to classes. I said there, and I say here, that these two writers lack “charity,”—the misfortune being, of course, that I over-value the worth of charity—God’s or man’s.
You are mistaken if you imagine me unfamiliar with the kind of reasoning pursued in books like Ecce Homo, where Charity is discriminated well from the Enthusiasm of Humanity, and holy Fire gets its due place in the Christian list of implements. So curiously am I constituted, that such reasoning—fine as it is, like your own, —takes me no further. It draws plans of a Temple of God, but it always leaves a corner to get in an intellectual looking-glass. I have to go back to Charity in the end, and find her the most worldly-wise, despite her homely features.
These are themes I shall touch upon again, and the more fully, because I have been misconstrued even by so fine an intellect as yours.—I am, Sir, &c.,
[We should have thought Mr. Buchanan perfectly right in saying that we do not understand Walt Whitman and have absolutely no right to criticize him, for that is precisely the fact. Our objection to Mr. Buchanan’s criticism was exactly that he did not help us to see what he admired in Walt Whitman, and our opinion was not an “estimate,” but an explanation of the superficial impression which we expected sympathetic criticism to remove. As to Emerson, we could illustrate the force of both epithets by a hundred passages of his essays and poems, but we carefully guarded against the supposition that we would describe him by such epithets “merely,” or deny him very high imaginative qualities consistent with them—ED. Spectator.]
[Note: The Spectator’s review of David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry is in the Reviews section.]
A Recent Trial By Jury
Glasgow Herald (28 April, 1868 - p.2)
A RECENT TRIAL BY JURY.
To the Editor of the Glasgow Herald.
SIR,—Permit me to avail myself of your extensive circulation in making some remarks on a criminal law case in which I was cited as a witness—the case of John Simpson Oman, heard before Lord Deas, at the Glasgow Circuit Court, on Wednesday last the 22d inst.
The indictment was a very simple one. Oman, the captain of the screw-steamer Arbutus, was charged with culpable homicide and reckless neglect of duty, for having, on the 18th December last, run down a fishing smack on the river Clyde, and drowned John Kerr, the master and owner. The evidence was, on every honest showing, overwhelming—the summing up of Lord Deas was as fatal as it was masterly; yet, nevertheless, the panel left the dock licensed to act in the same manner for the remainder of his days. Never, perhaps, was such an instance of the obtusity of a jury or the brutality of a mixed audience; for the verdict which was offered, in daring parody of justice, was welcomed with considerable applause.
Now, just look back over the mere facts of the case, as I see them. John Kerr, two other men, and a boy are in a smack becalmed near the Cloch Lighthouse on the river Clyde. The sails are set, but there is no wind. The morning is clear and bright. Two miles off the screw Arbutus rounds Kempoch Point, sights the smack at that distance, and comes steadily onward until she cuts the smack in two/ John Inglis, a coachmen, standing on the shore less than a quarter of a mile off, and I, sitting five hundred yards off in a small boat, see the impending danger, hear the frantic cries of the smacksmen, observe that the steamer does not alter her course in the slightest degree, and finally sicken at the dull crash of the collision. Well, this is clearly proved on trial; in no tittle did the witnesses contradict each other. Moreover, Mr McAlpine, keeper of the Cloch Lighthouse, swore that the morning was windless, and that the boat was almost if not quite motionless. A navigation teacher from Greenock proved that the tide was running out.
This was, briefly, the case for the prosecution, nowhere shaken, everywhere coherent, and supported in the main particulars by at least three independent and unprejudiced witnesses. Take next the case for the defence, supported chiefly by the crew of the steamer Arbutus, quite disinterested persons, of course, particularly the admirable steersman, who cut the smack so neatly through the middle.
What these sailors swear to first is this—That on the morning of the accident there was a fresh breeze; that the smack was sighted lying two miles distant, straight across the steamer’s bows, and going at the rate of three or four knots an hour; and that the accident took place because the smack when the screw was fifty yards off suddenly put about across the steamer’s bows. This is, of course, highly probably, since, admitting the fresh breeze, the collision would not have taken place at all, if (as was averred) the screw going at the rate of eight knots an hour kept straight on her course to the spot where the smack was first sighted. Pass that, however, in the meantime, and pass, too, the extraordinary contradictions of the various seamen as to the quarter from which the “fresh breeze” was blowing. It is further stated, and may be accepted as possibly true, that the captain, on finding himself about fifty yards from the smack, ordered the engineer to “reverse full speed,” so as to lessen the force of the shock as much as possible. The highly disinterested pilot, however, vows that the steamer had no way on her at all when she reached the fatal spot, and that if any accident occurred it was because the poor smack ran broadside into the steamer, not because the steamer cut (with a loud crash) through the smack—a clear parallel to the case of the man who when summoned for “punching” another’s head, averred that the fault was in the head, which came quite unaccountably in collision with his hands.
The three other witnesses for the defence may just be mentioned. The captain of a schooner, after some statements consequent on a preconceived knowledge of the accident he did not see, breaks down in trying to show there was wind, and actually lets out that his own vessel was very nearly run down by the same steamer that very morning! Hugh Turner, a river pilot, saw nothing of the affair, but thinks he would have done what Oman did under the same circumstances—a statement I am quite willing to believe trustworthy as coming from so good an authority. Finally, Mr Beith, Superintendent of the Belfast Steamship Company, depones that Oman is an able seaman and a person of good character.
A reference to the newspaper reports of the 23d inst. will show that I have nowhere exaggerated in these particulars; yet the majority of the jury, chiefly, I think, because Lord Deas was conclusive and very severe in his summing up, brought in their verdict of “Not guilty.” The Judge is not popular in Glasgow, chiefly, I think, because he scented too sharply the blood on the fingers of Jessie McLachlan.
Now, what are the results of this trial? I place aside the sad result to the poor family of fishermen on Loch Ranza, who have lost their dear brother, and are probably ruined for life, since about £100 in money sank with the little craft, and are to be added to the loss of her. I look only to the future fate of the poor smacksmen on these coasts. Henceforth it is clear that their lives are of small estimation in the opinion of a Glasgow jury. God knows their perils were numerous enough already, in those poor, scarce seaworthy, dangerous boats of theirs, without the licensing of steam monsters to kill and ruin. And I can testify, too, that the masters of these monsters were reckless enough already, without receiving more encouragement from a jury of persons who, when winds blow and seas rise, are smirking snugly in their shops.
The enlightened British jury had just before, on far slighter evidence, found a poor tempted fellow guilty of forging a cheque for £250, and Lord Deas (with a severity I am the last to admire) had passed a sentence of five years’ penal servitude. You see this is a great commercial country, an economical country, and lives being numerous, while bawbees are scarce, my existence is a trifle compared with my pocket. So far as the enlightened jury is concerned it is the dialogue from the “Critic” repeated over again:—“Your country? No! Your honour? No! A thousand pounds? Ha, you have touched me nearly!”
My last word shall be one of appeal on behalf of the poor ruined fishermen, who, I fear, will never be able to take the case into a civil court. But even here, can I hope much from the public, when I read (in the report of the case in question) such words as the following quoted as part of the evidence of one of the fishermen?—
“The steamer came straight on and ran through us.” (Laughter.)
In fact, the whole affair seems to have struck the audience in rather a funny light,—as rather a good joke than otherwise. They were terribly serious over the Bawbee Case; and the only thing to have brought them back to solemnity in this instance would have been the public statement of the loss in cash.—I am, &c.
[Note: The report of the trial from the Glasgow Herald of 23rd April, 1868 is available here.]
The Spectator (1 January, 1870)
MR. BUCHANAN AND HIS PUBLISHERS.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE “SPECTATOR.”]
SIR,—I observe in last Saturday’s Spectator a review of a work entitled “Stormbeaten,” published by Messrs. Ward and Lock, and purporting to be a new work by “Messrs. Robert Buchanan and Charles Gibbon.” As the publication of the work at the present moment involves a double deception, permit me to offer some words of explanation.
Some years ago, when I was a lad of 19, subsisting entirely by my pen, I published, in conjunction with another young lad of my own age, Mr. Gibbon, a little Christmas book of prose and verse, consisting chiefly of reprints from cheap magazines. The book was named as the joint work of “Williams Buchanan and Charles Gibbon,” the former being a kind of nom de plume attached by me in those days to work issued under my direction, but not necessarily the literary production of myself solely. “Stormbeaten,” as the book was called, was issued to the press, reviewed, and sold rather extensively, and then, as the author confidently expected, died the natural death of all trifles produced only for the temporary amusement of the hour. My own portion of the work, indeed, had by that time served a double purpose, for the poems you reviewed as new work last Saturday had previously appeared in Mr. Dickens’s All the Year Round, being written and published when I was about 18 years of age.
Note now the deception on the public. The work you reviewed last week, and which has been issued everywhere to the press and the public as a new work, is the same “Stormbeaten” published, issued to the press, and reviewed nine years ago. You are not the only critic who has fallen a victim to this deception.
Note now the second unfairness,—that upon the authors. Secretly, without one word of warning, reckless apparently of all consequences, the publishers have re-issued a work which was, as I maintain, their property for a Christmas season nine years ago, and which ever since has been the sole and undisputed property of the writers. Of course there is now only one court of appeal,—that of the law; and into that court the matter will be carried without delay. Meanwhile let me hope that through your columns this matter may be brought under the notice of the Press generally, and that reviewers may be warned away from the trap into which even so astute a critic as yourself has fallen.—I am, Sir, &c., ROBERT BUCHANAN.
The Land of Lorne
[Although the following is only an edited extract of a letter, I thought I might as well place it here as well as with the reviews of The Land of Lorne - many of which objected strongly to Buchanan’s Prologue to the book, which was addressed to the Princess Louise.]
The Athenæum (3 December, 1870 - No. 2249, p.721)
THE LAND OF LORNE.
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN writes to us complaining that a periodical has accused him of being “engaged in book-making, and hungering for royal patronage,” because he has dedicated ‘The Hebrides and the Land of Lorne,’ by permission, to the Princess Louise. “Without pausing,” he says, “to complain of the rather gratuitous and unfair accusation of ‘book-making,’ applied by prevision to a work as yet unpublished, may I ask if it is really in bad taste to inscribe to the Princess a set of pictures which is to be a great extent descriptive of her future home, and which, if it at all realize the writer’s hopes, is likely to awaken her sympathies for the Highland people, of whom she will shortly see so much? . . . My book is a sad one, full of lamentation, instinct with the most pathetic poetry of real life and suffering; and scarcely is it ready for publication, when there comes the radiant gleam of this betrothal to the Campbell. Princess Louise is a veritable Star of Hope, arising on a dark and melancholy wild, where (to quote my own Prologue) Absenteeism, Overseerism, all sorts of other ‘isms’ gather griffin-like around the porches of the proud Highland land-proprietors; and when I, whose whole song has been of the poor, and for the poor, and with the poor, cry ‘God speed,’ in the poor Celt’s name, to the Princess and the man of her choice, I hardly expect to be accused of merely ‘hungering for royal patronage.’ It may not be amiss to add, in deprecation of the charge of ‘book-making,’ that portions of the forthcoming work appeared as early as 1869 in the columns of the Spectator, and that since then I have lingered over my task,—a veritable labour of love,—with quite as much care and tenderness as an artist gives to his painting, or a poet to his verse.”
The Fleshly School of Poetry
[Following the publication of Buchanan’s article, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry:Mr. D. G. Rossetti’ in October, 1871 edition of The Contemporary Review, Buchanan wrote two letters to The Athenæum. To put these in context, they are to be found on the following page of The Fleshly School Controversy section of the site.]
The Stealthy School of Criticism
Daily News (13 March, 1876)
THE POSITION OF WALT WHITMAN.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
SIR,—Simultaneously with your American Correspondent’s article on the new poem by Walt Whitman there appears in the Athenæum [of yesterday] a startling series of extracts from the West Jersey Press relative to the poet’s own temporal and worldly condition. For full particulars of the truth I must refer the public to the pages of your contemporary. It is enough to explain here that Whitman, “old, poor, and paralysed,” is in absolute and miserable poverty; that his “repeated attempts to secure a small income by writing for the magazines during his illness have been utter failures”; that the publishers will not publish, the book-storekeepers will not keep for sale, his great experiments in poetry; and, lastly—“O rem ridiculam, Cato, et jocosam:”—all “the established American poets studiously ignore” him, while he lies at Camden preparing, largely with his own handiwork, a small edition of his works in two volumes, which he now himself sells to keep the wolf from the door.” This is neither the time nor the place to discuss in detail so solemn a matter as the claims of this discarded and insulted poet to literary immortality. If those claims are as true as I and many others in England deem them to be, God will justify his works to an early posterity; but this is certainly the time, and your columns are possibly the place, for an expression of English indignation against the “orthodox American authors, publishers, and editors” who greet such a man as the author of “Leaves of Grass” with “determined denial, disgust, and scorn.” One can understand the publishers, for American publishers have been justly described by Whitman himself as “mostly sharks;” one can forgive the editors, for all men know of what pudding a typical Yankee editor’s brains are made; but as for the “orthodox American authors” and the “established American poets”—orthodox perhaps in the sense of their affiliation to the Church of English literature, and “established” truly in their custom of picking the brains of British bards—there is but one word for them, and that may be lengthened into a parable. He who wanders through the solitudes of far-off Uist or lonely Donegal may often behold the Golden Eagle sick to death, worn with age or famine, or with both, passing with weary waft of wing from promontory to promontory, from peak to peak, pursued by a crowd of prosperous rooks and crows, which fall screaming back whenever the noble bird turns his indignant head, and which follow frantically once more, hooting behind him, whenever he wends again upon his way. The rook is a “recognised” bird; the crow is perfectly “established.” But for the Eagle, when he sails aloft in the splendour of his strength, who shall perfectly discern and measure his flight?
Perhaps, after all, the so-called “established poets” of America, despite their resemblance to the birds that blacken the fallows and stubbles of English literature, may claim to be at least as indigenous as the loon, the snow-bunting, and the whip-poor-will, birds well “recognised” even here in England and duly “established” in popular liking. For such denizens of the Bostonian pond or farm-rail to crouch down in disgust and scorn when the King of Birds passes overhead is no more than natural. It is less conceivable that that other eagle of American literature, aquiline of breed but born and degenerated in captivity, should see in silence the sufferings of his freer and sublime brother, should utter no note of warning or of sympathy, should seem to approve by tacit and implicit silence the neglect and scorn of the little New England songsters who peck about his cage. It was the voice of Emerson—a noble and a reverberatory voice then and now—which first proclaimed the name of Whitman to America, in words of homage such as not twice in one century is paid by one poet authenticated to another obscure. It is the voice of Emerson which should be heard again for the vindication of the honour of America, now likely to be tarnished eternally by the murder of its only remaining Prophet. It cannot be that a long captivity in the cage of respectability, and daily association with the choir of hedgerow warblers, has so weakened the heart of Emerson that he falters from his first faith, that he no longer recognises the wild eagle his kinsman, because that kinsman’s flight is afar off, and his wings, though old and feeble, are still free! There is in England no sincerer admirer of Emerson than the present writer, who awaits with anxiety the moment of explanation and justification.
Meantime is Walt Whitman to die because America is too blind to understand him? or rather shall not we in England, who love and revere the Prophet of Democracy, pay our mite of interest on the debt which we accept, and which America is backward to disown? Speaking in the name of many admirers of Whitman, I unhesitatingly suggest such a course as will be at once a help and an honour to the “good gray Poet”—a help temporary and feeble it is true, but given for love’s sake, reverently, to one far nobler than ourselves.
We never bowed but to superior worth,
Nor ever failed in our allegiance there!
Strong as is the prejudice in some circles even here against Whitman—for alas! even England does not lack its “orthodox authors, publishers, and editors”—I believe there is scarcely one living English poet who will not rejoice to lend his aid in a cause so righteous, yet so forlorn. But for the general public—for that public which runs as it reads, and judges as it runs—it is necessary to explain that Whitman is not merely an author whose literary claims set authors by the ears; that he is something far nobler even than a great poet—a martyred man, perhaps the best and noblest now breathing on our plane, one to whom good men would almost kneel, if they knew his beneficence; one whose hand I, at least, would kiss reverently, in full token of my own unworthiness and infinite inferiority. He has acted as well as preached his gospel of universal love and charity; he has given away his substance to his poor brethren; and he has contracted his hopeless disease solely through his personal devotion to the sick and wounded in the late American war. “The pity of it, the pity of it, Iago!” Even those Americans who deny his poetic claims admit (with a ....) his ineffable goodness; but, alas! goodness is not a commodity in demand among “orthodox authors, publishers, and editors,” nor is it strictly desiderated among “established” and money-making poets. Nevertheless, only this last consecration of Martyrdom was wanting to complete our poet’s apotheosis. As Christ had His crown of thorns (I make the comparison in all reverence), and as Socrates had his hemlock cup, so Walt Whitman has his final glory and doom even though it come miserably in the shape of literary outlawry and official persecution. Meantime, while the birds of the fallow are chirping and cramming, he leaves, as certainly at least as the second of these Divine sufferers, a living scripture to the world; which the world will read presently; which for every ten that know it now will count hereafter its tens of thousands; which will not be lost to humanity as long as poetry lives and the thoughts of men are free.
What I have to suggest is simply this. I have already said that Whitman is preparing an edition of his works in two volumes. Now, let a committee be formed here in England, and a subscription instituted to collect subscriptions for the purchase, to begin with, of (say) some five hundred copies of the poet’s complete works. This, calculating the price at 10s. per copy, would require only some £250; and such a sum, which a prosperous writer may make with a few strokes of the pen, would be more than sufficient for the poet’s temporary needs, while furnishing at the same time a substantial proof of the honour in which he is held here in the heart of England. If the five hundred copies could be extended to a thousand, or more, so much the better for the poet, so much the more honour to En gland, so much the more shame to the literary coteries which emasculate America. With regard to the copies of the works so purchased, I should suggest their gratuitous, or partly gratuitous, distribution on some such plan as that adopted and admirably carried out by the Swedenborgian Society. To many a poor and struggling thinker such a gift would be as manna, such teaching as that of Whitman would be as Heavenly seed. I throw out the hint for what it is worth; but to save misconception, let me disclaim entire sympathy with Whitman’s materialistic idealism, which seems to go too far in the direction of illuminating the execrable. One scripture, however, supplements another, and he is perhaps the wisest who harmonises them all. That the teaching of Whitman is destined to exercise an extraordinary influence on the future of religion as well as poetry, no one who has read his works will deny. Unfortunately the process of perusal, which is usually supposed to be preliminary to literary judgment, is just the process which general readers and particular critics refuse to apply in this instance; and still more unfortunately, Whitman is the worst poet in the world to be judged by mere “dipping,” or by any amount of extracts, however admirably chosen.—I am, &c., ROBERT BUCHANAN.
P.S.—Any communications on the subject of this letter may be addressed under care of Messrs. Strahan and Co., 36, Paternoster-row, who will, I am sure, as enlightened English publishers, further the object in view by all means in their power. R. B.
Daily News (14 March, 1876)
MR. WALT WHITMAN’S POEMS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
SIR,—You cannot, I am sure, have foreseen the probable consequences of publishing Mr. Robert Buchanan’s letter. We Americans are known to be a thin-skinned race, and I do not see how we can possibly survive the expression of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s opinion of us. True, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s name is unknown in America; but the Daily News is well known there—known as a journal usually friendly to us, and always as civil as circumstances permit. So, when we learn from your columns that we must abandon henceforth those claims to distinction in literature which we have lately been told were our best title to respect, I can think of nothing so likely to occur in the States as a general happy-despatch. What publisher can value life after being called by Mr. Robert Buchanan, a shark? What “Yankee editor,” when he is told that “all men know of what pudding his brains are made,” will not hasten to blow them out? What verse-writer will not take flight to a better world to escape being catalogued in a “choir of hedgerow warblers?” With a splendour of ornithological erudition I cannot sufficiently admire, Mr. Robert Buchanan likens our American poets to snow-buntings, whip-poor-wills, and loons, to rooks and carrion crows. They are creatures who have lived and fattened by “picking the brains of British bards.” Whether Mr. Robert Buchanan means to complain that his own brains have gone to furnish the empty skulls of Lowell and Longfellow, I do not know, any more than I know whether he himself expects immortality as British Bard under the name of Robert Buchanan, or as Scotch Reviewer under that of Thomas Maitland. His American victims may find some slight comfort in the fact that no one of them has yet been accused of singing his own praises under a fictitious signature.
As to Mr. Walt Whitman’s claims, for the pushing of which Mr. Robert Buchanan has striven to insult every other American writer, living or dead, I do not care to express an opinion. I know the English public well enough to believe that Mr. Whitman will be judged on his merits, and that they will not second Mr. Buchanan’s efforts to raise a new idol on the ruins of old reputations. Nor, on the other hand, ought Mr. Whitman to suffer because he has incurred Mr. Robert Buchanan’s praise.—
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
AN OBSCURE AMERICAN.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
SIR,—I have read—and read with much general concurrence and satisfaction—the letter by Mr. Robert Buchanan, published in your paper of to-day, urging that the English admirers of Walt Whitman should show their feeling towards him by some such act as the purchase of a large number of copies of his forthcoming books. As this is a matter in which I am warmly interested, and to some extent personally concerned, I take leave to address you on the subject. It was to me that Whitman wrote those word, published in the Athenæum of last Saturday, vouching for the entire truth of the statements regarding him made in the West Jersey press (also partially reproduced in the Athenæum). Several days ago, in conjunction with another of Whitman’s English admirers (a lady), I wrote to the poet commissioning for each of us a certain number of his forthcoming volumes—in fact, therefore, I have already done what Mr. Buchanan suggests; and so has the friend just mentioned, and another friend, a distinguished literary man, who has been in frequent communication with me for months past, as to this or any other appropriate form in which English sympathy and regard for Whitman might take shape. In writing to the poet to bespeak the books, I asked him expressly whether he would like the same course, or any other course, to be adopted by others of his admirers in this country, and in the event of his replying affirmatively, I offered to undertake the requisite correspondence at starting. His answer may probably reach me within a fortnight or so. Let us therefore trust that, what between the steps that have been already taken, and those that will almost for certain ensue upon Mr. Buchanan’s printed letter, some substantial expression will shortly be given to the feelings of a good number of English, Scotch, and Irish admirers of this powerful and moving poet. Will his own countrymen yet exhibit the fruits of a late repentance, and allow themselves to be encouraged or shamed into some measure of justice to his claims?—Your faithful servant,
WM. MICHAEL ROSSETTI.
66, Euston-square, March 13.
Daily News (16 March, 1876)
MR. WALT WHITMAN.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
SIR,—A large number of sympathetic letters have already reached me in response to my letter concerning the American poet Whitman, and I have every reason to believe that substantial help will be forthcoming. Meantime I take cognisance of the letter from Mr. William Rossetti, published in your columns of to-day, and as that gentleman is, I am glad to see, prepared to undertake the organisation of a fund for the purchase of Whitman’s works, I think all future correspondence, subscriptions, &c., should be addressed to him. For my own part I shall be glad to co-operate in any scheme for Whitman’s benefit. I would only quote one expression from a letter just received from the Rev. John T. Robinson—“Bis dat qui cito dat; your plan, I fear, would work too slowly. I am sure it would be easy to send help at once in some pleasant and brotherly way that would not be offensive to Whitman’s feelings.” It is gratifying to observe that most of my correspondents are men of business, who understand the holiness and dignity of labour. No man has sung so nobly as Whitman the righteousness and beauty of Work; and high and low, from him who works with his brain to him who works with his hands, would be strengthened by the poetic scripture of this colossal workman and bard. Some one—a voice in the dark—an “obscure” echo—accuses me of abusing “Lowell and Longfellow.” I take leave to observe—with timidity, lest my praise may “injure” the pride or the pockets of those prosperous poets—that I should be ungrateful indeed if I failed to remember with pleasure the voice which sang “the Present Crisis” and “the Courtin,” or that other voice which has made immortal for every fireside the story of “Evangeline.” I trust I have a heart for every true singer who makes music, whatever his rank may be in the poetic choir. It would be a better reply to my general complaints if any American, “obscure” or otherwise, could tell me how much sympathy either Mr. Lowell or Mr. Longfellow, or any other wealthy and influential singer, has shown for the great Poet and Martyr who now lies neglected, insulted, “old and paralysed,” at Camden dedicating his completed work, as another great poet and martyr did before him, “To Time,” which obliterates the pigmies, and only preserves the mastodons, of history and literature.—I am, &c., ROBERT BUCHANAN.
P.S.—I have to acknowledge subscriptions of one pound each from Messrs. John browning, R. Salaman, and Alfred Marks; a promise of one pound each from Messrs. William Robins and John T. Robinson, and of three pounds from Mr. A. D. Smith. All these unknown correspondents stipulate, I am proud to say, for copies of the poet’s works.
[We cannot acknowledge further subscriptions.]
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY NEWS.
SIR,—It is unfortunate Mr. Buchanan should have clouded a question of benevolence with untimely literary fervour. There appear to be different opinions as to the merits of what Mr. Whitman believes to be poetry. Some persons apparently admire it vastly, and regard his literary method as a new revelation. Others conceive “prose-poetry” to be at best a sort of “two-headed nightingale,” curious as a study, but not otherwise pleasant to contemplate. Time will arbitrate between them. But I have never heard but one opinion as to the nobility of Mr. Whitman’s character; and while folks argue, he starves. I for one revere a man who aspires to be a poet, whether he succeeds in being one or not, and still more the man who in a greedy age, abandons profitable employment to follow what he thinks his vocation. Therefore, let every one bring his obolus, if it really be required, without any reference to canons of criticism. At the same time, I believe the American people to be second to none in native kindliness of heart; and though they may not think Mr. Whitman a poet, I am sure they will be the first to help his distress. He nursed their wounded during their sad fratricidal war with incessant charity; and to have done this is to have done more than to have composed all the poetry that was ever written.—Your obedient servant,
Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer (16 March, 1876 - p.1)
THE New York Herald, apropos of ROBERT BUCHANAN’S indignant outburst at the “impoverishment” of WALT WHITMAN, expresses the hope “that the liberal thinkers of America will not leave the work of helping WALT WHITMAN in his time of suffering entirely in foreign hands.” A long line of waste baskets, stretching away to the crack of doom, admonishes us that if people are expected to come to the rescue of every writer of gibberish whose “poetry” is not appreciated, we might as well stop talking about paying the public debt.
Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer (20 March, 1876 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet and novelist, is well and widely appreciated as a writer and a man of intellect throughout the United States, but in loudly espousing the cause of Walt Whitman and parading before the British literary world his poetry to the detriment of the United States he acts a very ungracious and officiously impertinent part. Because Mr. Macdonald and some other eccentric critics of English verse choose to see beauties in the poetry of Mr. Whitman which American publishers and readers are unable to perceive, neither the poet nor his English friends have any reason to complain if the latter do not purchase an article which they consider in many cases unfit to lie upon their table. If Mr. Whitman is the neglected genius Mr. Macdonald would have us believe, he must recollect that were the United States to try her very utmost during the next century she could not hold a candle to the mother country in its cold and merciless neglect of that exceedingly rare commodity. In truth, there are but few among those whose works adorn the libraries of British poetry who, if they were alive to-day, could not point a bony finger at the native neglect and scorn. With the exception of Tennyson, we do not remember one single instance of a well paid poet in Great Britain; and Burns, the greatest song-writer the country ever produced, died in abject fear of a pauper’s grave. Mr. Whitman has not been neglected by the country. He held a government office at a good fair salary until it was found that his poetry occupied more of his attention than his desk. If he has been improvident that is not the nation’s fault, and for the present the United States does not regard his poetry of sufficiently enduring grandeur or originality to entitle him to more consideration than is given to others of his craft, viz.: the right to make a living in the way which seems unto him best. At the same time the United States, within recent years, has put a great deal of money into the pockets of hungry British authors and lecturers, and if they really wish to return the compliment we have not the slightest objection to their picking out the “good gray poet” and providing for his immediate necessities.—Chicago Inter-Ocean.
Daily Alta California (16 April, 1876)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AND WALT. WHITMAN.
Mr. Robert Buchanan is an Englishman, or a Scotchman, a poet, and, in addition, an avowed admirer of Walt. Whitman, our American spinner out of verse—no, not of verse, but of words and ideas which he considers poetry and which certain English poets so consider, for instance, Buchanan, Rosetti, Browning, we believe, and probably many others. Whitman, who is poor and partially paralyzed, has written considerable, and it seems to vex our English brethren that our American public cannot be made to appreciate Mr. Whitman as a great poet. Buchanan claims him as the poet of the future, as Wagner claims for his music, that it is the music of the future. They may both be correct, for that the poetry of Whitman and the music of Wagner are of the present is a claim that few will accept as true. Whitman may be a very great poet, but we have not yet reached that height on Parnassus that we can appreciate and admire it.
Macphersons’ “Ossian” may be poetical but it is not poetry. That it is poetic prose will not be denied. But it takes more than the idea to make it poetry. Browning may be a poet and a great one. But much which he has written, if poetry at all, is of that class which abounds in certain ancient books which no one has yet understood. The chief complaint made by Mr. Robert Buchanan against our American authors, publishers and editors, is that they do not appreciate Walt. Whitman’s writings, and, although he is poor, do not relieve him, publish nor buy his poetry, nor praise it. And he flourishes, does Mr. B., in a vast variety of abusive phrases of our American writers, poets and others. But he should know that Whitman was indebted for the last place he held under Government to the interest taken in him by these very American poets and writers, at the head of whom, as his active friend, was Mr. Stedman. We are inclined to think that Robert Buchanan has got to learn many things yet ere he shall prove a competent judge in regard to Whitman and our literary men.
The Shadow of the Sword
The Era (15 April, 1882 - p.5)
MR. BUCHANAN’S PLAYS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—Although The Shadow of the Sword, founded on my novel of that name, and now being represented at the Olympic Theatre, has been largely advertised as a new drama of my composition, I am not altogether responsible for it as it stands. Some time ago I showed to Mr John Coleman a drama on the subject, which was afterwards largely remodelled and rewritten by him. I need not explain the circumstances which led me to permit Mr Coleman’s alteration of my text; but it should be clearly understood that some of the incidents and much of the dialogue is the actor’s own invention. To make matters quite sure, and protect himself against any scruples on my part, Mr Coleman abstained from inviting me to attend even a single rehearsal; so that for the cast of characters, the stage business, and the scenic arrangements, he is entirely responsible. My own conception was an idyllic drama full of local colour, after the fashion of L’Ami Fritz, but with a few exciting incidents superadded. Such flights of poetry as the curse at the end of the second act are far beyond me, and I trusted, had I been consulted, to have avoided the vagaries of the conventional stage “peasant.”
While making this little explanation, let me express my sympathy with Mr Coleman in his unfortunate difficulties with the stage carpenters. They were not responsible, however, for the cast of characters, or for any of the dialogue. With regard to my other play of Lucy Brandon, now being represented at the Imperial, I admit full responsibility. Although some of your contemporaries have been kind enough to attribute the lavish applause on its first production to a claque of friends (who must have been present also on the second afternoon, since the same enthusiasm was repeated and the author called and recalled again), I really think they are exaggerating. If not, I have more friends than I dreamed of. I never counted London dramatic critics among them, however; nor do I expect fair play when gentlemen of the press, on account of some slight inconvenience, loudly proclaim at the doors their intention of having vengeance.
I am, &c.,
Imperial Theatre, April 12th.
The Era (15 April, 1882 - p.14)
“THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD.”
Mr John Coleman, the lessee of the Olympic Theatre, appeared at Bow-street, on Wednesday, to a summons taken out by Joseph Bennett, an assistant-stage carpenter, claiming the sum of £2.17s. for wages alleged to be due.
The complainant stated that on the 6th there was a dress rehearsal prior to the production of The Shadow of the Sword. He received instructions to work a “rise -and-sink” scene, and for this purpose had some men summoned to assist him. He alleged that they were not skilled mechanics, and as life and limb were imperilled in the working he refused to obey the order given. Thereupon the rehearsal was dismissed, and the defendant discharged him.
The defendant said he did so because complainant had refused to obey his instructions, and had told him that he was not his employer, but that he only accepted orders from the master carpenter. As this individual was alleged to have been in a drunken and incapable state, coupled with the complainant’s refusal to work, it was utterly impossible to proceed with the rehearsal. With reference to the scene in question, no skilled labour was required, it only being necessary to turn a windlass to obtain the desired effect, there not being the slightest danger to any one concerned. In consequence of the complainant’s conduct dissension had been caused amongst the other men, resulting in their dismissal, which had caused a serious pecuniary loss to the defendant.
Mr Vaughan expressed his opinion that the complainant had acted most unjustifiably. He considered that merely manual labour was required, and this having been provided, the complainant ought to have made an effort to obey his instructions. This he had not done, and whilst it was important that employers should not ask anything unreasonable, it was still more important than an employé should not take upon himself to refuse to work on the grounds complainant had mentioned, unless he had first made some effort to do as he was directed. He considered that complainant had acted most unreasonably, and greatly to the detriment of the defendant, and dismissed the summons.
The Era (22 April, 1882 - p.8)
. . .
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN has been terribly unlucky in his latest dramatic essays. Lucy Brandon has already been withdrawn from the boards of the Imperial, and The Shadow of the Sword, which began so badly at the Olympic on Easter Eve, collapsed on Thursday last.
THE OLYMPIC DISPUTE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—There last week appeared a report of a Bow-street police case, having reference to a dispute between a stage carpenter and Mr John Coleman. With the litigants’ differences, however, I have nothing whatever to do, further than I, with others, was discharged at a moment’s notice, without being aware of the cause until I saw the report in question. From Mr John Coleman’s evidence, as published, I learned, to my chagrin and surprise, that my unceremonious dismissal was the natural result of drunkenness! Now, when a man makes an assertion, and on oath, he should be extremely careful as to the veracity of his statement, as perjury is an indictable offence, especially when it tends to the destruction of another’s character. In vindication of myself I must beg to differ with Mr John Coleman, and aver that I was at the time, and at all other times, as sober as he was; and he was not drunk; he was excited—and so was I. I have been engaged at the Olympic Theatre as master carpenter for a period of nearly ten years; and my character has never before been attempted to be tainted. On the contrary, I have been invariably complimented by the different managers under whom I have served, and they have been legion, for sobriety and industry, which my testimonials and presentations will amply prove. To be discharged without cause or notice, is bad enough; but publicly and in open court, to be stigmatised as a drunkard, is adding insult to injury. The attack on my character was made with impunity because it was made in my absence, like stabbing a man in the dark; and I have no other alternative, but through the same medium, of repelling a gratuitous statement that is so likely to prejudice me in the minds of those who, otherwise, might give me employment.
Obediently yours, JOHN COLLINS.
The Era (29 April, 1882 - p.7)
“THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—In doing me the honour to acknowledge me as his collaborateur in the authorship of the drama of The Shadow of the Sword, Mr Robert Buchanan is pleased to express his “sympathy for the mishaps incidental to the working of the scenery on the opening night, but disclaims all responsibility for the cast, dialogue, &c.” This assurance will, doubtless, be received in the candid and generous spirit in which it is given; and, as I do not wish to deprive the poet of a single leaf of his laurels, permit me with equal candour, and, I trust, no less generosity, to “disclaim all responsibility for the cast, dialogue, &c.,” of Lucy Brandon, which has recently achieved so brilliant a success at the Imperial Theatre. With reference to “the poetic flights of fancy involved in the curse,” which Mr Buchanan alleges is “beyond his scope,” permit me to say a word or two. Must we henceforth assume that the great masters have the exclusive privilege of monopolising the great big D’s?
Here are a few choice extracts quoted from memory, to begin with the bard of all time:—Lady Anne to Richard—“Either heaven with lightning strike the murderer dead, or earth gape open wide and cat him quick!” Lear to Goneril—“Hear, Nature, hear! dear goddess, hear!” “Roast me in sulphur, wash me in steep down gulfs of liquid fire!”—Othello. Brutus to Tarquin—“May the red, flaming sun strike you with living plagues; vipers that die not slowly gnaw your heart,” &c.—Howard Payne. Eve to Cain—“May the woods deny thee shelter, earth a home, the dust a grave, the sun his light, and Heaven her God!”—Byron. Carl Von Moor to Schuflerle—“May that fire burn in thy bosom till eternity grows grey!”—Schiller. Tom Robinson to Hawes—“May your skin rot from your flesh—your flesh from your bones; and may your black soul split on the rock of eternal perdition!”—Charles Reade.
I could multiply these passionate apostrophes ad infinitum, but I have quoted enough to show that if I have erred I have erred in a company I am not ashamed of keeping. Besides, it must be admitted that poor Rohan had great provocation—his father murdered in Egypt, his elder brother dead beneath the snows of Russia, his younger one shot before his very eyes, his mother dying from a broken heart. If these be not wrongs deep enough to evoke a curse—“a curse to kill”—I have no knowledge either of human nature or dramatic art. The circumstances connected with the production of this work are so remarkable as to be worth narrating.
It was an ambitious effort; three bigger “sets” than the Grotto of St. Gildas, the Mountains, and the Inundation have never been placed before the public. Four painters, more or less distinguished, and an army of carpenters had been at work day and night for more than a month; we were in sight of port when, at the last rehearsal, we broke down through insubordination amongst our operatives; and, unfortunately, the whole working staff elected to follow the ringleader in this rebellion. Under these circumstances, had I been a millionaire, I should, of course, have closed the theatre a week for preparations; but I was in extremis. There was no help for it but to open; so, relying on an energy and industry which, up to that time, had never been wholly defeated, I engaged a new master carpenter and another staff of men, who worked without intermission through the whole day and night up to half-past six on Saturday morning, when I left them hopeful and confident that we should surmount all difficulties; but I had reckoned without my host.
On the night previous, after everybody else had left the theatre, I went round with my stage-manager, acting-manager, and gasman, and locked every door. On returning at an early hour the next morning I found that one of the doors had been broken open; but it was not until Saturday night I discovered, while the performance was actually going on, that the act-drop had been “fouled” and the whole of the ropes put out of gear; hence the series of mishaps and delays which followed. Mr Gates, Mr Charles Brew, Mr Gompertz, Mr Maltby, Mr Laws, and his men did all men could do in the few hours at their disposal, but they were unable to overcome this “rattening” combination—my misfortune, not their fault. Despite our mishaps the public were more than kind. There were calls and recalls at the end of every act, and, although the curtain did not fall until a quarter past twelve, there were two distinct calls even at that late hour.
Upon subsequent representations we finished nightly at a quarter to eleven, and the play, up to its last performance, was received with genuine enthusiasm; but, alas! the mischief was done the first night, and we had to strike our colours for want of ammunition to carry on the war. The Shadow of the Sword has, doubtless, many faults, but it received many foul blows; and under the circumstances, to which I called attention at the time, was entitled to more generous treatment than it received at some hands.
The other day I read in various journals that on the first night of Othello at the Odeon the curtain did not fall until a quarter past one on Sunday morning. To-day I learn that the curtain did not fall upon Odette until midnight. Yet the only critical deduction made by the majority of critics is that under these circumstances “criticism will be reserved until a more favourable opportunity.”
Now, surely, “kissing goes by favour” here, or is it the case that some of your gentle colleagues deem it their duty to welcome new comers after the fashion of the Good Samaritans of Pudsey, who upon seeing a foreigner “within their gates” playfully exclaim to each other “Hi, chaps, here’s a stranger—heave half a brick at him?” He who does not accept defeat with dignity is a fool, but he who fails to respect the vanquished is a cad, and often cads are to be found even in your noble profession;
As where’s that palace whereinto foul things
Sometimes intrude not?
And now, Sir, in taking my leave for a short time, I desire to offer to the public and the gentlemen of the Press, who here or elsewhere have always been prompt to give generous recognition to whatever conscientious work I have attempted or achieved during a life devoted to the art I love, my thanks and my gratitude.
Yours, &c., JOHN COLEMAN.
Olympic Theatre, April 27th.
The Era (29 April, 1882 - p.8)
AUTHORS AND MANAGERS.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—There are few personal misfortunes which cannot be put to some use as examples to warn others, and since I have been during the past weeks exceptionally unlucky—having had a play righteously and justly “damned” at one theatre and a second play withdrawn at a day’s notice from the boards of another—I am in a position to point the morals of two sad bits of experience.
My first moral, or word of advice, is addressed to my brother authors, and runs to this effect:—“Never under any circumstances allow an actor or manager, however ‘experienced,’ to alter your text at his own wild will, and never, at any rate, have your name attached to a production which is one-third your own and two-thirds interpolation, which is cast and rehearsed without your supervision, and which, when produced, seems like some hideous nightmare, instead of your own sane invention.” If this advice is listened to, authors will avoid my cruel experience during the performance of The Shadow of the Sword at the Olympic Theatre. The play, as there represented, was no more my production than Poole’s burlesque of Hamlet was the production of Shakespeare. For the alteration of the motive, the introduction of useless situations, the mal-characterisation, the general idea of lopsidedness and higgledy-pigglledyness, Mr Coleman is responsible. He is also responsible, by the way, for the programme, which has been laid, with the other sins of commission and omission, at the martyr’d author’s door.
My second word of advice is addressed to authors in particular, and to the theatrical profession in general. It runs thus:—“Avoid business transactions with managers whom you discover, after a brief acquaintance, to be in pecuniary difficulties.” Some months ago the managers of the Imperial Theatre accepted my play of Lucy Brandon, agreed to mount it liberally, to procure a first-class company, and to “run it for, at least, five weeks.” As a guarantee of good faith they introduced me to their “monied” partner, who also subscribed my agreement. To make a long story short, this man of money turned out in good time to be a man of straw—or a man, at all events, who cared not a straw for his liabilities; and the piece was hardly produced when the storm burst. In the innocence of my heart, I had disbursed considerable sums, to tide the management over “temporary” difficulties while their capitalist was “realising.” Every penny of the first week’s takings was spent in paying old arrears, and when Saturday came there was no “treasury” either for the unfortunate author, who was so much out of pocket, or for the still more unfortunate artistes, who had laboured so zealously to make the drama the success I still affirm it to have been.
In giving this explanation, I am far from soliciting any sympathy; nor do I wish to cast any reflection on the managers, who acted throughout, I feel sure, in good faith, and have been almost as ill-treated as the author and the company. The whole unfortunate affair, however, contains a lesson which the theatrical profession should get by heart; and I have, therefore, undertaken, in justice to all concerned, to publish the facts.
I am, &c., ROBERT BUCHANAN.
London, April 25th, 1882.
The Era (6 May, 1882)
“THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—Whatever other “lessons” Mr Buchanan may have learnt from his recent misfortunes, they do not appear to have taught him that a poet’s faculty of invention should be limited to his verses, but that it is imperative that the realities of life should be measured by the more prosaic standard of the code of honour which prevails among gentlemen. It was my desire to have remained silent on this subject, but since Mr Buchanan now dares to insinuate that he was in total ignorance of my revisions and alterations it is time for me, in self-justification, to speak out.
When our drama was first submitted to me, it was a crude, invertibrate sketch, which had been offered to nearly every theatre in London, and had been refused everywhere. I undertook, with the author’s concurrence, to revise and reconstruct it. I did so, invented new characters and incidents, and gave a human motive for Rohan’s refusal to serve in the conscription. When my alterations were completed, they not only met with Mr Buchanan’s approval, but they were absolutely incorporated with our contract of purchase; and, furthermore, I affirm—
1. Prior to the production of the play here, the original prompt copy was placed in his hands for final revision.
2. That he returned it to me duly revised, and that the parts were collated and compared with the MS.; in effect, every line of the play, exactly as it was acted, received Mr Buchanan’s sanction, except the “curse,” with which I did not permit him to interfere.
3. For twelve months prior to its production in town this play has been announced as the sole work of Mr Buchanan, and during its progress through the provinces he has accepted the almost unanimous eulogies of press and public as tributes justly due to him alone. But observe. The moment the shadow of misfortune darkens The Shadow of the Sword he repudiates all responsibility, and leaves me to bear the brunt.
Be it so; I am responsible for everything in connection with the production. There is not an artiste concerned in the representation, not a line I have written, not a scene I have devised, a note of music, or a costume I have selected, or even a stage direction I have given, which I am ashamed of. And now for a word or two with reference to my present relations with this gentleman, and then I hope to have done for ever with him and with this subject.
When he first introduced himself to me, at the Queen’s Theatre, his fame as a dramatist was confined to the authorship of a play which, aided by the prestige of the Haymarket company, with a cast including Mrs Kendal, Mr Buckstone, Mr Kendal, Mr Howe, &c., achieved a run of one night in London, and another in Glasgow. This unpropitious commencement of Mr Buchanan’s dramatic career only enlisted my sympathies on his behalf and I introduced him and his dramas to Mr Neville, who accepted The Queen of Connaught. I brought Mr Buchanan’s sister-in-law on the stage, giving my tuition without fee or reward. I paid him for The Shadow of the Sword before the play was produced in London; in addition to which I gave him my adaptation of The Mormons. “On their own merits modest men are dumb,” and you will doubtless observe that my amour propre as author, adapter, what you will, is not excessive; therefore, when this drama failed, although convinced it would have succeeded under other auspices, I did not think it generous to direct public attention to the (with one or two exceptions) inefficient cast, the injudicious alterations, and bungling stage-management which murdered The Mormons.
The insensate egoism of the author appears in the present instance to have occasioned an aberration of intellect which makes Mr Buchanan oblivious of even common decency. A chance has occurred to him which has never yet occurred to any author, living or dead. Two of his plays are produced in one day in two metropolitan theatres—both are unsuccessful. It is useless now to inquire into the cause. Any one but an idiot can see that no sane man, far less an experienced manager, would be likely to expend valuable time and good money upon a play without doing his best to make it succeed. I did my best, but circumstances were too strong for me, and the logic of fact is inexorable. But first compare Mr Buchanan’s position with mine. He has received every shilling of his money; I have lost mine, and six weeks’ hard work to boot; besides which I am in debt. My friend has lost upwards of £1,000 on the production, and, more grievous than all, my company are thrown out of employment.
Whatever reputation as a dramatist he may ultimately achieve, my distinguished collaborateur as yet has not “set the Thames on fire.” Now I did leave a little reputation behind me; at any rate, you were all good enough to pronounce my Henry the Fifth a great work. I return to London, to lose money and imperil reputation on a much smaller enterprise. What then? I accept the inevitable with equanimity. The vanquished of to-day is the victor of to-morrow. “Time and me against any other two.” I am equal to anything in the future, except another collaborateurship with Mr Robert Buchanan.
Olympic Theatre, May 3d, 1882. JOHN COLEMAN.
The Era (13 May, 1882)
“THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—I owe you my best thanks for your insertion of Mr John Coleman’s last letter in your columns; since I gladly purchase for a little coarse abuse the admission that Mr Coleman did alter and mutilate my play, and that he is the author or adaptor of The Mormons.
But Mr Coleman’s letter contains a few mis-statements of fact which I take the liberty to correct.
1. I never approved of Mr Coleman’s alterations, though in a moment of weakness I agreed to some of them, particularly stipulating that they should cease on signing of the agreement. So far from ceasing they were multiplied, Mr Coleman’s restless inspiration urging him to repeated alterations and interpolations.
2. A few days before the Olympic production, after I had been demanding for months to see the manuscript, an almost illegible copy was sent to me (minus the curse and other flowery matter), with the request that it might be returned at once duly revised. I read it rapidly through, correcting an expression here and there; but I saw at once that it was hopeless work. Foolishly enough, I refrained from doing what I was legally advised to do—interdict the performance on the ground of my broken agreement. For the same good-natured reason I held my peace until I had seen the play. Had I spoken a word before production, Mr Coleman, I knew, would have accused me of prejudicing the public against the piece, and have laid all the burthen of failure upon my shoulders.
3. During the performance of this play in the country I was unable to see it. I received, however, many accounts of the performance, which were so far encouraging that I made Mr Coleman several distinct offers, when he came to town this winter, to cancel our agreement. Had he done so my own “crude invertebrate sketch” (as he chooses to call it) would at once have been purchased by Mr George Rignold, who thought it quite good enough for him, minus curse, and minus all Mr Coleman’s ingenious emendations.
And now, having stated such facts as are really pertinent to the case, let me add a few remarks which, though less pertinent, are necessary under the circumstances.
Mr Coleman, having failed in his scheme to build up a pecuniary success on a system of old-fashioned mutilation, having destroyed a fine conception by vain-glorious bungling and unparalleled blundering, now attempts to add insult to outrage. His assertion that my Haymarket play failed, that it was acted only one night in London and another in Glasgow, is a falsehood. It was produced for the late Mr Buckstone’s benefit on the last night of the season, and it was played throughout the provincial tour of the company with unvarying success. In Liverpool and Glasgow it was repeatedly played to splendid houses, and Mr Buckstone himself, on his return to London, published a special statement to the public, expressing his deep regret that the “secession of Mrs Kendal and the return of Mr Sothern” prevented its reproduction, although it “had been uniformly successful wherever acted.” But surely I waste words in refuting this gentleman, who would gladly treat an injured author as he has treated a helpless stage carpenter. While on this subject, let me state that the person whom his violence drove from the Olympic Theatre, and whom he afterwards tried to ruin by a cruel accusation, was in my employ for a long period last year; that he was uniformly civil, diligent, and obliging; that with his zealous co-operation The Mormons—a play of seventeen elaborate scenes—was produced without one hitch, or one minute’s unnecessary delay; and that no one who knows Mr Collins or has ever employed him believes one word of Mr Coleman’s insinuations.
To conclude, despite this gentleman’s insulting remarks on my dramatic work, I shall not retaliate by criticising his own work as an actor. Of that the public is the fit and only judge. But I take off my hat to him now he informs us that Henry the Fifth was his own “great work.” I had always imagined that Henry the Fifth was the work of William Shakespeare. Being now better instructed, and aware that Shakespeare’s “crude invertebrate sketch” had the benefit of Mr Coleman’s “improvements,” I can quite understand how that production also, like The Shadow of the Sword, had so splendid a reception in a London theatre. Well, I am glad to find Mr Coleman writing so cheerfully, and promising a speedy return to London. I wish him all success; but I hope that when he comes again he will victimise a departed author—not a living one; seeking a collaborateur among the shades of the illustrious dead, who cannot be much injured by his blundering, and are beyond the reach of his abuse. I am, Sir,
Grosvenor Club, W., May 9th, 1882.
The Era (20 May, 1882)
“THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—Mr Buchanan argues, as the Parthian fights, flying; save that the noble savage, when he “makes tracks,” throws javelins at his pursuers, while my opponent, in his flight, throws dirt at me, hoping that if enough of it is thrown some of it may stick. He is mistaken. “The blackest crow that sails across the sky cannot darken the daylight.”
Ignominiously defeated in a discussion which ought never to have been raised, with characteristic good taste Mr Buchanan now seeks to obtrude a wholly irrelevant issue, which does not concern him directly or indirectly, and which is dragged in merely as a pretext to fling mud at me. In my public capacity I am fair game for any blockhead who knows how to use, or misuse, pen and ink; but, when my honour as a man is assailed, there is a limit to me forbearance.
Now, Sir, leaving sonorous superlatives, and high falutin epithets to him who is most accustomed to their use, I confine myself to the simplest possible statement of facts.
During my management, Mr Buchanan never crossed the threshold of this theatre prior to the production of The Shadow of the Sword but once (and that was when he came for the purpose of receiving the balance of the purchase money and of delivering up the prompt copy, duly revised and approved of by him). Consequently, it must be obvious that he was not present when my late stage-carpenter was dismissed, and that, therefore, he can have no knowledge of the “condition” of his friend; or the circumstances connected with his dismissal, except what he has obtained second-hand, and that from the most tainted source.
Here is my reply to this malignant and mendacious allegation. The statement Mr Buchanan has the audacity to impugn was made on oath in a court of law, where I challenge him and his confederate to meet me if they dare.
Meanwhile, “I am armed so strong in honesty, these miserable imputations pass by me like the idle wind, which I respect not.” Yours, &c.,
Olympic Theatre, May 17th. JOHN COLEMAN.
P.S.—However great my provocation, I always fight fairly, and I accept Mr Buchanan’s correction that his maiden drama achieved a run of three or four nights, instead of two, but I deny that he ever made “a distinct offer to cancel our agreement.” What he really did do was to dun me incessantly for the balance of the purchase money, until he had every farthing of it.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—In your issue of the 13th current I see that your correspondent, Mr John Coleman, has once more reverted to a subject which, common sense should have dictated, had better been left alone. I allude to the cruel and misleading accusation brought by your correspondent against the late master carpenter of this theatre. Having once asserted what Mr John Coleman proclaims and reiterates as a fact, he, no doubt, feels himself bound, by some mysterious chain of reasoning, to uphold his original expression of opinion. It seems to be a matter of absolute indifference to him whether his charge is founded on fact or myth; the fiat has gone forth, and under no circumstances can the accuser recant. It is a case of, whether right or wrong, hold-on tenaciously to the last—a kind of bulldog courage that commends itself to the “fancy,” though I fancy it is not strictly comme il faut. This peculiar trait, however, is not at all inconsistent with the characteristics of a man who, having made a venture and failed, still endeavours to induce the world to believe that his collapse—brought about by himself—was the result of “painful circumstances” over which he had no control—no more than he had over his own temper. The “painful circumstances” refer, no doubt, to the victimised carpenter, whose truthful rebutting letter appeared in your issue of the 22d ultimo. It is to this letter that Mr John Coleman now refers, reiterating his assertion that the carpenter in question is an inebriate. Consistency, in a good cause, is exemplary; in a bad one, not only repugnant, but criminal—morally, if not legally. Mr John Coleman instinctively “declines to discuss the subject.” Is it because discretion, in some cases, is the better part of valour? He is, however, “prepared, should it be necessary, to prove, by abundant corroborative testimony, the accuracy of the statement made by him in Bow-street!” This is throwing down the gauntlet to a man who is incapacitated from picking it up; a proof of how daring a man may show himself when no antagonist is forthcoming. As to this “abundant corroborative testimony,” it would be, I opine, something after the fashion of Mr John Coleman’s rhetoric—flowery, but void of potency—as the amount of reliable evidence that could be brought forward to rebut the “abundant corroborative” would, I have no hesitation in saying, make the latter insignificant indeed. Truth, however, must and will prevail in the end, even though it be opposed by “abundant corroborative testimony.” Let Mr John Coleman give to the world an insight into this “corroborative testimony” faction, that I might be enabled to advise the few members composing it what their characters are, because of the company they keep. I must not omit to mention that Mr John Coleman came to the Olympic with the view to prove to the “counter-skipping duffers” of London how superior were his histrionic abilities compared with their puny efforts. And what has been the result? Not the laches of his carpenter, but his own ability to restore vitality to a creation which, though brought into the world by another man, was cruelly vivisected by himself. Exasperated at the miserable outcome of his folly, he falls foul of the man who might have been his friend had he not exhibited his ingratitude, accuses his carpenter of being a tippler, and fails to meet his engagements, for which I can vouch, being one of the sufferers. Mr John Coleman probably may be sophistical, and argue that he had no control over the inevitable—certainly not, for the inevitable is the sequence generally of want of tact, common sense, and means, which means, if you succeed, pay; if not, why—no pay! a code of honour that has but scant recommendation. All letters from Mr John Coleman in The Era, I perceive, are dated as from the Olympic, although he has not shown himself here since the date of his collapse, now some four or five weeks intervening; of course, it is incompetent for me to say what his motives may be for assuming that he is at the theatre when he is not. This enigma, however, may be solved by acknowledging that Mr John Coleman is uncommonly discreet. Recording this special trait in his favour, I modestly retire from the scene of the Olympic dispute, and subscribe myself,
Olympic Theatre, May 16th, 1882. CERBERUS.
The Era (27 May, 1882)
THE OLYMPIC DISPUTE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—From time immemorial it has been a favourite amusement for ill-conditioned dogs to “bay the moon with howling;” but although countless generations of curs have barked sans intermission since the world began the lady moon still sails serenely on.
I follow her ladyship’s example, and shall continue to do so, when “Cerberus” and his brother curs, having howled themselves hoarse, crawl back to their kennels, scourged and chap-fallen.
As for the farrago of irrelevant mendacity and puerile impertinence fabricated by this person, who, ashamed of his own nomenclature, assumes that of the foul-mouthed, three-headed dog of Hades, I simply say what the late Bishop of Oxford said on a similar occasion, “No amount of obscene noises emitted from filthy mouths can disturb the even tenor of my way.”
I think it is George Eliot who somewhere remarks “Impudent assertion is a sort of filthy smoke puffed from the dirty tobacco pipes of those who diffuse it; it proves nothing but the vile taste of the smoker.”
Instead of diffusing “filthy smoke from dirty tobacco pipes,” why do not “Cerberus” and his confederates accept the challenge of the man whose honour they vainly seek to impugn, and confront him on the spot where his oath is chronicled to attest the truth?
I will tell you. It is because they know it is much pleasanter, and far less hazardous, to circulate calumnies on paper than to commit perjury in court.
But I will not waste more words on my anonymous and ignoble slanderer.
Yours, &c., JOHN COLEMAN.
Theatre Royal, Bath, May 24th.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—You and your readers must be well-nigh tired of this matter; but the letter of “Cerberus” in your issue of the 20th inst., following upon Mr Buchanan’s of the 13th inst., provokes me to break, with your permission, the silence I should otherwise have gladly kept.
It is a novel thing in my experience to prefer a charge of wilful perjury in the columns of a newspaper, and I emphatically protest against such a course on public grounds. Mr Coleman has now twice challenged the party aggrieved to meet him in open court, and prove his charge of perjury. If he declines to do so, but still continues through his friends to reiterate his charge in The Era, the public will know how to judge. It has been a matter of surprise to me that he did not long ago, if he was sure of his case, anticipate Mr Coleman’s challenge. I now learn from “Cerberus” that he is “incapacitated from taking up the gauntlet!” What! Incapacitated! When backed by such powerful influence as that of Messrs Buchanan and “Cerberus”! But how incapacitated? Because—so “Cerberus” seems to imply—he is ignorant of the “corroborative evidence” which Mr Coleman states he is ready to produce. But then “Cerberus” should not have said “incapacitated;” he should have said “afraid.”
With reference to Mr Buchanan’s letter, so long as that gentleman confines himself to the expression of his own belief, his interference, however uncalled-for, may be allowed to pass. The value of his belief may be gauged by the fact that he was not present on the occasion in question. But when he assumes to state the belief of an indefinite number of other persons, I am tempted to ask him this plain question. Did he—yes or no—ascertain beforehand from each and all of those persons the exact state of their belief on this particular point.
The nom de plume “Cerberus,” no doubt, suggests the exalted position the writer holds at the Olympic, and thus must greatly increase the credibility of his evidence. To my certain knowledge he had left the theatre a long time before the incident in question occurred. “Cerberus” is evidently the “superior person” of the theatre, the watch-dog and guardian of the theatre’s morals. I did hear there was a certain person employed in the theatre whose boast it was that he had availed himself of his position to collect materials for the future exposure of certain details affecting the private characters of former occupants of the theatre. I did not believe there was such a man. “Cerberus” is shaking my belief on this one point at least.
When “Cerberus” has the courage to sign his own name his statements may merit consideration. As it is, I content myself with denying point-blank two of his assertions, that Mr Coleman ever called the party concerned an “inebriate” or a “tippler,” and that Mr Coleman has not shown himself at the Olympic since the date of his collapse.
My immediate object in writing this letter is to state that I share with Mr Coleman, morally if not technically, the responsibility of the late master-carpenter’s dismissal. Mr Coleman acted in accordance with my advice; that advice was based on what I had seen; and, if called upon, I shall be ready to justify it at the proper time and place.
I am promised in return for this the abuse of “Cerberus” and his pack; it will not affect me, nor the opinion of those who know me. The opinion of those who do not know me, but are affected by it, is indifferent to me.
One word more. I do not rush into print to asperse another man’s character, especially that of an open antagonist. If incidentally I have done so, the fault lies with those who have provoked this rejoinder, not with me. And the same spirit of fair play which has actuated what I have already said obliges me to add (and I do so with pleasure) that I have received from two gentlemen, who have had abundant opportunities of judging, and whose integrity is spotless (I am not referring now to Messrs Buchanan and “Cerberus”) the highest praises of the late master carpenter’s sobriety, ability, and character. I confess I am unable to reconcile the seeming inconsistancy; if I could do so, I could also probably explain many other things which are still a mystery to me in connection with the late production at the Olympic.
I remain, Sir, yours faithfully,
Late Acting-Manager and Treasurer, Olympic Theatre.
The Era (3 June, 1882)
THE DISPUTE AT THE OLYMPIC.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.
Sir,—With reference to John Coleman’s string of pot-house invectives, levelled against me in your issue of the 27th ult., I must say it is a source of gratification on my part to learn that the man whose ambition it is to pose as a gentleman has, by his unseemly language, that of abuse without argument, revealed himself in his true colours. In his rage he forgets himself, and throws off the mask, an uncontrollable impulse for which, no doubt, by this time he is very sorry, if not heartily ashamed of. In even noticing this tirade of vulgar expletives I am aware I derogate from my self-respect, because, like a modern Socrates, I condescend to stand side by side on the same platform with a modern, though masculine, Xantippe. It seems to me that John Coleman is much more happy in his quotations, though now and then out of place, than in his characteristic mode of expressing his antipathy to good advice; the mixture, certainly, is somewhat anomalous, though it tends in a great measure to confirm the accredited assumption that a certain obnoxious personage is in the habit of quoting Scripture for a purpose which I need not imply, as it is well understood. In my time I have been accustomed, even in the warmest disputations, to be treated with, at least, an outward sign of courtesy; but never, except in the lowest stratum of society, have I encountered such ignoble and degrading expressions of virulence and animosity. It is, however, futile to continue this kind of recrimination, especially as it concerns a matter in which neither party can, or will not, be convinced against his will. So, as a finale to my original contradiction, I here, for the last time, emphatically state that I adhere to the same in its every detail. And whatever vulgar epithets, impotent rage, malice, or jealousy John Coleman may apply to me in his future effusions, I can conscientiously say that, at least, I am honest.
As to your other correspondent F. Pemberton, of the same date, I must say I look upon him as being under an obligation, or may be necessity, to obey the behests of his liege—i.e., to say and act as he is dictated to; and, although his communication does not bear the impress of rabies, there can be no doubt that the two inspirations spring from the one source. F. Pemberton acts as a kind of talismanic agent to his liege, for he carries about with him a charm as a protection against mishaps such as occurred at the Olympic a few weeks ago! The shadow (not of the sword) is, as it were, an immaterial, and yet at the same time a material, as well as a necessary, adjunct to the substance, both of which are clearly defined by the tenor of their respective onslaughts on me in your recent issue. Why each of my dual opponents should prate so much about “honour” and “honesty” is beyond the scope of my comprehension, unless it be they are full to overflowing of those virtues, and desire to part with the overplus, which I, at least, should be sorry to accept, either as a gift or by purchase, at any price.
Obediently yours, CERBERUS.
Olympic Theatre, June 1st, 1882.
[This correspondence must now cease.—Ed. Era.]
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