ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

Home
Biography
Bibliography

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

Essays
Reviews
Letters

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

Links
Site Diary
Site Search

LETTERS TO THE PRESS (14)

 

How I Write My Plays

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (21 September, 1892)

“HOW I WRITE MY PLAYS.”

I.—BY MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN.

HAVING elicited from the novelists the various reasons why they do not write plays, we have asked one or two eminent playwrights to supplement what others of the same craft have written on the subject in these columns in former days, and to tell us how they write their plays. The first of these is Mr. Robert Buchanan:—
     You are good enough to ask me to describe “how I make a play,” and to send me at the same time the published reports of such excellent craftsmen as Mr. Pinero and Mr. Sydney Grundy. Mr. Pinero appears very well satisfied to work under existing conditions, while Mr. Grundy adopts a tone of defiant cynicism towards both his own work and the conditions which regulate it. For myself, I make plays because I have been taught no other trade to gain a decent living, and, having more than once frankly confessed as much, I remain at the mercy of the cranks and quidnuncs who do no literary fighting but throng the bastions of minor journals. I think that play-writing, like carpentering, is a trade to be learned, and that a dramatic author, to be successful, must be a master of stage technicalities. I have been in my time actor, stage manager, theatre manager; can at a pinch paint my own scenery, design my own “posters,” and write my own criticisms. I regret, quite as keenly as any of the New Critics, that dramatic art is regulated by commercial considerations, and that experiments on public taste are costly and dangerous. Of the many plays which I have written, only a very few are satisfactory from my point of view as a writer; among these few I include “The Nine Day’s Queen,” “Sophia,” “Clarissa,” and “The Bride of Love,” and only one of these has been phenomenally successful. As regards my modus operandi in making a play, it is, I suspect, much the same as that of other dramatists. Having got my subject, I map out my play act by act and scene by scene, and then fill in the first sketches of the leading characters. Like Mr. Pinero, I have all my work practically done before I commence the actual writing of a drama, which occupies a comparatively short space of time. In “adapting,” as it is called, I first read my original carefully and thoroughly, and then close the book for ever, only using such portions of the work as remain fixed on my memory after reading. As a consequence, I am generally responsible for the dialogue throughout, as well as for all the modifications of the subject. There may be, I believe, quite as much real originality in a so-called “adaptation” as in a play avowedly original—e.g., Shakspeare’s plays are, almost without exception, adaptations, and adaptations, in many instances, of contemporary plays. In making this observation I am quite prepared to hear that I compare myself with Shakspeare; nothing, indeed, would astonish me in this generation of fault-finding. But I will go a little further, and express my opinion that, if “Hamlet” or “Othello” were in the market now, no manager would be bold enough to produce it, and no critic would praise it if produced. “Hamlet” is a very bad play, and “Othello” a very good one; but neither would have any chance against “cocksure” criticism. We dramatists are drowned with tittle-tattle and deluged with impertinencies; and if dramatic art does not thrive, it is because ex cathedrâ criticism flourishes. At the same time, I smile at the cheery optimism which contends that the great public is the best judge of works of art and never passes contemptuously by “a good thing.” The great public is, as it has ever been, a heterogeneous mob, without taste and without ideas. The great public rushed to see “Faust” at the Lyceum and “A Man’s Shadow” at the Haymarket; it set the fashion for the screaming bayadère in Sarah Bernhardt, and for the noisy corybante in Lottie Collins; it clamours for fashion and for sensation, whether at the theatres or at the circulating library. No art can thrive as art which appeals directly to the masses, or to any mixed audience. An example of this may be found in the fact that no manager who knows his business—i.e., the business of making money—will produce a play with a tragic ending. The great public does not want tragedy, does not want “ideas,” does not want any dealings with the great issues of life and death. For this, among other reasons, dramatic writing remains a “trade,” like carpentering. I sincerely wish it were otherwise. I hope, moreover, that things may change. But there is only one cant worse than contending that great work is demanded on the stage, and that is the cant which contends that good work is never neglected.
     Still, with all its drawbacks, dramatic work is not unpleasant; its manifold technicalities redeem it from nothingness, and it is something, after all, to come face to face with the great mass of public simplicity. There is this also to be said, perhaps: that the masterpieces of the world, whether in poetry or the drama, are those which appeal to mankind at large, as well as to the cultivated individual. No great and enduring work was ever written for quidnuncs. There are noble notes to which all human nature responds, and these may be heard just as surely at (say) the Adelphi as at the home of Molière. After twenty-five years of literature, proper and improper, I have found it a relief to try and amuse great grown- up children with anecdotes and nursery tales; and perhaps, when all is said and done, this is a more useful service than attempting to edify disappointed dramatists. Shakspeare condescended to it, at any rate. It is good to feel like Shakspeare!
     I had written the above, at your request, when my attention was attracted to the communications made to your columns by living Novelists, on the subject of the Stage. Frankly, I can imagine nothing more ludicrous than the lofty air of superiority assumed by these much discredited gentlemen in writing of their dramatic brethren. It is simply an example of the shopwalkers despising the men behind the counter! Has Mr. Archer, in approaching them with cynical respect, fooled them so utterly that they forget how much they also, the writers of fiction, are despised by the heads of literary haberdashery? I can well remember the time when Mr. Hardy was producing his best work, and when the critics, smitten dumb before George Eliot, had never a good word for Mr. Hardy. I can remember the time, not at all remote, when the same critics tore Mr. George Meredith tooth and nail, and when the Mr. Archers of the world, the flesh, and the devil had nothing but contempt for him. Experiences of this kind should make men humble and generous, not spiteful and unkind. The Stage and the Novel are two widely different branches of trade, and neither at the present day has much claim to serious consideration. The latter business must certainly be in a very bad way, however, when Mr. W. E. Norris burns incense at the shrine of the author of “The Wreckers”—that stupendous genius whom Mr. Archer, on easy terms of equality, addresses as “my dear Stevenson.” Even the Stage, the poor despised Drama, would not be very hard put to it to equal the flights of the “little masters” of our log-rolling Decadence. Playwriting does require some sense of form, while novel-writing requires none. The Novel is the most incoherent, shapeless, tumble-down, haphazard structure of literary amateurism. Any tiro may attempt it with a certain success, whereas no tiro can shape even a third-rate play. While prose fiction absorbs the folly and fashion of the hour, and dies of its inaptitude to assume any coherent and enduring form, the fine Play survives, in the library if not on the stage. Rail at the Drama as you please, it has been the speech of giants, to which the Novel is the cackle of dwarfs.
     Of the few great Novels which survive there is scarcely one which has any claim whatever to be a work of art at all. The finest, such as “Don Quixote,” or “Tom Jones,” or even “The Heart of Midlothian,” is twenty times too large in bulk for its ideas. Most of the very best works of fiction extant—for example, “David Copperfield,” the “Newcomes,” the “Cloister and the Hearth”—are splendid literary patchwork, a series of brilliant sketches, held together by a carelessly invented plot. What Novel, even the greatest, can be named in the same day with the masterpieces of the Greek dramatists, of Shakspeare and his contemporaries, of Molière and Racine, of Goethe and Schiller? There may be a thousand bad plays, but the type of the play remains the highest expression of human art, whereas the Novel has no type and is of its very nature inchoate, invertebrate, and chaotic. It may, as some of your correspondents suggest, be the literary vehicle of the future; in that case, I beg to say, the last word of Art is said, and the Deluge of Dismal Prose will engulf all that is fine in literature.
     But it is the fashion to throw stones at the dramatists, just as it has been the fashion to throw stones at the novelists; and now the novelists, glad to escape for the time being, try to curry favour with the little stone-throwing boys in our literary street. It is a mean business at the best, only diversified by the quarrels of the small boys among themselves. The novelists, or the shopwalkers, have the easiest life of it, as Mr. “Lucas Malet” very pertinently pointed out; why, then, should they pose as superior to their brethren? In a word, all this fuss about kinds of art, about Literature with a capital “L,” about the divorce between the Stage and Fiction (as if the two were not too consanguineous ever to go through the marriage ceremony!), is meant to edify only one person—the minor Critic, the officious Criticaster. Mr. Archer, good man, eager for the proprieties, would marry the Drama to the lopsided and anæmic Novel. It is time to remember the table of affinities, and to remind Mr. Archer that one cannot marry one’s grandmother!

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (23 September, 1892)

THE PARENTAGE OF THE NOVEL.

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—It seems to me that Mr. Buchanan’s allusion to a man marrying his own grandmother is a singularly unfortunate one. Not only in point of years is the drama the grandmother of the novel, and not the grandson, as Mr. Buchanan would persuade us to think, but, apart from this, it may be fairly considered to be a direct ancestor; and, what is more, the novel is not only its descendant, but perhaps its successor. Before the comparatively modern invention of printing, and the almost recent one of publishing, the dramatists held the field. Now the conditions are changed, and Mr. Buchanan’s attempts to cut off the novelist, so to say, with an adjective, savour a little of jealousy. Before calling the novel inchoate, invertebrate, anæmic, lopsided, or what not, Mr. Buchanan should remember and make allowance for its extreme youth. But it is grotesque, all the same, to see him round on the vulgar little boy who has thrown stones at him, and solemnly curse him with his prophecy of a “Deluge of Dismal Prose.”—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
     27, Gt. George-street, S.W., Sept. 21                                                       RANDALL DAVIES.

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (30 September, 1892)

THE STORY AND THE PLAY.

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—One of your correspondents objects to my description of the Novel as the “grandmother” of the Play, and suggests that the description might be more correct if the relationships were reversed. His objection, I think, is hasty, and scarcely to be sustained, unless he means to circumscribe the Novel to its life during later generations. In England and in every other country the Story, Narrative, or Novel, whether improvised in vernacular at the fireside or thrown into loose verse and doggerel, dates far back beyond any kind of drama. The earliest form of Narrative is poetical or quasi- poetical, as in the Vedas, the Eddas, Homer, and certain national Ballads. It is, with all its felicities, invariably diffuse and often somewhat nebulous. Not until a far later stage of human art does Man arrive at the highest of all forms, the Dramatic. The radical difference of method between the shapeless Novel and the well-formed Play may be seen at one glance if we compare the dramas of Shakspeare and his contemporaries with the works of fiction from which many of those dramas were adapted; or, to go still further back, the plays of Æschylus and Sophocles with the Iliad of Homer. There is nothing in the latest manifestations of the Novel to distinguish it in form from the very earliest efforts of human story telling; it is still shapeless, awkward, diffuse, and tautological, while it has lost all the qualities of youth, freshness, and simplicity. When the toothless gums now mumble about Realism and Pessimism and every other dismal “ism,” it is hard to conceive that the sound comes from the same mouth which sang to wondering peasants the interminable tale of Troy. The divine life has died for ever out of this skeleton, and only second childhood remains. Once living, fresh, beautiful, and young, the Story is now old, dropsical, and (as I said) shapeless. At its best it is only a revival of a very primitive kind of Art—a “grandmotherly” attempt to remember the narrative feats of its own childhood. Art ever walks most freely when most fettered. The loosest and clumsiest walk of Art is the Novel; its highest and noblest walk is the Play. And that is why the Play fails to be affected by the last new discovery of Disease and Dirt, through which the poor purblind Novel hopes to be saved.—I am, &c.,
     Sept. 27.                                             ROBERT BUCHANAN.
    
P.S.—Being absent from town, I have only just seen the number of the Pall Mall Gazette containing the letter of your correspondent.
                                       R. B.

__________

 

The Wandering Jew

 

[Richard Le Gallienne’s review of Buchanan’s poem, The Wandering Jew, was printed in The Daily Chronicle on  11th. January, 1893 and sparked a debate in that paper which lasted until the end of the month. The scale of the controversy was such that I have only transcribed a selection of the contributions, but this includes the first six letters which Buchanan wrote to the Chronicle. These are available in a separate section of the site (attached to The Wandering  Jew) and accessible from the link below.]

 

“Is Christianity Played Out?” - The Wandering Jew Controversy

__________

 

Literature and Lucre

 

[A letter from Buchanan was published in The Daily Chronicle on either 13th or 14th July, 1893 under the heading ‘Literature and Lucre’. It was written in response to comments made by Walter Besant about Buchanan’s contribution to the ‘My First Book’ feature in the May edition of The Idler. I don’t have the original letter, so these short extracts will have to suffice.]

 

Pall Mall Gazette (4 July, 1893 - p.5)

     Mr. Walter Besant, in commenting upon a recent paper by the irrepressible Scottish poet, playwright, novelist, and pamphleteer who has written under the names of Thomas Maitland and Robert Buchanan, makes an interesting confession. “There is one thing in my own experience,” he says, “on which I look back with great satisfaction. It is that I was able to resist the very great temptation to live by writing till such time—about eight years ago—when I thought myself justified in so doing. I then, and not till then, resigned a post which had for twenty years taken the cream of the day, and given me a certain independence.”
     Mr. Besant’s advice to young men who desire to take up literature as a profession recalls Sir Walter Scott’s remark that, while it was a good walking-stick, it was anything but a trustworthy crutch. “My own advice to a young man” (says the genial author of “All in a Garden Fair”) “would be, Do not attempt to live by literature. Earn a livelihood some other way. At all cost—at any cost—be independent of your literary work. There is hardly any kind of work which does not allow a man time for as much literary work and study as is good for him. Look at the men who have been journalists, civil servants, medical men, lawyers—anything. Be independent.”

___

 

Pall Mall Gazette (13 July, 1893 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan—tardily, it is true, but vigorously, and in his own manner—has replied to certain criticisms recently passed upon a paper of his by Mr. Walter Besant. We cannot agree with the enthusiastic young man of the Chronicle—in which journal Mr. Buchanan’s effusion appears—in thinking that “Mr. Besant’s ears ought to tingle.” Because a soured and disappointed man chooses to describe the literary profession as “mean, snobbish, and ill-paid,” is no reason why more genial and more successful writers should either exhibit wrath or cease to possess their souls in patience. And in this light Mr. Besant will, no doubt, regard the matter.
     Mr. Buchanan’s letter, however, is interesting—especially those portions of it in which he speaks of himself. “I have never stood up in the market-place cackling over either losses or gains; I have never taken off my hat to any bogus reputation; and I have chosen in preference to joining any clique of authors or logrollers, the liberty of speaking my mind—with the result that the whole tribe of professional literary men have been up in arms against me.” And again: “I have earned and lost large sums of money, but I have never, up to date, discovered that literature and lucre are convertible terms. It is not for my pen to proclaim what the hand which holds it has done, but I could stake my oath that I have fed more mouths, and helped more struggling comrades, than all the Societies of Authors put together. I care little for Fame, and less for Money. I have known too many famous men to respect them, and too many rich men to envy them.” Happy Mr. Robert Buchanan! But why, if in so blessed a condition, be so querulous?

___

 

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (14 July, 1893 - p.3)

     There is in this morning’s “Chronicle” a characteristic letter bespattered with capitals on “Literature and Lucre” by Robert Buchanan, who is always ready to tilt his lance no matter what the cause. To-day he wishes “to emphasise the fact that the pursuit of mere Fame is fully as demoralising as the pursuit of mere Money,” and he points the moral with numerous illustrations. Browning, for instance, according to Leigh Hunt, “hungered eagerly for the praise of even his washerwoman.” It may have been so, but in the case of authors without either Money or Fame, the washerwoman is generally understood to be quite as hungry for payment as her client is for praise.

     Mr. Buchanan on this occasion holds a brief for the Publisher, and contends that “the only real enemy of Genius is public stupidity,” which is another way of saying that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. But Publishers are different; again and again they have “helped the struggler, boiled the pot, guided the improvident, and sympathised with the deserving. There may be rascally Publishers; there are also rascally Authors. It is quite a mistake, at any rate, to regard the Writer of Books as a benignly innocent creature, absolutely at the mercy of Book-dealers and other Birds of Prey.” Certainly no one would be foolish enough to so regard Mr. Robert Buchanan.

___

 

The Literary World (21 July, 1893 - Vol. 48, p.52-53)

     When two great men quarrel, it is sometimes interesting to find out who began. This remark applies to the war between Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. Walter Besant, in which the latter has the disadvantage of being absent from the scene of action, and therefore unable to strike back while the public mind still thrills with the former’s impassioned periods. Mr. Buchanan evidently regards Mr. Besant as the aggressor. His letter in The Daily Chronicle begins thus:

     In the current number of The Author, a publication in which literature is reduced to its commercial elements of tallow-chandling, Mr. Walter Besant, the editor, falls foul of me for forming a low estimate of the profession of letters—basing his diatribe, I should explain, on some remark of mine in last month’s Idler. As usual, the attack assumes the popular form of the argumentum ad hominem, Mr. Besant averring that a person like myself, who is in receipt of a Civil List pension, has no right to grumble about literary rewards and punishments. Fortunate in having been placed at a very early age above sordid needs and troubles, I had no necessity to scribble for money at all, and certainly no right to decry those who do! To this assertion Mr. Besant adds some truly ‘grubby’ insinuations, to the effect that I am a disappointed person, envious of the pure fame of Cockney contemporaries, and not appreciated in Grub-street to the extent which I consider my due.

Upon this follow two long paragraphs of explanation of what Mr. Buchanan did say and did mean in his Idler article, interspersed with sneers and growls at Mr. Besant, and the most contemptuous remarks about the Society of Authors. But it is evident that Mr. Besant’s reference to Mr. Buchanan’s Civil List pension was the ‘unkindest cut,’ and the one that produced the most rankling wound. It is at first sight difficult to understand why it should. Mr. Besant is not opposed to pecuniary rewards being granted to authors by the State. It is part of his annual complaint, we believe, that they are so rarely bestowed. Why, then, should Mr. Buchanan be so ready to take the reference as a covert insult? Presumably because Mr. Besant used the fact of the pension to discount Mr. Buchanan’s masked attack, in The Idler, on the Society of Authors. If Mr. Buchanan was so anxious for peace—‘All I ask,’ he says, ‘from Mr. Besant and his fellow-authors is to be let alone’—he should not have written thus:

     With a fairly extensive knowledge of the writers of my own period I can honestly say that I have scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame.

___

 

[A reply of sorts to Buchanan’s letter occurs in an article in The Times of 18th August, written by Walter Besant about the Congress of Authors, which he had attended in Chicago in July, 1893. The full article is available here, but the following passage relates to Buchanan:

     “Another kind of literary man is he who is continually inveighing against the baseness of connecting literature with lucre. He appears in this country, on an average, once a year, with his stale and conventional rubbish. Where this kind of talk is sincere, if ever it is sincere—mostly it comes from those who have hitherto failed to connect literature with lucre—it rests upon a confusion of ideas. That is to say, it confuses the intellectual, artistic, literary worth of a book with its commercial value. But the former is one thing, the latter is another. They are not commensurable. The former has no value which can be expressed in guineas, any more than the beauty of a sunset or the colours of a rainbow. The latter may be taken as a measure of the popular taste, which should, but does not always, demand the best books. No one, therefore, must consider that a book necessarily fails because the demand for it is small; nor, on the other hand, is it always just or useful to deride the author of a successful book because it is successful. In the latter case the author has perhaps done his best; it is the popular judgment that should be reproved and the popular taste which should be led into a truer way.
     A book, rightly or wrongly, then, may be a thing worth money—a property, an estate. It is the author’s property unless he signs it away; and since any book, in the uncertainty of the popular judgment, may become a valuable property, it is the author’s part to safeguard his property, and not to part with it without due consideration and consultation with those who have considered the problem. And it is the special function of such a Conference to lay down the data of the problem, and so to help in producing, if possible, a solution. But as for the question—is it sordid, is it base, for an author—a genius—to look after money? Well, a popular author is not always a genius. But even those who are admitted to have some claim to the possession of genius have generally been very careful indeed with regard to the money produced by their writings. Scott, Byron, Moore, Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope, Tennyson, Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade—almost every man, or woman, of real distinction in letters can be shown to have been most careful about the money side of his books. It is left for the unsuccessful, for the shallow pretenders, or for some shady publisher’s hack, to cry out upon the degradation of letters when an author is advised to look after his property. Let us simply reply that what has not degraded the illustrious men who have gone before will not degrade those smaller men, their successors.”]

___

 

The Literary World (29 September, 1893 - Vol. 48, p. 218)

     The September number of The Author contains Mr. Besant’s replies to the attacks on the Society of Authors by Mr. Robert Buchanan and Mr. Andrew Lang. Mr. Besant disposes of the latter by repeating and enforcing his statement that authors are dependent on publishers, and not, as Mr. Lang says, on the public. He does not condescend to bandy epithets with Mr. Buchanan, but hints that he is a hopeless person.

__________

 

Dick Sheridan

 

The Era (26 August, 1893)

MR. BUCHANAN’S “DICK SHERIDAN.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—May I call the attention of English dramatic authors to the following facts:—
     Nearly eighteen months ago Mr Daniel Frohman, of the Lyceum Theatre, New York, read and accepted a comedy from my pen entitled Dick Sheridan. Before finally agreeing to produce it, he desired that Mr Edward Sothern, his leading man, should also read it, which Mr Sothern did, expressing thereupon, verbally and in writing, his unqualified approval. The agreement was then signed, and a small advance on royalties paid down in the customary manner. From that period, the earlier months of 1892, until a few weeks ago, I have been in frequent communication with Mr Frohman without receiving any intimation whatever that he was dissatisfied with the play. On the contrary, he wrote from time to time informing me that Mr Sothern was “studying the period” and “taking fencing lessons.” He also announced, both here and in America, that the play of Sheridan, from my pen, would open his present season. I was considerably surprised, therefore, when, some weeks since, I received a letter from him informing me that he did not think my play would be quite successful, and that he had accepted another by an American author on the same subject. He, however, suggested that he should play my first and last acts, and pay me 2 per cent. of the gross receipts for the use of the same.
     The play of Sheridan will shortly be produced in England at the Comedy Theatre, under the management of Mr Comyns Carr. It is in every respect original, save in so far as it follows certain real incidents of Sheridan’s life. I have Mr Daniel Frohman’s written statement to the effect that it was not until long after his announcement of my play (which he had undertaken to produce) that he received any manuscripts by American authors on the same subject. Sheridan; or, the Maid of Bath, by Mr Paul M. Potter, is now advertised for immediate production at the Lyceum Theatre, New York.
     The facts are very simple. An American manager having read and accepted a play on a particular subject, keeps it by him for eighteen months without any hint of dissatisfaction. His leading actor also reads the play and approves of it; its imminent production is announced in the public press, but at the eleventh hour, when it is too late for the English author to make other arrangements, the American manager announces his intention of altering his mind.
                                       I am, Sir, yours truly,
                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     London, Aug. 24th, 1893.

___

 

The Era (23 September, 1893)

PAUL POTTER AND ROBERT BUCHANAN.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—With the virulence which he mistakes for vigour, Mr Robert Buchanan has been abusing me because Mr Daniel Frohman has preferred my play of Sheridan to his. I know nothing of the differences between Mr Buchanan and Mr Frohman. I know nothing of Mr Buchanan’s manuscript on the subject of Sheridan. Having served my apprenticeship in dramatic criticism, I have no such opinion of Mr Buchanan’s abilities that I should care to borrow his ideas. But in case he is imitating the tactics of the cuttlefish, which darkens the waters to conceal its depredations, I beg to give him notice that my play is protected by international copyright, and that I will prosecute him if he attempts to reproduce the scenes, dialogue, or “business” which I have invented.
                                       Your obedient servant,
                                                                   PAUL M. POTTER.
     Lyceum Theatre, New York, Sept. 8th.

___

 

Era (30 September, 1893 - p.7)

     “SHERIDAN: OR, THE MAID OF BATH,” is still the subject of a bitter controversy. Mr Robert Buchanan recently attacked Mr Daniel Frohman, alleging unfair dealings with his play. Mr Frohman and Mr Paul M. Potter, the author of the American version recently produced in New York by Mr Sothern, have replied. Our own correspondent has thrown some fresh light on the whole business, and now we are in receipt of another letter from Mr Buchanan, who deals out libellous accusations so liberally that we are compelled to refuse him publication. Mr Buchanan was very angry, because from his first letter we expunged matter that was libellous; he will be angrier perhaps when he finds that we have thought it necessary to suppress his second altogether.

___

 

The Era (7 October, 1893)

DANIEL FROHMAN & ROBERT BUCHANAN.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I am informed that Mr Robert Buchanan declares in the London Telegraph that I have “pirated” his play of Dick Sheridan. The facts are these:—Over a year ago Mr Buchanan sent me a manuscript on the subject of Dick Sheridan. Subsequently I saw him in London, and explained to him that many alterations would be required in his play to make it suitable to our audiences. He agreed that many changes were needed. His letters to me on the subject show his arrangement of his work in the play. I agreed that if the play was not produced I should pay him a forfeit. Later, in considering the manuscript, I found that the play required more than mere alterations for our purposes—it needed radical readjustment. Mr Buchanan forbade us in a letter from making any changes. There was nothing to do but to abide by Mr Buchanan’s instructions. I therefore rejected his play and paid the forfeit.
     But meanwhile a comedy entitled Sheridan; or, the Maid of Bath, written by Mr Paul M. Potter, and designed for Mr Richard Mansfield, had come into my possession. It was largely a fanciful work, introducing some of Sheridan’s originals, some of the scenes in his plays and much of his published wit. It was in every way unlike Mr Buchanan’s play; and yet it occurred to me that one incident in the latter work might strengthen the close of the former work. So I offered to buy this incident from Mr Buchanan. Mr Buchanan refused to sell it, and I proceeded to produce Mr Potter’s play precisely as it was originally written. It cost me considerably more than Mr Buchanan’s play, and I had nothing to gain by making the substitution, save that I now had a piece which has been proved to be good, instead of a piece which the London critics will soon, I understand, have an opportunity of testing.
                             Your obedient servant,                             DANIEL FROHMAN.
     Lyceum Theatre, New York, Sept. 21st, 1893.

__________

 

Caine and Rossetti

 

[Another extract from a letter to The Daily Chronicle, published on 28th October, 1893.]

 

Pall Mall Gazette (26 October, 1893 - p.5)

     Mr. Hall Caine does not agree with Mr. Buchanan that literary men are mean creatures. On the contrary he defends Mr. Buchanan against himself. In the course of an interview in the Young Man he tells the following story.
     When Rossetti was lying near to death at Birchington, Buchanan, who many years before had published an article about him, called “The Fleshly School of Poetry” (bitter to the last degree, and most unjust)—produced a book called “Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour.” The book was sent to Caine for review, and one day Rossetti came into his room and saw it lying open before him. Rossetti picked it up, and his expression became contemptuous when he saw whose book it was. But suddenly he turned and said, “I should like you to read some of this book to me.”
     That night Caine read a long ballad about the burning of witches at Leith, and also a number of shorter poems, and then out of another book of Buchanan’s a ballad called “Judas Iscariot.” He listened with deep interest, every now and then breaking out with, “Well, that’s good, anyhow! . . . There is no denying it, that’s good work” and so on. Then came the more pathetic passages, and he melted in tears, and at the end of “Judas” he said, “That is a fine ballad. It is worthy of anybody whatever.” Now if there was one man in the world, Mr. Hall Caine declares, for whom Rossetti had an unfriendly feeling, it was the author of that poem, but he was not little enough to deny genius to his enemy.
     After Rossetti’s death Hall Caine came to London and took chambers at Clement’s Inn. Buchanan was one of his first callers, and after a while he said, “I want to talk about Rossetti.” He deeply regretted what he had written; in a manly way he expressed his sorrow, and said he would be sorry all his life. Then Caine told him the story related above. He flushed up, was deeply moved, and at last said, “Are you trying to pile coals of fire on my head?” With these two experiences before him Hall Caine refuses to accept the dictum that literature makes men mean.

___

 

Pall Mall Gazette (28 October, 1893 - p.5)

     So Mr. Robert Buchanan repudiates, both on his own part and that of the literary profession, the defence offered by Mr. Hall Caine. He will still have it that literature is not a noble profession, and is frequently a degrading one, and as for himself, why his one virtue is candour.
     In his letter of repudiation in the Chronicle this morning Mr. Buchanan relates that one of the strongest injunctions laid upon him by Lewes was never to express a literary opinion which might provoke critical animosity, and if he had dangerous views on any subject, to “keep them to myself.” Buchanan once informed Lewes that, on first coming to London, he had to keep body and soul alive by writing potboilers for a weekly journal of fiction. “For God’s sake,” he said, “don’t tell this to anyone else, for if you ever achieve reputation as a poet the fact will be used against you.” “In other words, this kind and sympathetic man, remembering his own experience, asked me to trim and tinker my life in order to represent it otherwise than it was, or had been.”
     As to the two anecdotes told by Mr. Caine concerning Buchanan and the late D. G. Rossetti which were reproduced in this column, Mr. Buchanan says: “Flattering as they are to both of us, I trust that they will be accepted cum grano salis. The subject is one which I would rather pass by in silence, except to say that no one knows better than Mr. Hall Caine (of whose loyalty and devotion to Rossetti there can be no question) that the cruellest misrepresentations ever endured by the poet were due to the conduct of his own intimate friends. He was not the weak, querulous, feeble person pictured to his admirers, and capable of being ‘snuffed out by an article.’ He was a man in every sense of the word, and with his great sufferings and untimely end criticism, adverse or favourable, had nothing whatever to do.”

___

 

St. James’s Gazette (28 October, 1893 - p.15)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AND D. G. ROSSETTI.

     In a letter to the Daily Chronicle Mr. Robert Buchanan recalls a famous literary controversy. All admirers of Dante Gabriel Rossetti remember the attack made on him anonymously by Mr. Buchanan, under the title “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” and Rossetti’s answer, “The Stealthy School of Criticism.” Mr. Buchanan afterwards retreated from attacking Rossetti’s poems as immoral. This is the short account of the matter which he gives to-day:—“Years ago, I wrote an article on the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry,’ dealing sarcastically and, as I afterwards thought, unfairly with the amourettes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I dare say that article should never have been written; but such as it was it expressed not merely my own opinion, but that of the greatest of my contemporaries. Again and again, in conversation with me, Robert Browning had denounced the indecencies and absurdities of the school in question, just as for certain verbal improprieties he denounced Whitman. After the publication of the article Tennyson told me that in his opinion Rossetti’s sonnet on ‘Nuptial Sleep’ was one of the ‘filthiest’ poems ever written. Well, I printed my opinion, while those who shared it were silent. When, after long reflection, I concluded that I had written hastily and unjustly, I published that conclusion also, and I did so at a time when the school in question had gone right under the weather, and when no possible benefit could come to me from admitting my blunder. I may remark en passant, that I first began to suspect my own criticism on discovering that it had earned the warm approval of the late Archbishop Manning; from which I argued that it must have been uninstructed.”

___

 

The Literary World (3 November, 1893 - Vol. 48, p.334)

     Few people, we fancy, take Mr. Robert Buchanan seriously when he is on the war-path. He so entirely spoils his case always by exaggeration. But for the sake of the few who might be led to think there was something in his attack on his fellow-craftsmen in literature, it was worth while for some one to answer him seriously. This Mr. James Ashcroft Noble, the well-known critic, has done in The Daily Chronicle. We quote a part of the letter, with which we fancy most people will cordially agree.

     What it is necessary for Mr. Robert Buchanan to show is that the opportunities of literature are more likely to be neglected, its temptations more likely to be welcomed, than those of any other calling; and this showing he does not even attempt. Before he writes another word on the lines of his recent article in The Idler and of the letter published to-day in The Chronicle, he should inform us distinctly what there is in the telling of pretty stories like those of Mr. William Black, or in the singing of dainty songs like those of Mr. Norman Gale, or in the writing of graceful essays like those of Mr. R. L. Stevenson, which is calculated to degrade a man by making him mean or spiteful or hypocritical or self-seeking. I certainly do not think that any one of these writers would have made such a reference to two distinguished fellow-workers as Mr. Buchanan himself has made to Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Theodore Watts, a reference which is all the more regrettable because it is a matter of public knowledge that Mr. Buchanan’s personal relations with the eminent poet and the not less eminent critic have long been hostile.

___

 

St. James’s Gazette (4 November, 1893 - p.12)

     Does not Mr. Robert Buchanan’s vindication of his conduct in the matter of his notorious criticism of Rossetti go some way to be a vindication of his view of the meanness of the literary man? Mr. Buchanan attacked Rossetti pseudonymously. The authorship of the criticism was discovered, and the criticism itself widely resented. Mr. Buchanan made Rossetti the fullest retractations in prose and verse. Now that Rossetti is dead he informs the world that Browning and Tennyson (who are also dead) held the same views that he himself expressed in his original attack. Only, sharing his opinion, they were silent; he spoke out—pseudonymously.

__________

 

Vizetelly and Zola

 

[This is rather confusing since it seems to involve three letters from Buchanan: the first, prompted by the death of Henry Vizetelly on 1st January, 1894, presumably printed in The Daily Chronicle a couple of days later, a second referring to the memorial to James Russell Lowell in Westminster Abbey, which had been unveiled on 28th November, 1893, published in The Daily Chronicle on 6th January, and then a third letter, this time to The Daily Telegraph, published around 10th January. I don’t have the originals of the three letters, only extracts quoted in other newspapers, but they did engender a lot of comment in the Press, both here and in America, so I thought what bits I have were worth adding here.]

 

The Dundee Evening Telegraph (4 January 1894 - p.3)

MR ROBERT BUCHANAN AND ZOLAISM.

     Mr Robert Buchanan writes to the Daily Chronicle:—In the year 1889 Mr Henry Vizetelly was committed to prison for publishing “immoral” books, notably translations of the novels of Emile Zola. With the exception of myself and Mr G. Moore, no English writer protested against that outrage on the freedom of literature. The public press approved the outrage, and more than one newspaper refused to insert my letters on the subject. Owing chiefly to his sufferings at that period, Mr Vizetelly, a man long and honourably connected with literature, has just died. In the year 1893 M. Emile Zola, the fons et origo of the said “immoral” books, visited England. He was rapturously received by the literary classes, and entertained with fulsome honours by the leading pressmen of the metropolis, who had approved openly or tacitly the persecution of his English publisher. Thus the chief offender escaped scot free, while the poor scapegoat languished away and perished. My opinions on the subject of the freedom of literature are well known. No one, however, sympathises less with the teachings of the pessimistic fiction. “Personally,” as I have already written in my letter asking for Mr Vizetelly’s liberation, “I claim the right of free deliverance, free speech, free thought, and what I claim for myself I claim for every human being.” No good has ever come, or ever can come, from quasi providential interference with human liberty. But what a satire is to be found in the circumstances to which I have alluded on the boasted liberality and intelligence of the writers and journalists of England. How the author of “Nana” must have smiled in his sleeve knowing what had been said and written of the works by the very classes who thronged to welcome the writer.

___

 

Aberdeen Evening Express (6 January, 1894 - p.3)

     “You English,” said Count Tolstoi to the “Chronicle’s” interviewer the other day, “have a terrible prevalence of hypocrisy and cant.” One instance of this is nailed to the counter by Mr Robert Buchanan, who, in a letter to the same journal, calls attention to a curious fact in connection with Mr Henry Vizetelly’s death. In 1889 Mr Vizetelly was sent to prison for publishing translations of Zola. In 1893 Zola himself was received and fêted. If there was no hypocrisy or cant anywhere about this, there was a remarkable sudden conversion.

___

 

The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (6 January, 1894 - p.2)

CHIT-CHAT.
_____

BUCHANAN, LOWELL AND THE EDITOR.

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, writing in the “London Chronicle” today, says when a great man like Whitman dies the event is only thought worthy of a passing paragraph, but when the literary men of England erect in Westminster Abbey a tablet to the memory of an American flaneur and diner-out the newspapers flow over with enthusiasm.—The editor of the “Chronicle” adds a foot-note asserting that “we dissociate ourselves entirely from Mr. Buchanan’s characterisation of the late James Russell Lowell.”

___

 

The Dundee Evening Telegraph (11 January, 1894 - p.3)

ROBERT BUCHANAN AND ZOLAISM.

     Mr Robert Buchanan, returning to the Zola controversy in the Daily Telegraph, says:—I have advocated again and again the right of perfect freedom of speech in literature. I hope that does not commit me to any sympathy with the gospel according to the Yahoos. I have admitted the genius of M. Zola and have approved its full and free manifestation, but that does not prevent me from believing and saying that Zolaism is an ugly, a corrupt, and an evil influence on literature generally, and that the whole series of the Rougon Macquart is a monument of great genius misapplied. If human nature, even under the Empire, had been exactly as Zola paints it, it would have perished long ago of its own corruption. The man who wrote “La Terre,” “Germinal,” and “Pot Boule” has not studied even the alphabet of human psychology, he is colour blind to character, and his ears, which might have heard the still, small voice of humanity, are stopped with ordure. So it is, so it will ever be with the writer whose search is chiefly for the execrable, whose experience of life is gained among the sewers.

___

 

The Leeds Times (13 January, 1894 - p.4)

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF ZOLA.
_____

     Not so very long ago COUNT TOLSTOI told an interviewer that in spite of our many excellencies we English were much given to cant and hypocrisy. This trait in our character may or may not be peculiar to us, but that it goes a very long way to stultify the credit due for good intentions we have no doubt whatever. That literary Philistine, MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, has drawn attention to the death, due to his confinement in prison, of MR. HENRY VIZETELLY, and, very properly, he points out that while ZOLA was feted in England by English pressmen, his English publisher was sent to prison for the publication in England of his works. Here MR. BUCHANAN hits the right nail on the head. It is unfortunately true that the journalists who recently feted the Apostle of French Naturalism had no word to say for good, where they said anything at all, of M. ZOLA at the time MR. VIZETELLY was placed upon his trial at the Old Bailey. The inconsistency, to employ no harsher term, cannot be defended or excused; at the same time we deny the right of the Institute of Journalists to speak as the voice of the English Press. When MR. BUCHANAN, however, goes on to claim “liberty” for the literary man, and when he construes liberty as license, we venture, despite even the booming of ZOLA by the Institute, to protest that the cankerous books of this artist in literary filth should be made impossible in this country. So long as it is illegal and punishable in England to exhibit an indecent picture, so long should it remain illegal and punishable to print and publish an indecent book. There may be pearls at the bottom of what TENNYSON calls “the troughs of ZOLAISM,” if we can only find them. But we have nothing to do with motive. Everything bad contains, no doubt, some good, and it is conceivable that no bad is so unutterably bad but that it might be worse. But those who read ZOLA read him not for what he thinks, or for what he is supposed to teach, but for what he says, and it is exactly what he says that tends to corrupt. It is certainly not an absolute necessity for a novelist of the Natural School to take pains in describing in detail everything one sees in life, or paint into the picture all the colours which vice reveals to the eyes of those who would see them. An outline is one thing; a lurid picture, foul as the subject which it treats, is surely another. Because we allow OUIDA to sit on our doorstep, that is surely no reason why we should permit ZOLA to deposit bucket after bucket of sewerage there.

_____

. . .

PITH AND POINT.

. . .

HER ACCOMMODATING MAJESTY.

     Referring to the article in the leader columns of this journal, it is proposed that a number of literary men, Messrs. Frank Harris, Ernest Vizetelly, Crackenthorpe, Robert Buchanan, and Moore, should combine for the purpose of defying Mrs. Grundy and a jury by publishing a translation either of “Nana” or “Au Bonheur des Dames.” I would like to see these brave advocates of literary liberty try it on. Her Majesty’s prisons can accommodate all classes.

___

 

The Yorkshire Evening Post (15 January, 1894 - p.3)

THE NEW WOMANHOOD.

     Says Mr. Robert Buchanan:—The secret of modern literary decadence and gloom is the New Womanhood Invading—the half-emancipated but still inept and ignorant Femininity venturing into the regions of thought once occupied and held by mighty Men. The New Womanhood would fain be very wise, but it only succeeds in being very foolish. The old leaven sticks to it. It is morbidly curious, eagerly sympathetic, pertly intelligent, temperamentally hysterical, and incapable of humour. It fidgets over petty moral problems, and fumbles about intellectual trifles, and calls this fidgetting and fumbling by the blessed word Mesopotamia, or Emancipation. It repeats the old fallacy that Woman is the Slave of Man, although it knows right well that Man has been, ever since civilization began, the Slave of Woman.

[I am not sure where this extract originated, whether from the three letters mentioned, or from a fourth. That it is part of the same sequence is confirmed by the fact that it was the subject of an article in the feminist magazine, Shafts. This is mentioned in Lyssa Randolph’s 2001 PhD thesis, ‘The New Woman and the New Science: Feminist Writing 1880-1900’, which is available to download from the CURVE Research Collection:

‘In an article in Shafts of 1894, ‘Mr Buchanan’s appeals for “Literary Freedom”’, the writer “X”, attacks Buchanan's claim that “the secret of modern literary decadence and gloom is the New Womanhood invading”. The writer defends the purpose novel when she states unequivocally that “there is room for literature as an art, plenty of room, more than room also, a need for literature which confronts human life and its woes — chiefly due to sexual relation — as it is and as they are, and which will not be silenced.” Buchanan had argued that the recent feminisation of literature — which he associates with naturalism — had stripped literature of its dignity and nobility: “everywhere in Literature nowadays we find, instead of great thoughts and noble aspirations and faith in the destiny of Humanity only the mean phenomena of a suburban villa — the rinsing of tea-cups, the opening of dust-bins [...] and the washing of dirty linen.” Playfully extending Buchanan's metaphors of feminine domesticity to describe the aims of a more realistic fiction, “X” insists that the “‘opening of the dust-bins’ has been the prelude to clearing them out, and the ‘washing of the linen’ a hygienic and wholesome necessity”. She historicises his evocation of the greatness of the Elizabethan age and its masculine literature and points up its barbarities: “religious free thinkers burnt alive in market places or imprisoned in dungeons; lunatics chained up like wild animals and scored with the lash”. Debunking a myth of a golden era her feminist critique firmly locates literature as part of a misogynist culture — citing for example women’s silencing and lack of legal rights in the sixteenth century.’]

___

 

New-York Daily Tribune (21 January, 1894 - p.2)

     Mr. Beerbohm Tree produced at the Haymarket on Thursday evening a new play by Mr. Robert Buchanan entitled “The Charlatan.” This is not an autobiographical sketch, but a dreary exposition of the more superficial aspects of theosophy and hypnotism. The piece is dull, disjointed, undramatic and hardly intelligible. The degree of toleration to which it attained with a friendly first-night audience was due to the excellent acting of Mr. and Mrs. Tree and some of their colleagues, to the care bestowed on its staging, and to a certain fitful melodramatic quality altogether alien from true dramatic art.
                                                                                                                                                   G. W. S.

___

 

(p.14)

ZOLAISM IN ENGLAND.
_____

WITH MR. VIZETELLY AS ITS MARTYR
AND MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AS ITS APOSTLE.

                                                                                                                           London, January 10.

     The death of Mr. Henry Vizetelly has given rise to a curious correspondence. Mr. Vizetelly was the English publisher who in 1889 was indicted, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced and imprisoned for publishing English translations of some of M. Emile Zola’s novels. Mr. Robert Buchanan now thinks it necessary to remind the English public that he and Mr. George Moore protested at the time against what he calls “that outrage on the freedom of literature,” and that no other English writer protested. Nay, there was more than one English newspaper, he tells us, which refused to insert Mr. Robert Buchanan’s letters on this subject. So he now writes another to point the contrast between the prosecution of Mr. Vizetelly and the subsequent rapturous reception of M. Zola in England, and his entertainment “with fulsome honors by the leading Pressmen of the metropolis.”
     The point is a fair one if fairly made, but Mr. Buchanan’s notions of fairness, or his enthusiasm in behalf of dirty books, lead him into exaggeration. The “leading Pressmen of the metropolis” had very little to do with the reception of M. Zola. It might be invidious to give a list of the leading journalists of London. They are, however, well known to the profession if not to the public, and the list, whether invidious or not, would be long. Among all the really eminent editors and writers for the London press there was, so far as I remember, one, and one only, who took part in the Zola celebration: Sir Edward Lawson. If another can be named I apologize to him in advance, but I am quite certain that the reports of those present at the assemblies held in honor of the Frenchman whom Mr. Weldon called infamous included very few names which belong in the front rank of journalism. To that extent, therefore, Mr. Buchanan’s account of the matter is inaccurate, and the point of his contrast is not quite so sharp as he thinks. The “Institute of Journalists,” before which M. Zola delivered his address, is an extremely respectable and useful body. It seems to be, nevertheless, pretty largely provincial, and, in so far as it is metropolitan, either does not include the “leading Pressmen,” or does not induce them to present themselves on public platforms or at Mansion House receptions.
     Well, when Mr. Robert Buchanan steps into the arena with his “Here we are again” and the familiar crack of the whip, there is almost always some one to follow him with another cry and another crack of another whip. The arena in this case, and often before, is “The Daily Chronicle.” That journal, which is edited throughout with superabounding energy, conceived—or its editor conceived—the idea of devoting every day a whole page to literature, or to something which has some sort of connection with literature, or with science or with the drama. New books are reviewed with great promptness and at great length—often at greater length than their intrinsic importance would justify or explain. But if you have undertaken to have a daily Third Page, and a “famous Third Page” at that, you must fill it somehow. Much of the review work is excellent, and chinks and crannies require to be filled, it is convenient to have on hand, or round a convenient corner, a writer so copious as Mr. Robert Buchanan. The supply of books which it is possible to review is not unlimited, but there are no known limits to Mr. Buchanan’s power of writing about himself and his opinions. He tells us in this letter in his loud way: “My opinions on the subject of the freedom of literature are well known.” But this does not prevent his continuing to express them with frequency and with emphasis.
     The expression of them drew, at first, no more important reply than one from Mr. Aaron Watson, who shares with Mr. Buchanan his admiration for M. Zola’s obscenities. If Mr. Watson had an object, it was, apparently, to protest against the description of the honors to M. Zola as “fulsome,” and to insist that other English writers beside Mr. Buchanan and Mr. George Moore objected to the prosecution of Mr. Vizetelly.
     In this last he was certainly right, for the next day appeared an interesting letter from Mr. Frank Harris, Editor of “The Fortnightly Review.” Mr. Harris’s position and abilities make his testimony valuable. He reveals the fact that as soon as he knew of the Vizetelly prosecution and heard that, for lack of funds, Mr. Vizetelly was likely to plead guilty, he offered to pay all his expenses if he would fight the case. This offer was declined, from dread of “the vulgar prejudices of an English jury.” Then comes Mr. Ernest Vizetelly, the son, to declare that, though Mr. Harris did make this handsome offer, it was coupled with unacceptable conditions about the employment of certain counsel; and that other funds were provided. In the end, Mr. Henry Vizetelly pleaded guilty owing to “an extraordinary combination of circumstances of which the public has so far known nothing.” They are to be set forth in a supplementary volume of Vizetelly “Reminiscences.”
     Mr. Frank Harris’s letter raised a larger issue than the merely or mainly personal one to which Mr. Buchanan drew attention. How personal this writer, who speaks of himself as “discredited,” can be may be seen by his remark about Mr. Lowell. Complaining that Mr. Walt Whitman and others were, like Mr. Vizetelly, “permitted to suffer martyrdom,” he remarks that only a paragraph was given by the English press to Whitman,—“but when the literary men of England erect in Westminster Abbey a tablet to the memory of an American flâneur and diner-out, the newspapers flow over with enthusiasm.” To which “The Chronicle” honorably appends the stinging comment: “It is hardly necessary for us to add that we dissociate ourselves entirely from Mr. Buchanan’s characterization of the late James Russell Lowell.” The editor might have added, had he though it worth while, that Mr. Buchanan cannot be accurate even in his animosities. The memorial to Lowell was not “erected” by literary men exclusively or mainly; it was not a tablet; and it was not placed in |Westminster Abbey, but in a passage leading from the Abbey to the Chapter House. But let us leave the “discredited” Mr. Buchanan. His notoriety is but accidental and transient.
     The issue Mr. Frank Harris wishes to raise is, as I was saying, a large one, and if he would keep it clear of M. Zola and of gutter literature, he might do a real service. He remarks with truth on the fact that in France the artist and man of letters is supported by the organized opinion of his fellows, while the bourgeoisie is unorganized and comparatively innocuous. Not so here:
     “In England, on the other hand, grocerdom is organized in conventicle and church, and rancorously articulate, especially on those subjects with which it is wholly incompetent to deal, while the men of letters who have done something in their past of freedom for England’s honor are unorganized and powerless.”
     That is a true account of a state of things which it rests with the men of letters to alter for their own good. But they will never, I think, alter it for the sake of securing in England the immunity which M. Zola enjoys in France. It is not likely that a movement begun on that basis, or for that purpose, would prosper. The best men here would not join it. The best English writers do not want literature to perform the duties of the scullion of the dissecting-room. What Mr. Harris calls grocerdom will prevail over them if they do. Let Mr. Harris try the experiment in “The Fortnightly.” Mr. Vizetelly’s friends and the English eulogists of M. Zola say that no such prosecution as that which landed the publisher in jail would now be attempted, or would succeed if it did. M. Zola’s novels are sold with impunity. I do not know which of them are sold with impunity, nor whether any of them appear in English with all the libidinousness of the original unexpunged.
     What is certain is that Lord Campbell’s Act has not been repealed, and is not likely to be repealed, neither is it likely to be allowed to become obsolete or inoperative. So of other laws relating to offences against public decency. Behind them all is an immense body of English public opinion. Mr. Harris may call it grocerdom if he likes, and somebody else may call it the Nonconformist conscience, or it may even be first cousin to that Philistinism which Matthew Arnold ridiculed for very different reasons. No matter. It exists. If it is not always intelligent, it is very often a sound and true opinion. Whether it be sound or not in all its applications, it is extremely powerful. There is throughout this great English community a prejudice in favor of purity and of pure literature. Mr. Harris’s protest is evidence enough of the strength of the conviction he desires to attack. I wish him all speed in his purpose of organizing English literature, and of promoting the interests of English writers. But I can imagine nothing more fatal to the success of such purposes than to connect them in any way whatever with the hideous immoralities of the most corrupt and the most coarse and the most lewd of living French writers.
                                                                                                                                                   G. W. S.

___

 

New-York Daily Tribune (24 January, 1894)

NOTES FROM LONDON.
_____

                                                                                     London, January 12.

. . .

     It appears from Mr. Robert Buchanan’s latest letter that he has been misunderstood. He is not an admirer of Zolaism. He believes it an ugly, a corrupt, and an evil influence on literature generally; that M. Zola’s ears “which might have heard the still small voice of humanity are stopped with ordure”; and that he is a writer “whose search is chiefly for the Execrable, whose experience of life is gained chiefly among the sewers.” As an opinion, that is very well, but it is, unhappily, a pious opinion and nothing more. For Mr. Buchanan expressly approves the “full and free manifestation” of this ugly, corrupt, and evil influence. He demands “full freedom” for him. That means, if it means anything, that there ought to be no legal restriction upon the publication of M. Zola’s most ugly and corrupting books.
     It is Mr. Buchanan’s opinion that no such restriction now exists in England. He says: “The re is no power in England to prevent a man writing exactly as he pleases, if he has the courage and the strength.” He means, evidently, that he may both write and publish what he pleases, with impunity. It would be a truism and a platitude to say that a man may write what he pleases. The question whether he may publish what he pleases is, however, a question of law, and I never heard that Mr. Robert Buchanan was a lawyer. His legal opinions are worth just as much, or as little, as the opinions of any other layman. His critical opinions have perhaps an equal value, and are expressed in a jargon such as no other writer employs. It is hardly critical to say of Mr. Hardy’s “Tess” that it is “the very quintessence of vulgarity, banality, ineptitude”; or to speak of “Zola’s smutty finger smudged over the fair face of Mr. Hardy’s rustic Muse.” If, however, Mr. Buchanan was merely trying to be disagreeable, he succeeded very well.
     In any case he has detained us much longer than his position warrants. But I did not wish to do him injustice. The same reason leads me to add that Mr. Buchanan has made something which he seems to intend as an apology for his impertinence to the memory of Mr. Lowell. “I am assured,” he says, “that the writer in question was a great poet and critic. I should rather describe him as a cultivated English gentleman who happened to be born in America.” Still he “declines to accept him as representing in any sense the country which has produced Whitman, Thoreau, Herman Melville, Whittier, and Mark Twain.” There are apologies which are more offensive than the offence for which they profess to atone. But good feeling and delicacy are qualities which it were vain to expect from Mr. Buchanan.

___

 

New-York Daily Tribune (1 February, 1894 - p.8)

     Among a great many foolish things Robert Buchanan sometimes writes a wise one. “Some of us,” he says in the newspaper letter which has recently evoked severe criticism, “believe that when all is said and done the best books, the greatest books, are the purest. Why not leave us in peace to our simple diet, without ‘nagging’ us to feast constantly on the putrescent roe of the sturgeon?”

__________

 

The Charlatan

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (23 January, 1894 - p.3)

THOUGHT TRANSFERENCE EXTRAORDINARY.

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—A really extraordinary instance of “thought transference” has come to pass. Over two years ago I wrote a Theosophistic play, entitled, “An Adept,” which I submitted to Mr. Tree; it was not produced. To- day Mr. Buchanan produces a Theosophistic play entitled “The Charlatan,” at the Haymarket, which in plot bears a curious resemblance to my play, whilst some of the characters are almost identical. My charlatan was an Anglo-Parsee; he had a hypnotic gift, and established an influence over his host’s niece; there was a séance, followed by a next-morning confession, and the charlatan of my story, as in Mr. Buchanan’s, leaves a reformed man, to return another day to the lady he has deceived. It is all such an extraordinary instance of thought-transference that I shall be glad of any light that can be thrown upon it.—Your obedient servant,
     Station Hotel, Inverness, Jan. 21.                    STUART C. CUMBERLAND.

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (24 January, 1894 - p.3)

“THE CHARLATAN.”

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—My attention has been directed to a letter in your issue of this evening, in which Mr. Stuart Cumberland states that he submitted to Mr. Tree, over two years ago, a play very similar in plot to “The Charlatan,” now running at the Haymarket Theatre. I can truthfully say that Mr. Tree has never mentioned any such play to me, and that he first became acquainted with “The Charlatan” some six weeks before its production. The manuscript of my first three acts was in existence nearly two years ago, when it was read by me to Mr. George Alexander, of the St. James’s Theatre. Mr. Alexander no doubt remembers the fact, and can, if necessary, substantiate my statement. Of Mr. Cumberland’s play I, of course, know nothing.
—I am, &c.,
                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.
    
Prince of Wales’s Club, Coventry-street, W., Jan. 23.

_____

 

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—I notice in this evening’s issue of your paper a letter from Mr. Stuart C. Cumberland referring to the curious resemblance of his play, “An Adept,” to Mr. Buchanan’s “The Charlatan.” May I be allowed to add my cry to the list?
     On Tuesday, December 19, 1893, at St. George’s Hall, I produced a four-act play entitled “An Unpaid Debt,” in which I treated the subject of hypnotism, and in which exactly the same scene occurred—that of a woman being brought from one room to another by the power of hypnotism. I wrote my play three years ago, and it has been read and criticised by Mr. Kendal, Mr. F. H. Macklin, Mr. John Lart, and Miss Geneviève Ward, and is now in the hands of Mr. Willard in America. I merely mention these facts, as some of the dramatic critics have described Mr. Buchanan’s play as being strikingly original.—Yours truly,
     14, Mortimer-crescent, N.W., Jan. 23.                    CHARLES H. DICKINSON.

__________

 

Men and Books and Critics

 

[Another extract from a letter to The Daily Chronicle.]

 

The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin) (1 February, 1894 - p.4)

     In a very spirited letter to the Daily Chronicle on “Men and Books and Critics,” Mr Robert Buchanan gives incidentally a very interesting insight to the methods of criticism on the highest charactered London literary papers. The sarcasm in Pendennis on the subject is keen enough. But fiction falls far short of fact if Mr Buchanan’s statements belong to the latter category. He announces how when he himself was the target of universal attack, he published a book anonymously—

     ‘It was received with a chorus of eulogy. The editor of the Athenæum, who would have cut off his right hand rather than praise any work of mine, was the first to give it a welcome. The editor of the Spectator, who had begun to eye me askance because I was sceptical about the Trinity, based on my anonymous poem a whole theory of American humour. “Would that in England we had humourists who could write as well!” wrote another critic, adding: “but with Thackeray our last writer of humour left us.” Just previous to the publication an even more significant circumstance occurred. My publisher sent early proof-sheets to a great London daily, and received immediately afterwards a communication from the office, stating that a lengthy and eulogistic review was in type, but that the “chief” required to be satisfied on one point, whether the poem was “by Lowell”? My publisher refused to answer the question, and the review was never printed. On another occasion I wrote for a London manager a prologue in verse for a great Shakesperean production. At my request the manager concealed my name, and it was whispered about that the prologue was by Mr Swinburne. The newspapers praised the trifle immoderately, and one zealous critic, who loved Mr Swinburne and hated me, described it as a masterpiece, full of the “large utterance of the early gods”—frankly confessing afterwards that he would have torn the thing to shreds if he had guessed the authorship.’

___

 

The Sun (New York) 4 February, 1894 - p.1)

     Robert Buchanan, who is perhaps the best-abused and best-praised literary man in England, has been setting traps for the critics, and has now taken revenge by exposing relentlessly some of their weaknesses. A characteristic letter from him this week says:
     “When the opposition to me was at its highest I determined to put the honesty of criticism to the test by publishing a new book anonymously. ‘St. Abe and His Seven Wives’ was received with a chorus of eulogy. The editor of the Athenæum, who would have cut off his right hand rather than praise a work of mine, was the first to give it welcome. The editor of the Spectator, who had begun to eye me askance because I was skeptical about the Trinity, based on my anonymous poem the whole theory of American humor. Just previous to the publication an even more significant circumstance occurred. The publisher sent proof sheets to a great London daily, and received immediately a communication from the office, saying that a lengthy, eulogistic review was in type, but the chief required to be satisfied on the point whether the poem was by Lowell. The publisher refused to answer the question, and the review was never printed.
     “On another occasion I wrote for a London manager a prologue in verse for a great Shakespearean production. The manager concealed my name, and it was whispered that the prologue was by Swinburne. The newspapers praised the trifle immoderately. One zealous critic, who loved Swinburne and hated me, described it as a masterpiece, frankly confessing afterward that he would have torn the thing to shreds if he had guessed the authorship.”
     The editors of the Spectator and Athenæum are yet to be heard from.

___

 

[I am guessing that the following extract is taken from the ‘Men and Books and Critics’ letter, but given the later date, it may refer to another letter entirely.]

 

New-York Daily Tribune (18 February, 1894 - p.14)

     The bumptious Robert Buchanan’s latest dictum is that in nine cases out of ten contemporary praise implies a sacrifice on the writer’s part to contemporary prejudices. “I think,” he adds, “that more than one pet of the parterres (Mr. R. L. Stevenson, for example) might have done fine work in literature but for the constant assurance of the critics that such fine work was being done. I think that there is no more certain hallmark of intellectual mediocrity than the approval of the mob of gentlemen who criticise and puff with ease.”

__________

 

The Moral Effect of the Drama

 

The Westminster Budget (29 June, 1894 - p.14)

THE MORAL EFFECT OF THE DRAMA.

A QUESTION of perennial interest—for its discussion began more than 2,000 years ago, and still continues—was raised afresh the other day by Mr. Hall Caine in a speech at the dinner of the Royal Theatrical Fund.

Mr. Hall Caine.

Mr. Hall Caine’s contribution to the discussion, which has called forth the letters subjoined, was as follows:—

As to the moral effect of the drama upon the world—a well-known Nonconformist preacher, who was an enemy of the stage, once said that he had noticed that the young people of his congregation who went most to the theatre and wept most at the imaginative woes of the afflicted heroine in melodrama were precisely those who were hardest to move to pity and sympathy when a case of actual distress came their way in real life. I can only say this (said Mr. Caine), it is exactly the opposite of my own experience. My experience has been that the tears that are shed in the theatre do not exhaust the fount of tears; that the exercise of the muscles of the soul which the drama requires is good for the growth of the soul; and that if you want to test the moral effects of the drama on the world at large you cannot do better than look at the people who come closest to it; and that it is impossible to find a class more tender of heart, more easily moved to pity, more ready to respond to the cry of trouble than actors and actresses themselves. At all events, I should like to see the point discussed by ministers of religion generally. It is the very pith and marrow of a question of great importance to the drama and to society.

The following letters show that any general agreement on the question is as far off as ever. One aspect of it, however, seems to have been overlooked. If the moral drama has the effect of exhausting the moral feelings, then does it not follow that the immoral drama must similarly exhaust the immoral feelings? And if that be so, “the playhouse,” even with its “objectionable features,” should, rightly understood, be the minister’s valuable ally.

 

Mr. Robert Buchanan.

To the EDITOR of THE WESTMINSTER BUDGET.
     SIR,—The question asked by Mr. Hall Caine, and which you ask me to assist in answering, appears to me essentially trivial and purposeless, and worthy of serious attention only from the sort of people who interest themselves in conundrums and double acrostics. Who doubts for a moment that good literature and good drama tend to make men both better and happier, at least for the time being? But who can say how great or how little is the outcome of this good influence in actual conduct? Unfortunately, Art is like Religion, and appears to be more a luxury than a serious business, which is saying, in other words, that both Religion and Art are only small parts of life. Many strong and good men do very well without either, just as most wise men do very well without newspapers. The tendency of writers like Mr. Caine is to exaggerate the importance of their own vocation, and to assume that work done primarily for their own benefit and amusement is a department of practical philanthropy. The reductio ad absurdum comes when we are asked to leave the settlement of any artistic question to the “ministers of religion,” and when a novelist seriously quotes the platitudes of a “Nonconformist clergyman.” No true artist under the sun cares twopence what the ministers of religion think about him or his work. A man who strains at the gnat of the drama, and yet pretends to have swallowed the whole camel of theology, can have no opinion worth hearing on any really human subject. The drama exists because it amuses, not because it does good; and Mr. Hall Caine exists as an author for the same reason. If, in addition to amusement there comes a little edification, so much the better; but let it always be understood that the edification is secondary, not primary. There will soon be no Art at all, and less Drama, if authors, instead of sticking to their profession, which is to write books which will be read or plays which will be seen, delude themselves into the belief that they are social benefactors. Cant is excusable in the professors of Religion, since no religion yet invented has been able to thrive thoroughly without it. It is inexcusable in the professors of Literature, which is practically independent of both religion and ethics, though by privilege it embraces both.
                                                                                                                                     ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

[The other contributions, from the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes, Rev. Dr. Thain Davidson and Rev. F. B. Meyer, as well as the views of Herbert Spencer on the matter, can be read if you click the picture below.]

westbudgmoraldramathmb

Publishers

 

[Another extract from a letter in The Daily Chronicle.]

 

The Leeds Mercury (1 September, 1894)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN ON
PUBLISHERS.

     The “Chronicle” publishes a letter from Mr. Robert Buchanan, who says—I have been frequently informed that publishers are entitled to large pecuniary gains because they risk their capital in a very precarious business. In my experience this is altogether untrue. As a rule, a publisher risks nothing. He gives the very lowest price possible for a certain marketable commodity, and he is utterly indifferent to its quality as long as it sells. The Society of Authors has done the State good service by issuing statistics of the bare-faced robberies daily and hourly practised by Barrabas and his kin, and though I personally decline to have my private transactions regulated by any society or Trades Union whatever, I am fully alive to the importance of the facts so issued. Publishers, like lawyers, are thieves within the shadow of the law. They toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon, in his glory, was not attired like one of them.

___

 

The Leeds Times (8 September, 1894  -p.4)

BUCHANAN ON PUBLISHERS.

Mr. Robert Buchanan, author and dramatist, strikes me as a most unreasonable man. He has done well out of literature. He has a civil list pension of £200, and at the time of his bankruptcy he admitted that he drove a brougham because riding was easier than walking. Now, in a letter to the Daily Chronicle, he denounces publishers as “thieves within the shadow of the law,” in league with the critics. Somehow Mr. Buchanan has spent the greater part of his life in bringing, not peace, but a double-edged sword; which, as the Reviewers never fail to remind him, is a dangerous weapon to fight with.

__________

 

Rachel Dene

 

[Another extract from a letter in The Daily Chronicle.]

 

St. James’s Gazette (10 October, 1894 - p.13)

     MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, who, in a court which it would be unkind to name, recently described the literary profession as a gambling one, is contemplating a new gamble in the form of a non-political weekly journal. By way of keeping his pen in practice he takes the editor of the Chronicle to task for having slashed at him on account of “Rachel Dene;” a story of which he seems now to be ashamed, and which has been re-issued in spite of his entreaties to the publishers. Here are some gems from the Buchanan treasury of recrimination:—

     I am at a loss to know whether the statement in question is inspired by malice or by mere stupidity. The stupidity I always take for granted when I read newspaper criticisms; the malice, in most instances, is equally obvious. But I think the manufacturers of cheap criticism for the Christian masses should be corrected when they travel out of their own region of uninstructed impudence into that of lying and spiteful imputation.

There is no critic—cheap or otherwise—who could out do this.

__________

 

Letters to the Press - continued

or back to the Letters to the Press menu

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
Site Diary
Site Search