ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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LETTERS TO THE PRESS (16)

 

Jude the Obscure

 

[Another letter from The Star, this time complaining about The Daily Chronicle, which, as a result banned Buchanan from any further correspondence. As explained before, neither the Star nor the Chronicle have online archives, so I’ve not seen what Buchanan was objecting to in the Chronicle, or his letter in the Star. However, given the result, I thought this was too important to ignore completely.]

 

The Leeds Times (14 March, 1896 - p.4)

STERN AND STRAIGHT.

Mr. Robert Buchanan is familiar with adversity in newspaper comment, and possibly the castigation he receives from the “Daily Chronicle” has no other effect upon him than the proverbial water upon the duck’s back. He wrote a savage letter to the “Star” upon the “Chronicle’s” criticism of Mr. Hardy’s novel “Jude the Obscure.” Thereupon the “Chronicle” calls this letter a lie from beginning to end. In France this affront could only be wiped out in blood. In England neither Mr. Massingham nor Mr. Buchanan will salute the morn a minute earlier than usual. More ink may be spilled but no blood.

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West of England Advertiser (19 March, 1896 - p.3)

     BUCHANAN AND THE “DAILY CHRONICLE.”—The Daily Chronicle has entirely broken with Mr. Robert Buchanan. The author of “The Devil’s Case” having asserted that in reviewing “Jude the Obscure” the Daily Chronicle had characterised Mr. Hardy’s work as coarse and indecent, that journal replies that the statement is “a lie from beginning to end.” To prevent Mr. Buchanan from replying in its columns to this serious charge, the Daily Chronicle declares that its columns are not open to him for an opinion on this or any other matter, and adds:—“The only method of communication in future between ourselves and this gentleman will be through our solicitors.” Is this a challenge to Mr. Buchanan to raise an action against the Chronicle, or is it a caution to the Bard that unless he is more guarded in his language the solicitors of the paper will be put upon his track?

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Richard Le Gallienne

 

[Another letter from The Star, but at least this time there is an extract.]

 

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (16 March, 1896 - p.5)

     Mr. Richard Le Gallienne, who writes literary criticism in the London “Star,” has “caught it” from Mr. Robert Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan’s onslaughts on his foes are always good reading. He replies to Mr. Le Gallienne in this way:—He accuses me of never having had a good word for my contemporaries, with the possible exception of Charles Reade. Now, I have not only admired many of my contemporaries, but I have fought their battles, and my words are in print to prove it. Despite the persistent attacks of the superior person, I have paid life-long homage to Dickens. It was I, the “mad dog,” who first turned the tide in favour of browning, and I have it in his own hand that I was “the most generous critic he ever had.” So far from sneering at Tennyson, I have praised him in and out of season. To Coventry Patmore, a neglected master, to James Thomson, to Richard Jeffreys, and to many another I have spoken the right word of sympathy when it was needed. As to George Meredith, I eulogised him, too, and I can give chapter and verse to prove it; and if I cannot praise his later work, that is simply because I do not admire it. I have dedicated a book, with respectful admiration, to Thomas Hardy. I have compared W. S. Gilbert with Aristophanes, and I seriously count him as great a humorist. But why multiply illustrations? My books are open to the public. My real offence is that I do not, like Mr. Le Gallienne, go shouting at the tail of each new reputation, and buttering with sickly praise the literary parsnips of my friends.

     I have learned (continues Mr. Buchanan) that nothing can silence scandal, and that the scandal of the feminine literary man is the worst. I have learned, too, that trimming and lying and logrolling is more in fashion than plain speaking. But what does it matter? Of one far purer than any of us it was said, “He hath a devil,” and, doubtless, the Pharisees and Sadducees regarded the men who denounced them as merely “a mad dog.” For the rest, I suppose Mr. Le Gallienne is not by nature unkindly—he perhaps means well; he is merely, as I call him in my pamphlet, “feather-headed.” But in criticism the feather-headed person is most dangerous of all.

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The Devil’s Case

 

The Spectator (21 March, 1896 - p.16)

“THE DEVIL’S CASE.”
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE “SPECTATOR.”]

SIR,—As you have informed me that you have no room for an elaborate letter, but will permit me to protest briefly against your criticism of “The Devil’s Case,” I must perforce confine myself to one or two points of importance. In the first place, let me assure you that I have never doubted the existence of evil, or sin, or temptation, although I hold that the very idea of evil is inconsistent with the idea of Omnipotence. God created man imperfect; consequently the imperfections of man, in others words his “sins,” are “God’s invention.” I assume that no sane person now believes that man has fallen from a state of innocence, or perfection? But you go further and accuse me of suggesting that all the instincts and appetites of men are to be sanctioned and encouraged! I don’t know where you discover this suggestion,—it is utterly opposed to anything I have ever thought or (I believe) written.
     Of course, as I cannot argue out the matter in detail, you have much the advantage of me in the discussion, and in any final note you like to make on it. I will therefore only express my surprise at your remark that the revolt of Voltaire had “no love or human kindness in it.” Why, even Carlyle, who sympathised very little with the great Frenchman, has written: “If we enumerate his [Voltaire’s] generous acts, from the case of the Abbé Desfontaines down to that of the Widow Calas, and the Serfs of St. Claude, we shall find that few private men have had so wide a circle of charity, or have watched it so well.” Pardon me for saying, Sir, that if you do me no more justice than you do to Voltaire, I can well enough afford to wait for Time to decide between you and me,—between your religion and mine.—I am, Sir, &c.,

                                                                                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.
   36 Gerrard Street, W., March 17th.

[Note: The Spectator’s review is available here.]

___

 

[According to an item in The Edinburgh Evening News of 10th March, 1896,

   “Mr Robert Buchanan having turned publisher of his own works, does not find things proceed very smoothly. One London morning paper, supposed to have the very largest circulation, won’t accept his advertisement, and in another Mr William Archer, the dramatic writer, has criticised him in trochaics after the style of Mr Buchanan’s latest book.”

The paper which refused the advert for The Devil’s Case was The Daily Telegraph, and according to the following item from a New Zealand paper, the verse review by William Archer appeared in The Daily Chronicle, which presumably also printed Buchanan’s response.]

 

Otago Witness (New Zealand) (25 June, 1896 - p.49)

     An “up-to-date” style of reviewing was to be seen in the columns of the Daily Chronicle on a recent Saturday, when Mr Robert Buchanan’s new work, “The Devil’s Chase,” was not ill-naturedly guyed in metre a long way after the style of the original. Mr Buchanan duly replied in the same form:—

Sir,—I thank you, tho’ your Poet,
Full of fun and keen to show it,
Plainly proves (experto crede!)
Easy verse is hard to write!

Ask, however bald the song is,
If the singer right or wrong is,—
Try to reckon verse no longer
Milk for babes, but strong men’s meat,—

Then, my Friend, you may discover
Jingle’s reign is nearly over.—
Yours, Bookseller, Metre-monger,
                             R. BUCHANAN,
                                 Gerrard street.

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The Maiden Queen

 

The Era (23 May, 1896)

COINCIDENCES AGAIN.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—We observe that a farcical comedy called Josiah’s Dream was produced on Thursday evening at the Strand Theatre. Curiously enough, it bears a strong resemblance in subject to two works in which we have collaborated, and which have been completed for a considerable time. The prophetic vision of the Coming Woman, as she is to be a hundred years hence, is to be found in an opera, The Maiden Queen, while the structure of the farcical comedy— involving, as it does, two acts of contemporary life, and one act which takes place in a remote period—closely resembles the structure of a comedy which we wrote more than a year ago. We do not suggest for a moment that the author of Josiah’s Dream has plagiarised our ideas, but certainly the long arm of coincidence has been at work, and as both our pieces are set down for early production we think it desirable to make this explanation, lest in the fulness of time we ourselves should be accused of adopting any suggestions from Josiah’s Dream.
                   Yours truly,                   ROBERT BUCHANAN and CHARLES MARLOWE.
     35, Gerrard-street, Shaftesbury-avenue, W., May 22d, 1896.

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The Era (30 May, 1896)

AN AUTHOR’S ANNOYANCES.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Twelve months ago the late Charles Melville arranged to produce a play of mine called The King’s Highway, and advertised accordingly in the columns of your paper for a continued period of about three months, until owing to increasing ill-health he had to relinquish the project. Some little time after this I saw an announcement that Mr George Roberts intended to change the title of a play of his called Rookwood to that of The King’s Highway. I immediately wrote to him, explained the circumstances, and sent stamped envelope for reply. But none was forthcoming. Meanwhile the title was rushed to Stationers’ Hall, and I have the satisfaction of seeing another piece floating out with my title, at least mine morally and dramatically. Now, Mr Roberts is doubtless chuckling over this coup de main as a smart action, but I am not yet quite sure that he can deprive me of my title. Mr Roberts may learn that to rush an already claimed and published title into the bosom of Stationers’ Hall does not give him legal claim to it.
     With what an amount of naïve suggestion Messrs Robert Buchanan and Charles Marlow seek to point that elastic long arm of coincidence in the direction of Josiah’s Dream. Their proposition not to accuse me of plagiarism looks quite generous after their admission that their two plays on a similar subject have not yet left the clerical pigeon-hole. Why two plays? Why not a dozen? It might have made the case look more wholesome—I beg pardon—wholesale—for them. They admit, in a somewhat roundabout fashion, that the two works, “which have been completed for some time,” have no dream subjects in them, but their imagination finds a prophetic “vision” in The Maiden Queen. And, as the word “vision” has a pliant meaning, they bring their somewhat original logic to the deduction that Josiah’s Dream is quite a copy of The Maiden Queen, and, therefore, common property. I hope I am not hypercritical, but the end for which these prolific authors are aiming seems to me easily deducible from their letter. However, I must take this opportunity of suggesting that I am aware how far my legal rights are definable in Josiah’s Dream. And I here advise that long arm of coincidence to be careful.
                   Yours truly,                   CHARLES ROGERS.

 

[Josiah’s Dream was produced at the Strand Theatre and ran from May 21 to June 10, 1896. William Archer summed it up as follows:

     “Let me merely put on record the production at the Strand of a farce named Josiah’s Dream, by Mr. Charles Rogers, and the revival at the Court of Mam’selle Nitouche, under Miss May Yohé’s management. The farce is a piece of harmless but pointless folly, one act of which consists of a dream-presentation of life in A.D. 2001—there is nothing like accuracy in dates.”
(From The Theatrical ‘World’ of 1896 by William Archer (London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 1897 - p.179).]

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The Wanderer from Venus

 

The Era (13 June, 1896)

“GUESSWORK CRITICISM.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—An author’s complaints concerning criticism are seldom of much public interest, and I personally am a little tired of posing as a martyr to journalistic prejudice; but there is one fact in connection with the production of The Wanderer from Venus at Croydon which should certainly not be overlooked. A very perfunctory and adverse notice of this production appeared next morning in the Daily Telegraph. So far, so good, or bad; but I wish to point out that the gentleman who wrote that notice, having to catch a train, was compelled to leave the theatre before the last and most important act of the play was performed, so that in point of fact he did not witness the play in its entirety at all, and had no opportunity of witnessing the enthusiasm which followed the fall of the curtain. I unhesitatingly affirm that no play with which I have been connected, since Sophia, has won such tokens of delight from a popular audience, and as I write for the public, not for the Daily Telegraph, I protest in the name of fair play and honesty against the criticism which deals adversely and insultingly with a production of which the critic has seen next to nothing.
                   Yours truly,                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.

__________

 

Clement Scott

 

[An interview with Clement Scott, which dealt with the morality of the stage, was published in the January 1st, 1898 edition of Great Thoughts. This prompted an article from George Bernard Shaw and the Daily Mail sought responses from other members of the theatrical world, including Robert Buchanan. The background to the interview and extracts are available on the Stage Beauty site. Although I only have an extract from Buchanan’s reply (I don’t have access to the archives of the Daily Mail so I’ve not seen the original, which I believe was published on 29th December, 1897), I thought it worth adding here.]

 

The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin) (30 December, 1897 - p.7)

ACTORS AND MR. CLEMENT SCOTT.
_____

     There are signs and portents, say the Daily Mail, indicating that the theatrical profession does not intend to rest silent under the libels which have been flung at it.
     Mr Clement Scott’s interview is published in this week’s Great Thoughts without any watering down of the wholesale allegations against the entire profession; and Mr G B Shaw, in a characteristic article has come forward to corroborate Mr Scott. The Daily Mail has obtained from several actors their comments upon the interview, as follows—

. . .

MR ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     Mr Robert Buchanan, the well-known playwright, confines his comments to a reply to Mr G B Shaw, whom he describes as “St Bernard come to judgment.” Mr Buchanan says—
     “I have read with profound interest your quotation from Mr G Bernard Shaw, apropos of Mr Scott’s diatribe against the players. Personally I have no objection whatever to accept what Mr Shaw says as gospel if he will add as a corollary that every word applies to all the artistic professions, and if he will include himself under the denunciatory clauses. Authors, painters, journalists, as well as actors, still belong to Bohemia—an immoral, or rather, a non-moral region—at war with all the neighbouring proprieties. What then? We live there, and we like to live there. And so does Mr Shaw. Does he think because he assumes to be virtuous and vegetarian that there shall be no more cakes and ale and mutton chops, to say nothing of red hot ginger? What, in the name of all the gods, is our frisky comrade playing at? Personally, I thank God that Bohemia still exists, and that Mr Shaw has pitched his tent in it. The virtue of actresses does not interest me. When I meet a charming artist, I take it for granted that she is virtuous, just as I take it for granted that she washes herself and wears clean garments; but these things merely concern herself, and are none of my business. So with actors, authors, journalists; I am concerned with them merely on the artistic side, and I don’t care twopence about their private morals. If Mr Shaw is going to set up as a ‘censor morum,’ he has clearly mistaken his vocation. Those who live in the glass house of Art should never throw such stones!”

[The rest of this article is available here.]

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The Aberdeen Journal (11 January, 1898 - p.5)

OUR LONDON LETTER.
BY “JOURNAL” SPECIAL WIRE.
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT)

                                                                                           5 NEW BRIDGE STREET.
                                                                                                                       Monday night.

     Mr Robert Buchanan does not think that Mr Clement Scott is receiving fair or even honest treatment at the hands of the actors and others who have resented the strictures passed upon the stage in the now famous interview. True, he admits Mr Scott made some rather wild statements which could be easily refuted, but even these statements contained a certain amount of truth which might have been heard with equanimity. For his own part Mr Buchanan thinks the modern stage is suffering not from a plethora of immorality, but from one of respectability. The members of the theatrical profession attach far too much importance to gentility and social prestige, and far too little to artistic inspiration and general culture. There are thousands of virtuous women on the stage; there are possibly not half a dozen first-class actresses. What will Mr Wyndham and Mr Tree say to this?

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The Belfast News-Letter (17 January, 1898 - p.6)

     Quite the last person in the world that I thought would defend Mr. Clement Scott in his uncalled for attack upon the stage is Mr. Robert Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan has had occasion before this to resent some remarks of the “eminent” critic, but now admits that in speaking of Mr. Scott he had uttered his words with considerable exaggeration and under very sharp provocation. No one will forget Mr. Buchanan’s attack upon Mr. Scott, or, to be more correct, Mr. Scott’s attack upon Mr. Buchanan, and the latter gentleman’s fierce defence. It has now fallen to the lot of the very one who has so angrily crossed swords with Mr. Scott to defend his (Scott’s) blunders. Therefore, in looking round to find someone to back up Bernard Shaw and champion Clement Scott our gaze did not wander in the direction of Mr. Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan claims that Mr. Scott’s blunders should be “pleasantly condoned.” Mr. Buchanan did not pleasantly condone with his critic when he condemned his play. On the contrary, he gave him a piece of his mind in self-defence. What is more natural than that the whole profession should feel the unjustness of Mr. Scott’s clumsy remarks, and resent them also in self-defence. Mr. Buchanan goes on to remark that Mr. Scott’s remarks “were exaggerated in an interview.” Why, the editor’s final proof was approved and initialed by Mr. Scott! However, it is perhaps as well to let the matter drop. I should think it is more than probable we shall have some explanatory and defensive article from Mr. Scott, as he is not a man to let his pen remain idle long, rheumatism or no rheumatism, or gout or no gout. The whole thing is very regrettable, and probably no one regrets it more than the author of it. The humorous side of the question is that the notorious interview appeared in “Great Thoughts”—a periodical where we expect to read matter to justify its title. If the interview had been given to “Tit Bits,” or, say, “Comic Cuts,” it is more likely to have reached a portion of the public better calculated to see where the fun came in.

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The Mariners of England

 

The Era (30 April, 1898)

“YE MARINERS OF ENGLAND.”
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—On my own behalf and that of Mr Buchanan who collaborated with me in the play produced last year under this title, I wish to explain why our names will be withdrawn from future announcements and advertisements. On the understanding that this should be done, we have parted with all our rights and interests in the piece, so far, at least, as Great Britain is concerned, and have given the purchaser carte blanche to alter and produce it in any way he thinks expedient. We disclaim, therefore, all responsibility for future productions of the piece, from which our names will henceforth be absolutely disassociated. At the same time, we wish it all success, as the arrangement I have described is a perfectly friendly one, and we know that the play is in good hands.
     I am desired by Mr Buchanan to add that his chief reason for disassociating himself from this particular play is the fact that the attempt to celebrate the achievement of a real national Hero has been construed, in some quarters, into sympathy with more ignoble manifestations of the national (or Jingo) spirit, against which he has always protested in his writings. It is better, therefore, that the fame and name of Nelson should be relinquished altogether into other hands.
                   Yours faithfully,                    HARRIETT JAY
     April 28th, 1898.                             (“Charles Marlowe.”).

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Two Little Maids from School

 

The Era (26 November, 1898 - p.14)

“TWO LITTLE MAIDS FROM SCHOOL.”
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I desire to correct the statement, made in an influential quarter, that Two Little Maids from School is merely a literal translation of Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr. So far from this being the case, the adaptation is unusually free, particularly as regards those scenes between Dubouloy and Louise, which created the greatest amusement, and which it would be very difficult to find in the original. At the same time, I have borne public testimony to the fact that the structure of the play belongs to Alexandre Dumas, who found the material for it in one of the stories of Boccaccio. To those critics who have objected, naturally enough, that the comedy has been developed by the adaptors on somewhat “farcical” lines, I can only reply that the original piece, as played in the formal method of the Théâtre Français, has always failed to awaken the enthusiasm evoked last Monday night at Camberwell. In my opinion, indeed, the theme is distinctly farcical, and should be treated with the vivacity and high spirits which farce demands.
                   Yours faithfully,                    ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Nov. 24th, 1898.

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The Zoophilist

 

The British Medical Journal (17 June, 1899)

A VISION OF THE BACK OF BEYOND.

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN has been glutting his mind with antivivisectionist literature, and after this feast of horrors he not unnaturally had a bad dream. The dream, he candidly admits, was “doubtless a foolish one.” There is nothing uncommon in the experience, but wise people do not tell their dreams. Mr. Buchanan, on the other hand, has told his foolish dream to the editor of the Zoöphilist, who has been unkind enough to print it. Mr. Buchanan was rapt in sleep in the Back of Beyond, where he saw “countless presences” in whom he recognised “disembodied spirits with a shadowy resemblance to human beings.” They were “beautiful beings, grave, calm, graceful, dignified, as immeasurably superior in insight and reasoning power to men and women of flesh and blood as men and women are superior to beasts of the forest and the field.” These august beings apparently found nothing better to exercise their insight and reasoning power upon than contemplating the sufferings of man. “Wherever there was a sickbed or a deathbed they were present,” not altogether for clinical study it would appear, but for the pleasure of the thing. Mr. Buchanan, misconceiving the situation, thought the beings were angels, and proceeded to interview one. But they were only “Beyond- Men,” completing their intellectual development by the study of pain, which they had come to see “as a necessary part of the eternal scheme of education.” One might have thought they would have learned this great truth from their terrestrial schoolmasters; but they may have had the privilege of being taught in Board Schools where even plagosus Orbilius would have had to lay aside his cane. The “Beyond-Man” confided to Mr. Buchanan that he and the other “Presences” increased the tortures of humanity as the means of their enlightenment and progression “even as the human vivisector sacrifices the inferior creatures, animal and human, to his glorious thirst for Knowledge. The “Beyond-Man” added truly enough that “the majority of men cannot reason; they can only feel.” But he added that they have no rights, and are in fact useful only as affording examples of suffering by which the “Beyond-Men” may gain knowledge that will enable them to reach, if we may say so, the Back of Beyond. Mr. Buchanan, on awakening from his dream, “with trembling hands again took up the record of human devilry, done in the name of Science,” and proceeded to make a “deduction.” This was that “if he accepted the right of any creature, under any circumstances whatever, to base its happiness or its security on pain wilfully inflicted on lower creatures,” he must also accept “the fiat (whose ‘fiat,’ one wonderingly asks) that there is no God.” The psychological process by which Mr. Buchanan arrives at this “deduction” is impenetrably obscure, and the argument may be taken as an illustration of the Beyond-Man’s remark that “the majority of men cannot reason.” But leaving aside the “deduction,” what is to be said of the premiss from which he draws it? Would Mr. Buchanan suffer himself without resistance to be made the subject of unscientific, but none the less painful, vivisectional experiments by a wild beast? Would he do nothing to check the too-pressing attentions of a savage dog? Would he let his house be overrun by rats or mice? Would he be careful of the feelings of a flea which might seek security on his person from that of an insufficiently zoöphilist cat? But on his own principles he has no right “under any circumstances whatever” to base his happiness or security on pain wilfully inflicted on lower creatures. Mr. Buchanan is not brilliant in dreaming, but at least he reasons better in his sleep then when he is awake

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The Zoophilist (1 July, 1899)

“MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AT THE BACK OF BEYOND.”

(FROM “THE STAR,” JUNE 19TH.)

     SIR,—Under the above heading, there is printed in a publication called the British Medical Journal, a playfully savage attack upon myself, apropos my little parable about Vivisection published in the current number of the Zoophilist. The editor of the journal laughs to scorn my so-called Dream and makes most merry over my Deduction—that human beings have no right, under any circumstances whatever, to base their happiness or security on pain “wilfully” inflicted on inferior sentient creatures. “Would Mr. Buchanan,” he sarcastically inquires, “suffer himself without resistance to be made the subject of unscientific, but none the less painful, vivisectional experiments by a wild beast? Would he let his house be overrun with rats or mice? Will he be careful of the feelings of a flea?” &c., &c. This, sir, is the sort of retort with which the editorial Bob Sawyer or Benjamin Allen regales his circle of admiring chemists and druggists when it is suggested that a limit should be put to the clumsy cruelties of our so-called scientists! The poor man sees no difference between defending oneself against an attack by a wild animal or even killing a flea, and torturing under circumstances of inhuman devilry harmless dogs and helpless human beings; and he has the impudence, in drawing his absurd parallels, to accuse me of want of logic. Let me take leave, therefore, to assure him that my ideas of beneficence, Quixotic as they may seem, do not imply any abnegation of the right of self-protection, whether the creature who attacks me be a wild beast on four legs or a medical savage on two.
     It has, I believe, been proved up to the hilt that deeds of cold-blooded cruelty, done under the pretence of the service of Humanity, have been comparatively useless in the mitigation of disease and the widening of practical scientific knowledge; that, in other words, vivisection is worse than a crime, it is an imbecile and brutal blunder. That, however, was not my chief contention in the contribution to the Zoophilist. My contention was, and is, that the argument for vivisection was an argument against any possible belief in a beneficent God, and that it would be better for Humanity to perish outright, at once and for ever, than to preserve itself (even if that were possible) by acts of infamous torture done to creatures only a little lower, in the scale of sentient existence, than men and women.
     The British Medical Journalist is very much shocked that I should suggest any heterodoxy respecting the special Providence in which he and his class religiously believe. Your vivisector, your cheap scientist, like your military mercenary, is always pious; so that to mow down dervishes at Omdurman and to torment our dumb brethren in Edinburgh and London seem to him equally worthy of beings who aspire to find favour in the eyes of the Almighty. I, sir, am not so constituted. I refuse to worship in the blood-stained temples where the butchers and savages of this latterday Rome set up their Holy of Holies. I reserve my reverence for gods whom I can respect; and I believe that such gods are still at work purifying the human heart and elevating the human conscience in spite of the ugly blots which still blacken our boasted civilisation.
                             Yours, &c.,
                                           ROBERT BUCHANAN.
17th June.

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The British Medical Journal (8 July, 1899)

“MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AT THE BACK OF BEYOND.”

IT may be remembered that some little time ago after supping full of the horrors of antivivisectional literature Mr. Robert Buchanan had a nightmare. With this he then, like a naughty boy, tried to frighten the audience—meet, if few—who sit at the feet of the editor of the Zoöphilist. For this we felt it our duty to administer to him a very mild castigation. Mr. Buchanan thereupon went and wept on the sympathetic bosom of the Star. That paper “dwells apart,” and therefore we were undisturbed by the voice of his lamentation till the echo of it reached us from the current number of the Zoöphilist. Though Mr. Buchanan’s epistolary style can hardly be commended as an example of sweetness and light, his letter is one of the funniest things we have read for some time. In his vision of the Back of Beyond he laid it down as a principle that human beings have no right “under any circumstances whatever” to base their happiness or security on pain wilfully inflicted on animals, and we ventured to point out that if his practice was to be consistent with his professed principle, he must look upon the life of the harmless but unnecessary mouse as sacred, treat fleas and such small deer with Buddhist tenderness, and allow a hungry carnivore to lunch off him rather than do anything to hurt its feelings. It turns out, of course, that Mr. Buchanan did not mean what he said, and he naturally is not pleased to have his absurdity exposed. We should recommend him in future to follow the excellent advice of an eminent statesman, and when he means nothing to say nothing. Mr. Buchanan is indignant that we should have accused him of a want of logic. Logic is not by any means the only thing that he wants. But while logic can be learnt, temper and taste cannot be acquired; any attempt to teach them would therefore be labour lost. We cannot honestly congratulate our antivivisectionist friends on their new ally, but we must acknowledge that he has shown good judgment in joining them. Hamlet, according to the gravedigger, because he was mad was sent into England, where it would not be seen in him since the men there were as mad as he. For the same sound reason presumably Mr. Buchanan, because he wants logic, goes among the anitvivisectionists where the want of it will not be noticed. But if he wants logic, he is full of the finest of fine sentiments. He tells us he is not even as “your vivisector, your cheap scientist.” He refuses “to worship in the blood-stained temples where the butchers and savages of this letter-day Rome set up their Holy of Holies.” He reserves his reverence for gods whom he can respect, etc. Mr. Buchanan is mistaken in thinking that we are shocked at what he is pleased to call his “heterodoxy.” We feel not the slightest interest in his “gods,” more particularly as they appear to be of his own making. He is free, as far as we are concerned, to think what he likes on theology or any other subject. But when he speaks about things of which he knows nothing, and brings wanton charges of “cold-blooded cruelty” against men who sacrifice health and wealth and even ambition in their efforts to better the lot of their fellowmen he exceeds the licence of foolish speech allowed even to an excitable poetaster.

 

[Buchanan’s ‘story’, ‘A Dream; and a Deduction’, was published in The Zoophilist (1 June, 1899) and is available on this site.]

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Bexhill-on-Sea

 

[Buchanan and Jay spent the summer of 1899 in Pevensey Bay, Sussex. During this time Buchanan was contributing pieces to The Sunday Special, one of which was an “An open letter to Earl De La Warr and Buckhurst” concerning the changes which the town of Bexhill-on-Sea was currently undergoing. Buchanan had lived in Bexhill during the mid-1860s and his father was buried there. Judging by the comments in the local newspapers, Buchanan’s ‘open letter’ was published in The Sunday Special of 10th September, 1899, however, I’ve not seen the original (The Sunday Special archives are not online) so I can’t confirm this. Whether such ‘open letters’ should be included here, rather than in the Essays section, is also open to debate. After Buchanan’s death, the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer reprinted the letter (possibly edited) on the same page as an obituary, so it makes sense to begin this section with that reprint and then follow it with the local press comments from September, 1899.]

 

Bexhill-on-Sea Observer (15 June, 1901 - p.2)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN
AND BEXHILL.

THE DEAD POET’S REMARKABLE DIRGE.

HIS LETTER TO EARL DE LA WARR.

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, author, playwright, journalist, and poet, who died on Monday morning, was intimately acquainted with Bexhill some forty years ago. He was the first to celebrate in verse the beauties of the then little Sussex village nestling on the hill. Two years ago Mr. Buchanan revisited the pleasant haunts of his youth, and found, to his dismay, that the sylvan beauties of the neighbourhood had been obliterated by bricks and mortar. He expressed his feelings in an open letter to Earl De La Warr, published in one of the London papers, which attracted much attention at the time. It was a remarkable dirge of a poetic mind, portions of which will bear repetition now that the truly great but unfortunate man has gone. Of course, we are not all poets, or there would be no Bexhill at the present time—the choicest and select spots of the earth would be reserved for the few.

BEXHILL AS LOVELY AS SWEET AUBURN.

     “These and sundry other reflections of a similar kind,” wrote Mr. Buchanan to Lord De La Warr, “passed through my mind as I wandered to-day through the streets of Bexhill-on-Sea, and found myself face to face at every turning with the ugly earthworks of the Estate offices which bear your lordly name. My first introduction to the place was made long ago, as far back, indeed, as the early ‘sixties.’ A boy, adrift in Babylon, and eager to find some place of temporary rest far from the madding crowd, I was told by the late Westland Marston of a spot almost as lovely as sweet Auburn, only some seventy miles from the City, and within a stone’s throw of the sea. Thither I went, and there I abode, with occasional flights Londonwards, for several years. I was the very first among poets, I believe, to celebrate in song the beauties and amenities of the little Sussex village, and I am now quite certain that I shall be the last; for you, sir, have thrown over it the disfiguring mantle of your ‘enterprise,’ and have changed it from a green and gentle retreat, full of sunshine and sweet music, into a hideous monstrosity of red brick and mortar, with impudent hotels, bran-new boarding establishments, a genteel esplanade, a priggish Kiosk, and the inevitable Viennese band.
     “Let me try to remember what Bexhill was before it became the prey of your lordship’s architect and the ubiquitous jerry builder. It consisted chiefly or mainly of the old village, situated on a hill rather less than a mile from the sea, and surrounded on every side by green fields, clumps of woodland, and open common. At the top of the hill stood the Bell Inn, looking eastward towards Hastings, and hard by was the old church; both these institutions exist still, and are little changed, while here and there in their immediate neighbourhood a few of the old-fashioned cottages are still to be found. Further westward, approaching the descent towards Little Common, were many a quaint old belt and garden; and on the crest of the hill, surrounded by the most delightful garden of all, was the cottage where I abode. My landlord was

ONE VICKERY, A SHOEMAKER,

and his plot of land, which he tended himself with wondrous skill, was both hi pleasure and his pride—a little Eden of flowers, and fruit, and sunshine. To sit there in summertime, and to hear the good old gardener, a Radical, of course, like all of his trade, fulminating against the Rector of the parish, and proclaiming to all the world his contempt for the Rector and his worldly ways, was delightful beyond measure; and thither on balmy breezes floated all the gossip of the village, salt and piquant with the breath of the neighbouring sea. One wandered through green fields, and over stiles, and down honeysuckled lanes, to the very fringe of the breakers tumbling on shingle and sand. The skylark sang, and the speckled snakes crawled over fields where oxen were yoked to the plough, and where the windhover hung poised in the warm, still summer air. Away westward stretched the Marshes, up to the very walls of Pevensey Castle, which was a fortified place even in the time of Julius Cæsar; northward was Battle, with its famous Abbey; and at every step one took the solitude was peopled with memories of departed days.
     “Even to-day, sir, all this memorable landscape has not much changed, The sea and the marshes, the woods and the lanes, remain much as they were, and Nature is still solitary on either side of the dusty highway that runs from Hastings to Eastbourne. Only a few years ago, moreover, old Vickery’s wonderful garden—still wonderful, though Vickery had long slept the sleep of the just—crowned the heights of Bexhill, showering apple blossoms in springtime over the road, and hanging golden fruit in summertime to tempt the vision of passers by. Your lordship’s architect had begun his incantations, but the dear old garden was still spared. Now it has gone, to be replaced by red bricks and mortar, and to be let out in ‘flats!’

O TEMPORA! O MORES!

‘Flats’ in Bexhill! ‘Flats’ in the near vicinity of Chantry-lane, and the old walnut tree, and the Manor House, which was once the summer palace of the Bishops of Chichester. And, as if that were not enough to make day hideous, there stands, in the centre of the doomed village, a Jubilee Clock, exultantly proclaiming that the days of peace and quietness and rural loveliness are fled, so far as poor Bexhill is concerned, for ever!
     “‘The present occupant of the Manor House,’ says the Guide Book, ‘is Earl De La Warr, who, after his marriage in 1891 with the Hon. Muriel Brassey (being then Viscount Cantelupe), came to reside in Bexhill, succeeding to the title in 1896.’ This, sir, is almost all I know of your personal connection with the place, except that the Manor was granted to your ancestor, Lord Buckhurst, by good Queen Bess. For many and many a day Bexhill remained safe in its sylvan obscurity, while the Earls of De La Warr and Buckhurst succeeded each other, and passed away innocuous and unknown. Other times other manners. Inspired by the glorious example of the Duke of Devonshire, who had turned gentle Eastbourne into a

PREPOSTEROUS LONDON SUBURB,

and had reaped the results in wondrous ground rents, you beckoned to you the ministering spirits of the age, and instructed that latter-day demon, the jerry builder, to transform sylvan Bexhill into an imitation of New Chelsea—or rather, into a sort of hybrid cross between an American health resort and a Chiswickian Bedford Park; enormous structures, monstr’-inform-ingens-horrendous, rose to heaven; streets of ‘toy box’ villas covered the once green heights above the sea; brick dust and mortar stench filled the air; and, bereft of all greenness and sylvan beauty, Bexhill flaunted in the sunshine its glaring avenues of estate offices, meat emporiums, stores, and chemists’ shops. Cunningly-worded advertisements lured the invalid to this genteel pandemonium. Bexhill was ‘breezy;’ Bexhill was ‘sunny;’ Bexhill was the very spot for the genteel hypochondriac and the valetudinarian in search of rest! And really, sir, compared with swaggering Eastbourne and stucco-covered St. Leonards, Bexhill was restful, is restful. There is grisly dulness about even its gaiety which appeals strongly to the sympathies of the English middle classes. There are no crowds, few trippers, not many organ-grinders. From the Cycle Track on the shore to the Jubilee Clock in the village ennui and gentility reign paramount. The visitors are completely panoplied in respectability, for, to crown all, and to keep all selectly stupid, Bexhill is ‘dear.’
     “Over those downs and uplands in the early sixties

GOOD OLD FARMER BROOKS,

the very ideal of an English yeoman, used to ride on his weight-carrying hunter, and survey his many harvest-bearing fields. There were real old-fashioned rustics in smock frocks, and village maidens of the Molly Seagrim type, and young squires who resembled Tom Jones and jolly landlords like Powell of the ‘Bell.’ All these, sir, have vanished, to give place to schoolmistresses on holiday, retired shopkeepers who bring their own carriages, and dyspeptic officers on half-pay. The soul of bricks and mortar is everywhere, even on the very fringe of the sea, where nursemaids wander followerless, and boys and girls bring their pennies to the cinematograph. The very gardens where they exist are trim and suburban. The one inspiration lacking everywhere is that of Nature, who has withdrawn herself as far away as Pevensey, and absolutely declines to hold any communication whatever with the creations of the modern architect. True, the skies and the sea remain, but they are subdued to the prevailing architecture, as the dyer’s hand is subdued to what it works in. A common brickdustiness, red and aggressive, shadows everything. A poet could find as much greenness, and more inspiration, in Sloane-street or Cheyne-row.
     “Under any circumstances, I am aware, a fashionable English watering-place is

DESOLATE AND DREARY ENOUGH;

the more crowded it is, the more desolate and depressing. The main effort of its local luminaries is to make it as hideous, architecturally, as possible; next, and nearly as important, comes the determination to forbid to its frequenters the faintest gleam of gaiety or rational amusement. To find any seaside resort worthy of the name one has to fly far away from the whistle of the railway train, the novels of Miss Braddon, and the shadow of Smith’s bookstalls. Such resorts there still are, but those who know them forbear to write of them, knowing too well that the announcement of their charms would be the signal for their destruction. I myself know of one, not many miles away from the Arcadia which you have destroyed. It has ugly features, but they are in the way of Nature, not of Art or of your lordship’s architect. There one may still burrow in sand and shingle and go about in gipsy fashion, safe from the music of any German band. Its drainage is defective, its few summer visitors are retired haberdashers and fishmongers on holiday, its houses are built of grey sandstone, and, superficially speaking, it is not beautiful; but then, on the other hand, it is unpretentious, it is open to all the airs of heaven and ocean; it contains no hotel, not one edifice of red brick, not one solitary boarding establishment, but one sees in it real fishermen, and quite old-fashioned rustics. Under the fostering care of the jerry builder it would become another Bexhill, arrogantly genteel, scorbutic of complexion, and generally insufferable—a blot upon the landscape, a mere thing of shoddy ‘villas’ and tenements let out in ‘flats.’

“AMERICANISED.”

     “I have not addressed this letter to you, sir, merely with the object of saying uncomplimentary things about poor Bexhill. My object, as usual, is to point a moral, and to ask ‘those who know’ whether, if our old nobility is still to be left to us, there should not be some statute of limitations to their financial wrong-doing? So long as they acted indirectly as protectors of sylvan Nature, setting up old-fashioned barriers against the universal advance of bricks and mortar, we were inclined to forgive them their sins in the matters of land-grabbing and game-preserving; but now that they are rushing into the market with their possessions, and handing them over incontinently to the jerry builder, it is time to remind them that they are forfeiting the one claim they ever had to social tolerance and respect. Rapidly, very rapidly, a large portion of our rural England is becoming ‘Americanised,’ and anyone who has ever lived in the States, and come face to face with the prevailing architectural hideousness therein, must be aware what that means. Bexhill, for example, is an American ‘summer resort,’ with scarcely one redeeming English feature. Only a few years ago, as I have explained, it was one of the greenest and sweetest spots on this island. You, sir, and the other owners of the land, have destroyed it; in other words, you have brought discredit on an old name and an old patent of nobility, by disposing of your beautiful birthright for a mess of brick-dust!”

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Bexhill-on-Sea Observer (16 September, 1899 - p.5)

What We Think.
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A POET’S LAMENTATIONS OVER BEXHILL.

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN is spending his summer holiday at Pevensey, and he has been over to see Bexhill. The two events are certainly not remarkable in themselves, nor do they call for very special notice. Doubtless, the inhabitants of the old village live on in their country dreaminess, just as if no latter end of the nineteenth century poet had honoured them with his company; and Bexhill, in its time, has received visitors quite as distinguished as the author of “The Wandering Jew.” But the poet-journalist-novelist-playwright came to Bexhill in search of copy, or at any rate, he was afflicted with cacoethes scribendi when he returned to his Pevensey lodgings, with the result that we saw in a rather obscure London paper the other day an article from his pen in the form of an open letter to “the Earl De La Warr and Buckhurst.” It is a matter of no great surprise that Mr. Robert Buchanan has not followed the example of scores of other visiting journalists and given Bexhill a brilliant “write up,” for he is nothing if not original—or shall we say eccentric?—and no one ever heard of Robert Buchanan, either in the world of literature or the realms of drama, doing something which somebody had done before him. Therefore, when the famous author sat himself down to write a holiday article about Earl De La Warr and Bexhill, he determined to be uncomplimentary. But the principal contributing cause to the tenour of “Arcadia Up-to-Date” we conceive to be the fact that Mr. Buchanan is a poet. That explains everything. Early in the sixties, when Mr. Robert Buchanan was “a boy, adrift in Babylon, and eager to find some place of temporary rest far from the madding crowd,” he came to Bexhill, and he claims to be the very first among the poets to celebrate in song the beauties of the little Sussex village. Sad to say, he will also be the last. The whole trouble consists in Mr. Buchanan’s antipathy to the growth of Bexhill. He compares the Bexhill of the later nineties with the Bexhill of the early sixties, much to the disparagement of the former. We are sorry for Mr. Buchanan, but, to speak our honest conviction, we are not sorry for Bexhill. Sweet Auburn, says the poet, has been spoiled by the disfiguring mantle which Earl De La Warr has thrown over it, changing it “from a green and gentle retreat, full of sunshine and sweet music, into a hideous Monstrosity of red brick and mortar, with impudent Hotels, brand-new Boarding establishments, a genteel Esplanade, a priggish Kiosk, and the inevitable Viennese Band.” We can sympathise with Mr. Buchanan in his chagrin and disappointment when he visits Bexhill after an interval of some thirty years, and finds it has not stood still; we feel sorry for him when he finds himself “face to face at every turning with the ugly earthworks of the estate offices” (whatever they may be); when he discovers that “the one inspiration lacking everywhere is that of Nature, who absolutely declines to hold any communication whatever with the creations of the modern architect;” and again when he makes the further sensational discovery that “the skies and the seas remain, but they are subdued to the prevailing architecture as the dyer’s hand is subdued to what it works in”—for is not the author of all these sentimental lamentations a poet? That, as we said before, is the keynote of the whole problem. How could a man attempt to write poetry, fit to be read, and fit to live, in an atmosphere of brickdust and mortar? A town of hotels, and kursaals, cycle tracks, and dust carts, triangular plots, and railway subways is certainly not an Arcadia for the sweet songsters of the English language. We must go back to the little village on the hill of the early sixties, back to the garden of Vickery, the shoemaker, “a little Eden of flowers, and fruit, and sunshine, whither there floated on balmy breezes all the gossip of the village, salt and piquant with the breath of the neighbouring sea,” and from whence “one wandered through green fields, and over stiles, and down honeysuckled lanes, to the very fringe of the breakers tumbling on shingle and sand,” and where “the skylark sang, and the speckled snakes crawled over fields where oxen were yoked to the plough, and where the windhover hung poised in the warm, still summer air,” to find suitable environment for the dreamy maker of verses. But the Bexhill of old is almost obliterated. We have “flats” in the vicinity of Chantry Lane, so Mr. Robert Buchanan, ousted by the architect and the bricklayer, has to fly away to his new Arcadia, where the drainage is defective, and the few summer visitors are retired haberdashers and fishmongers on a holiday. What, therefore, is Bexhill’s loss is Pevensey’s gain. We are sorry the poets do not find a congenial atmosphere at Bexhill, but then civilisation, and arts, and industries were not invented for the Robert Buchanans of our race. They are necessarily few, and must give way to the less sentimental and more practical and monied majority of common people, in search of health and happiness by the seaside. It would be rough, indeed, on mankind if the choice spots of the earth had to be reserved for the poets. What would become of the teeming populations of the inland towns were they debarred their annual course of medicinal ozone; what of our trade, if it had to exist on balmy breezes and poppied fields; what of the poets themselves, if they had no seaside holiday makers to buy their works? Man cannot live by bread alone, neither can he exist on poetry—not even Mr. Robert Buchanan’s. Sylvan Nature is all very well in its way, and we want to preserve as much as we can of it in the vicinity of Bexhill, but the less poetic bricks and mortar affect more strongly the well-being of the multitude. After all, Mr. Buchanan has let Bexhill off very lightly, for he is good enough to say that “compared with swaggering Eastbourne and stucco-covered St. Leonards, Bexhill is restful.” Let us be thankful for small mercies. We do not, in the least, feel inclined to rail at Mr. Buchanan because of his funeral dirge over the lost beauties of Bexhill, especially when we remember that in our very midst there is a counterpart of the poet, bearing the name of as great a philosopher as he, and sharing the same poetical sentiments. Only a few weeks ago there appeared in the “Observer” some lamentations over the lost ideal, which might have been written by Mr. Buchanan himself, so closely are the feelings of the two writers allied. “My day dream,” said the Bexhill idealist, “was that it should be something intensely different from Hastings and St. Leonards, on the one hand, or Eastbourne, on the other; simply country by the sea, with no streets, terraces, or crescents, or even blocks of houses. Existing lanes and bye-ways should remain, with their hawthorn hedges and flowering undergrowths; not a tree or a hedgerow should be sacrificed, and all new thoroughfares be laid out in the same natural way—not by rule of set square and tee square in the office, but by careful study on the spot, following the sinuosities and contour of the land, so as to make the most of every rise and fall, the coup d’œil changing at every turn, instead of (as on the drawing board) the only object being to see how many separate building plots can be squeezed into a given square area. In such a way the horrible monotony of our straight open streets would be prevented, and bricks and mortar be induced to add to, instead of tending to destroy, the material beauty of the landscape. And it is only left to us to imagine what Bexhill might have been with long winding boulevards, or avenues of poplar, chestnut, sycamore, elm, and other forest trees, leading away east, west, and north, amid detached and semi-detached country residences, standing in ample grounds; with branch roads of a still more rural character (befitting the less pretentious ‘cottage ornee’ style of dwelling), gradually narrowing into flowery country lanes, between woodlands and hedgerows, left undisturbed, so as to preserve all the picturesque points de vue of the proverbial English landscape. This treatment could have been extended ultimately in every direction, to the broad marshes, where the asten and ashburn, meandering along rank grass and rushes, fringed with reeds and osiers, tempt the sportsman in search of snipe, plover, and wild duck, or, with rod and line, the tench, roach, and trout of these waters and their tributary streams and brooklets.” Such was the ideal of Mr. Sydney Smith, whose luminous imagination must have been inspired by Mr. Robert Buchanan. Certainly a Bexhill after Mr. Smith’s own heart and of his creation, would have approached nearer to the poet’s Arcadia than does the Bexhill of to-day. But then Mr. Smith is one of the architects, the ministering spirits of the age, against whom Mr. Buchanan rails with such eloquent indignation. Oh, the irony of the situation! The poet’s letter may not, after all be altogether in vain. If we cannot with the wand of a fairy transform Bexhill into the sweet Auburn of the sixties, we can at any rate profit by some of Mr. Buchanan’s advice. There is a great deal of truth in his dictum that the fashionable English watering-place is desolate and dreary, and the more crowded it is, the more desolate and depressing. Bexhill to-day is not crowded, and we must do our best to insure its not being desolate or depressing. The sin of architectural hideousness cannot be justly laid at our door; neither does the next item of Mr. Buchanan’s charge, namely, that frequenters of seaside resorts are forbidden the faintest gleam of gaiety or rational amusement, apply to us. At the same time, it is well to remember that in this respect Bexhill has a lot to do ere she can claim superiority to small Continental seaside towns.

 

Town Talk.
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. . .

     MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN has been writing some funny things in the paper about Bexhill. Of course, we poor ordinary mortals cannot aspire to the moral and intellectual level of a poet; that is why we can stand idly by and witness the interesting, but horrifying, process of seeing Bexhill changed “from a green and gentle retreat, full of sunshine and sweet music, into a hideous Monstrosity (with a capital “M,” mind you) of red brick and mortar, with impudent hotels, brand-new boarding establishments, a genteel Esplanade, a priggish Kiosk, and the inevitable Viennese Band.” I must say I admire Mr. Buchanan’s adjectives, but why a Kiosk should be called priggish I cannot for the life of me understand. From the point of view of size and suitability for a seaside front, if a Kiosk is priggish, what is a Marina Court Building? I give it up. Perhaps Mr. Robert Buchanan will oblige.

     I WILL be the first to acknowledge that the picture which the author of “The Wandering Jew” draws of the Bexhill of the early Sixties is alluring and enchanting. No one but the painter of such grand word-pictures could cast such a halo of sylvan beauty around the old village, and certain unpoetical Bexhillians, when they look on the view depicted for them, will bring back to memory the primitive scenes of bygone years, only the scenes will have added glories now. There are two sides to every picture. We cannot have a modern seaside watering-place, with all its advantages, and retain the rural delights of ye olde village by the sea at the same time. Mr. Robert Buchanan’s letter is a vigorous counterblast to the eulogiums which other writers (perhaps less distinguished) have published on the beauties of well laid out bricks and mortar. His honest and amusing wail will do Bexhill more good, perhaps, than a lot of the “gush” that fills the columns of certain newspapers. We may console ourselves, at any rate, that there are few Robert Buchanans in existence. He doesn’t like Bexhill, but there are a good many people who do.

     THE distinguished dramatist has found a place almost after his own heart at Pevensey, but even with that ancient village he has many faults to find. I think he might give Kewhurst a trial. It is exactly the place for a poet who wants peace and quietness.  The obstructions to the sea view at the present time are one bathing machine and three tents, while the only distraction to his mind would be caused by the Coastguards’ wives hanging out their washing.

     MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, it will be remembered, caused some stir in the publishing world a year or two ago, by undertaking the publication of his own writings. Born at Caverswall, Staffordshire, in 1841, he inherited some of his advanced ideas from his father, who was a Socialist, a missionary, and a journalist. The author commenced his education at the Glasgow Academy and High School, and finished it at the University in the same city. He came to London in search of fame in 1860. Like many other literary aspirants, he found the road rather stony, and many are the tales of hardship he has since told. But his talent at length rose to the surface, and as poet, author, and dramatist he has achieved considerable reputation.

     HIS principal poetical publications are “London Poems” (a866); “Book of Orm” (1868); “Collected Poetical Works” (1880); and “The Wandering Jew” (1890). The latter work prompted the great controversy in one of the London dailies on “Is Christianity a Failure?” Mr. Buchanan also published anonymously “St. Abe and his Seven Wives” and “White Rose and Red.” His first novel was “The Shadow of the Sword,” which came out in 1874, and has been followed by many popular books, among which may be mentioned:  “Come, live with me, and be my love,” “Love me for ever,” “The Master of the Mine,” “God and the Man,” and “The Charlatan.” Several plays from his pen have been produced in London, and have proved successful. Mr. Buchanan’s favourite recreations are yachting, shooting, fishing, and horse-racing.

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The Sussex Express (16 September, 1899 - p.8)

BEXHILL NOTES AND JOTTINGS.
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     Mr. Robert Buchanan, the celebrated journalist, is staying at Pevensey. Under the heading, “An open letter to Earl De la Warr and Buckhurst,” he enlarges upon the indiscretion of the nobility, and to a great extent condemns the action of Earl De la Warr in his endeavour to make Bexhill a fashionable resort. This is Ruskinism. The natural picturesqueness of Bexhill was sufficiently known without any eulogiums from the pen of Mr. Buchanan. After alluding to the fact that he had been a resident of Bexhill in the “early sixties,” the writer goes on to talk of the “brick dust,” and the consequent “demoralisation” of the town, owing simply to the fact that Bexhill is growing. Bexhill is not a village, and there is no necessity for it to be so. We want to make a town of it, with 12,000 inhabitants. We have done so, and Earl De la Warr has been the medium.

     Of course, Mr. Buchanan, whose wide experience in the literary world may be unquestioned in most circles, and your humble servant, giving him pre-eminence in the profession, would not, were he not in the know, reflect on his latest views. He is a gentleman, who has visited Bexhill in “the early sixties,” and therefore knows but little of the growth of the town. He gives a biased view of the town in the “Sunday Special”—in an article which I have no doubt will be re-produced in the local journals—simply because he has seen the transformation of a village into a town. Does he always desire to live in antediluvian times? Or does he believe in progress? When he alludes to the rumour (and perhaps fact) that “our hereditary nobles are transformed into a body of Stock Exchange speculators, company promoters, store keepers, and jerry builders,” I believe he never for one moment meant to refer to any private individual; but, even if he did, the fact remains that the Duke of Devonshire, Earl De la Warr, and other no(ta)bilities have, quite naturally, utilised their estates to the best advantage. If the Earl De la Warr has done so, good luck to him. Mr. Buchanan would have done the same. I enclose a copy of the article referred to for the Editor’s perusal.

                                                                                                                 MILES JUNIOR.

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Bexhill-on-Sea Observer (23 September, 1899 - p.5)

     A FRIEND writes to me, suggesting that as the Council have established a precedent by allowing the Dreyfus resolution to be passed and entered on the minutes, they should now follow it up by manifestations on other public questions. He suggests:—
     A motion calling upon the Government to at once dispatch 50,000 troops to South Africa, to annihilate the 20,000 Dutch farmers, and being President Kruger, alive or dead, to England, as an interesting object for the British Museum.
     A motion protesting against the alarming spread of Protestantism in the Church of England.
     A motion in favour of the decapitation of Mr. Robert Buchanan.
     A motion in favour of making Bexhill a Parliamentary borough.

     Now I think my correspondent has writ this sarcastic, and I have not the least sympathy with him. The Dreyfus resolution reflects the greatest honour on the Council, which I rejoice to see is the first local body in this part of the country to take part in the great national protest against injustice.

__________

 

Hermann Vezin

 

The Era (7 October, 1899)

MR. HERMANN VEZIN’S LUCK.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I notice that in a friendly paragraph you say “some one has been saying Hermann Vezin is   unlucky,” i.e., brings ill-luck. To speak in my native tongue “it made me smile.” “Some one,” indeed! When Yates was manager of the old Adelphi Theatre and the entire audience uttered a tumultuous disapproval of the performance he advanced to the footlights and addressing them with perfect sangfroid said “If that individual is dissatisfied he can have his money back!” But Yates was more fortunate than I. He had his antagonists before him. I should have had to fight an invisible foe, and he was soon not a “some one,” but a multitude more numerous than Yates’s Adelphi audience. And how quickly their numbers grew. It takes centuries to establish a new religion. It takes years to introduce a new invention. A slander, an injurious lie, however incredible, is believed instanter. No one dreams of questioning its truth, or investigating its possibilities, but each one gives it currency in a thoughtless, gossipy way till it spreads with the deadly rapidity of a pestilence. So it did with me.
     If my information is correct the first “individual” who gave me this bad name was Mr Edgar Bruce. When he opened the old Prince of Wales’s Theatre in Tottenham-street, some one suggested the propriety of engaging me. His answer was “Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Vezin is a fine actor, and particular pal of mine, but he is so unlucky!” I have this from three members of his company who heard him say so. Of course, dear kind-hearted Bruce hadn’t the slightest idea that he was doing me any harm, or that what he said of me cannot possibly be true of me or any actor. As to the harm it did me, let me put down some  facts, lest I should be accused of fancying things.
     In 1882 I commissioned the late Mr Charles Bernard to book me a Shakespearian tour. The following letters will give the result:—
                                                                                                   Theatre Royal, Newcastle.
                                                                                                       Nov. 25th, 1882.
     Dear Vezin,—
         I have written or seen all the managers of the principal theatres in the United Kingdom relative to dates for your coming out with a company as a Shakespearian star. Their replies bear such a strong resemblance, that one might imagine they had had a consultation and come to a general agreement upon the subject. They all have two distinct ideas regarding you: First, that there is no more accomplished actor on the English stage; the second, that you are so irrevocably wedded to ill-luck that no speculation would pay, whatever its other prospects, with which you were connected. Saker was the only one who consented to give me a date, but differed in no other respect from the rest. What is to be done? Are they to be left in their benighted superstition? I shall be in town in a day or two, and will see you upon the subject.
                   Yours truly,
                                   CHAS. BERNARD.

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                                                                                                   Theatre Royal.
                                                                                                         Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
                                                                                                             Jan. 13th, 1883.
     Dear Vezin,—
         I got both your notes upon my return here. I have been running about booking at the theatres, and just missed the last you sent in London. I do not see any prospect of doing anything, the provincial managers are so superstitiously set against you.
                   Yours truly,
                                   CHAS. BERNARD.

     People might say this was a passing cloud, and I should live the slander down. But how was that possible when I could get no engagements? Before it was started I had never to seek engagements; managers applied to me; but, after that, I was compelled to seek engagements and sought for them in vain. Piece after piece was produced which contained a part which those who knew my work said was exactly suited to me, but it was always cast elsewhere. The injury followed me even in my humble capacity as a teacher of elocution. In tending pupils were warned against taking lessons of me because I was so unlucky. Lies have been invented of me by enemies as unscrupulous as the persecutors of Dreyfus. It would be too tedious to insist upon all the facts I could bring forward to prove the falsehood of the stigma. Let me simply mention two or three. I must mention no names. Over twenty years ago I played the principal part in a certain play over 100 times, and then migrated to another theatre. The play was continued without me and the receipts fell £20 to £25 per night. Years afterwards the same play was revived at another theatre and was the only piece produced throughout the season that played to a profit! A Shakespearian company played Othello twice during their fortnight’s stay in a provincial town. Upon the second occasion I was the Iago, and the receipts just doubled those of the preceding performance. These facts were given me officially. But this comes too near the praising of myself, and I hate it. I could multiply such instances until boredom would cause my readers to cry out, “Hold! enough!” So I leave the rest to the memory of those who have taken the trouble of following my career. One manager is reported to have given as a reason for not engaging me that I was a perfect Judas. He meant a Jonah, and I am glad of it, for Judas was a naughty man and Jonah was a harmless victim of the baseless superstition of ignorant sailors. However,, this clever manager came to grief without my help.
     During the years this stigma has clung to me I might have earned some £20,000. When I think of this I suppose I ought to feel very sad. But I have the consolation of having preserved my self-respect through it all. Instead of hindering, I have helped a goodly number of actors and actresses and several authors at critical points in their careers—in some cases without their knowledge.
     This looks like boasting again, so let me hurry on to the close, and give my reason for unfolding this doleful tale. It is not with the hope of any benefit to myself. No manager will offer me an engagement; no millionaire—I know only two—will offer to back me; but I am sorry to say I am not the only victim of this groundless superstition. There are others; but I hope that, after reading these lines, no actor will ever say of another whose abilities he acknowledges, that he is unlucky, since he must know, not only that such an accusation is utterly false, but that by doing so he is helping to deprive him of his livelihood. He must consider also that of all the Jonahs he throws overboard, none is likely to find a friendly whale to swallow and for three days and three nights keep him safe and snug in his—society.
                   Yours faithfully,
                                         HERMANN VEZIN.

___

 

The Era (14 October, 1899)

MR. VEZIN’S “LUCK.”
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Is my old friend Hermann Vezin serious, or is he merely poking fun at the foolish persons who call him “unlucky?” In either case I regret that he has spoken, for he is merely handing stones to the stone-throwers, who would pelt even an angel if they saw him strolling in the street and lamenting his lack of occupation. The fact is that Vezin has made only one mistake in his career—he has elected to remain a salaried player in days when nearly every tyro becomes his own entrepreneur, and when the merest walking gentleman, by exhibiting sharp business qualities, may be hailed as another Garrick. Of Vezin’s fine gifts there has never been any question, but these very gifts have stood in his way, for the crowned Player never likes too strong a rival near the throne. Alas, my old friend has never been either a time-server or a man of business; he has been content to remain a man who loves his art and who altogether despises the tricks of the trade.
     Only a year or two ago I strolled by accident into the pit of the Brighton Theatre. The play was The Lady of Lyons, and Vezin was the Claude Melnotte, and as he spoke the wretched fustian of the celebrated Love-scene, culminating in the famous passage about “a palace raising to eternal summer,” I seemed, for a wonder, to be listening to the music of a poet; and remembering what this fine actor had done, from the day when he first stirred our enthusiasm in The Man o’ Airlie, I asked myself what the modern Stage could have come to, when Vezin was touring the “smalls” with a scratch company instead of standing in the front of achievement with a theatre of his own? The public would have gained; Art would have gained; authors would have gained if he had entered the lists as a manager, for the man whom fools call “unlucky” has all his life had a generous word and a helping hand for unknown talent of every description. He it was who discovered and practically made the late James Albery, and he did almost as much for Wills. That he stands, intellectually speaking, a head and shoulders over most of his contemporaries, and that he is both a student and a scholar as well as a fine artiste, we all know. Does he imagine, dear simple heart, that such superiority helps him in days when so few players know even the literature of their own profession? Cannot he realise yet, after so long an experience, that the Theatre is a Tom Tiddler’s Ground for mediocrity, not a Temple for serious enthusiasts without friends in smart society or “backers” on the Stock Exchange? The serious enthusiast, at any rate, has very little chance of getting a hearing, unless he conducts his own crusade as an actor-manager.
                   Yours faithfully,                    ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Oct. 9th, 1899.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Last week Mr Vezin wrote to you “Intending pupils were warned against taking lessons of me because I was so unlucky.” May I say, as one of these pupils in 1887 (1) Mr Vezin introduced me to the late Henry Herman, which resulted in a first engagement on any stage, and enriched me by £13. (2) All my managers knew I was Mr Vezin’s pupil, so far from thinking that unlucky, they offered me re-engagements —one lasting about two years. (3) The crowning piece of good luck, my marriage to a member of the profession, is also due to my introduction to the stage by Mr Hermann Vezin. I am proud to sign myself,
                   ONE OF MR VEZIN’S LUCKY PUPILS.
     Oct. 11th, 1899.

___

 

The Era (21 October, 1899)

MR. HERMANN VEZIN’S LUCK.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Will you permit me to endorse the reference in Mr Buchanan’s letter (appearing in your last issue) to the generosity shown by Mr Hermann Vezin towards those authors or actors, or whomsoever, struggling towards some worthy goal, come across his path. I am one of those who have had Mr Vezin to instruct, encourage, and help them, and consider it the best of luck.
                   Yours faithfully,
     Oct. 16th, 1899.                    I. E. CAMPBELL.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Someone has been saying that one should not go for lessons to Mr Hermann Vezin, because even to his pupils he is unlucky. Permit me to say, out of gratitude to the best and most helpful of masters, that I have had the advantage of lessons in elocution from Mr Vezin, and that good luck simply pursues me! I had been a few months on the stage when Augustin Daly saw me play and gave me a three years’ contract. Then Mr Comyns Carr saw me and came round after the second act of a piece to engage me for the leading part in one of Mr Pinero’s plays. While I was sustaining that rôle Mr William Greet saw me and engaged me. When I was with him Mr Forbes Robertson wanted me for leading parts. Mr Greet kindly released me, and while with Mr Robertson, Sir Henry Irving sent for and engaged me for the Lyceum. Mr George Alexander, too, has sent for and engaged me for the St. James’s. At the beginning of the spring and autumn seasons I usually have from six to eight offers to play leading parts in the country—hardly what one would call  unlucky! I withhold my name, so that this may not be considered an advertisement, but feel that I must in gratitude point out to the superstitiously inclined that it is as absurd to suppose that Mr Vezin’s pupils must be unfortunate as to imagine that a play—if it is a good play—will be a failure because he is in it.
                   Yours faithfully,
                                         ONE OF MR VEZIN’S LUCKY PUPILS.

___

 

The Era (28 October, 1899)

HERMANN VEZIN’S LUCK.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Your readers are doubtless aware that Mr Hermann Vezin’s lessons in elocution have not been confined to members of the dramatic profession, but have been extended to those who have made use of his sound instruction in giving lectures and elocutionary entertainments. Some years ago I was a pupil of Mr Vezin, and it is a great pleasure to me to testify now to the benefit of his able and conscientious teaching has been to me as an elocutionist and lecturer. Since that time I have had my share of good luck in receiving and retaining engagements, and of late, instead of diminishing in number, they have decidedly increased.
                   Yours faithfully,                    WATSON THORNTON.
     Feszty’s Panorama, Greater Britain Exhibition, Earl’s-court, Oct. 23d.

___

 

The Era (11 November, 1899)

THEATRICAL “LUCK.”
_____

     The recent discussion anent lucky and unlucky actors, if such really do exist, is interesting from the point of view of the onlooker only. To the actor thus branded, that is to say, branded as being unlucky, it is tragical, as Mr Hermann Vezin has convincingly shown. An idle word, a foolish remark, made all unthinkingly, may have a very disastrous effect in a manner little suspected. Many a comedian has lost caste and cast, too, if one may say so, through an unjustified ban—through being carelessly stigmatised as “unlucky” by some responsible, though more often than not, irresponsible person. We all know how a plain, unvarnished tale will grow as it travels the rounds by word of mouth, and we also know that the best way to hang a dog is to give him a bad name without any cause. We cannot give names here, but every professional reader, or almost every reader of The Era, is acquainted with actors who cannot, nay, who do not, get engagements wholly and solely through the “bad name.” “He is unlucky, he is a Jonah, and will wreck the theatrical craft, so don’t have Brown Jones. Such a pity, because he’s a good fellow and a splendid mummer.” Of how many unfortunate actors has this been said? Dozens. At the present time to our knowledge there are several excellent comedians “walking about,” vainly advertising for shops, who have nothing against them except that they are “unlucky.” Why? Simply because they have played in several failures right off. But then surely it was the play, the author, and not the actor who was to blame? How can any one man bring bad luck to a drama or to a theatre? What is this intangible thing called “luck?” Who has it? How is it obtained? Good luck or bad luck? There is just now a clever lady playing in one of the biggest successes of the day who is supposed to be proverbial for her good luck, and there is another, playing in another success, who has been noted for her bad luck. How can this be accounted for? Of course, it is all ridiculous superstition—the superstition with which the stage is permeated. Cross-eyed comedians used to be looked upon as theatrically dangerous individuals, not unrelated to the gentleman whose name is not mentioned in polite society—yet at the present moment there are several very successful actors whose visual orbs gaze not straight ahead, except with difficulty. Madame Bernhardt would not have a certain actor in her company because she declared he had the “evil eye,” whatever that may be, so the management had the pleasure of paying a large salary to an inoffensive gentleman to “walk about.” Prejudice is largely to blame for these foolish charges and statements, and, one is tempted to add, wicked ignorance. For many people, through having the absurd fallacy of being unlucky promulgated against them, have been, and are, deprived of earning their livelihood. Occasionally, wilful spite is the root of the trouble. For instance, here is a true story. A certain actor of high repute was engaged to support a certain actress who had rapidly come to the front. The theatre is still in the Strand. The actress took an unreasonable dislike to the actor, and in the next new production—a Shakespearian revival—she asserted that he spoilt her scenes through being fluffy— through not knowing his lines. The charge itself was childish, as the actor in question knew his Shakespeare backwards, as they say. However, it was persisted in, and one night, through absolute nervousness brought about by the harm that rumour was doing his professional character, he was “fluffy,” and it was noticed by the stage-manager and several of the actress’s friends in front. That was the beginning of the end of that man’s career. He left the theatre at the completion of his engagement somewhat under a cloud. For two years he was out of an engagement. Then he got one at a smaller salary, and then the story went about again that he had dried up with Miss So-and-So, and he had the usual fortnight’s notice. So, in the end, he grew sick of battling against what seemed the inevitable, and had to leave the profession. Luckily, he had saved money, and he still lives in retirement on a modest income. And these things came about through the “hare- brained chatter of irresponsible frivolity.” Label an actor “unlucky” or “unreliable,” and you sign his death- warrant. Men and houses are frequently classed alike. In London there have been many theatres ruined through a bad reputation gratuitously bestowed. There was the old Queen’s in Tottenham-street. That has a most adventurous career, and, as the Dust-Bin, seemed doomed to extinction, until the Bancrofts went to the rescue. From the unluckiest, they converted it into the luckiest theatre in the metropolis, and it was only when the Salvation Army tried to “save” the place that it lost all its glory and went back to its bad old ways. Another Queen’s—the one in Long-acre—was an unfortunate house from the beginning. It never made any real mark except, perhaps, when H. J. Byron’s Dearer than Life was played there in 1868, with such people as Henry Irving, Charles Wyndham, Lionel Brough, John Clayton, Henrietta Hodson, and J. L. Toole. That, perhaps, and during the runs of The Lancashire Lass, The Turn of the Tide (revival), and ’Twixt Axe and Crown, by Tom Taylor, with the beautiful Mrs Rousbey, was the only period in the whole of its existence that the theatre was not considered unlucky. Then it fell into decay and the clerical folk stepped in and made the building into a stores. After that a coach builder tried his fortunes, with what “luck” we know not. At one time the Olympic was spoken of with doubt and fear, and yet Mr Henry Neville not only made his reputation there but a very big sum of money too. The Ticket-of-Leave Man had many runs there, and yet the insanes thought opening the house was like flying in the face of Providence. The Globe, too. If any one dared to produce anything but a “crying” piece there, then that creature was honestly believed to be demented. Originality in a playhouse years ago was looked upon as sacrilege. Think, too, of the hard names (and titles) bestowed upon the old Novelty, because, forsooth, the entertainments were not good! Mr Penley is proverbially a “lucky” man, and, no doubt, he will make the Novelty lucky also. Of the Opera Comique one hardly knows what to say. No theatre with so brief a life has had more ups and downs. Days of prosperity—chiefly under John Hollingshead and D’Oyly Carte—it has enjoyed, but think of the unprosperous—think of the weeks and months it has been untenanted through—bad luck? No, prejudice. The house is right enough. The plays and the performances have failed to attract—that is all. Fortune favours the brave, and many brave men have tried the Opera Comique, only they have not been brave enough. If the public don’t know where a playhouse is they can’t be expected to attend and patronise the “show.” Though if the show were good they would soon find that out. It is not the house that is unlucky but the management in the choice of the wares offered. No player, no playhouse can be unlucky—it is nonsense for anyone to say so. There is no such thing as luck unless we are permitted to say that the lucky man is he who is lucky enough to get what he deserves, and the same applies to places.

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