ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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LETTERS TO THE PRESS (2)

 

Rumours of Buchanan’s marriage to Harriett Jay

 

The Newcastle Courant (21 April, 1882)

newcastlebuchjaymarr04

Daily News (24 April, 1882)

Mr. Robert Buchanan has issued a statement to the effect that the sudden withdrawal of his adaptation of the late Lord Lytton’s “Paul Clifford” at the Imperial Theatre is “due to causes entirely unconnected with its dramatic success or failure.” Mr. Buchanan adds that it will shortly be reproduced elsewhere, with the original cast. Of the simultaneous withdrawal of the same writer’s new play, “The Shadow of the Sword,” after an equally brief career at the Olympic, no explanation is afforded.

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The Era (29 April, 1882 - p.8)

A Correction.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—An author’s work is public property, and even malignant criticism is endurable; but the newspaper press transcends its functions when, to gratify some secret spite, it intrudes upon private life and domestic sorrow. During the past week a paragraph has been widely circulated to the effect that I have been recently “married, in Switzerland, to Miss Harriet Jay, my deceased wife’s sister.” My wife, beloved by all who knew her, and most beloved by her to whom she was (as it were) both sister and mother, died only last November, and the public are asked to believe that her husband has already forgotten her, and that her noble-minded sister, sharing this forgetfulness, is also oblivious to the love, the self-sacrifice, and the saintly devotion of the departed. How this cruel report arose, and by whom it was originated, I am at a loss to guess; but I write this letter to affirm that it is without the faintest shadow of foundation, and in the name of public decency to protest against such violations of the sanctity of great and enduring grief.
                                                                                                                     I am, &c.,
     London, April 25th, 1882.                                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.

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Daily News (1 May, 1882)

We have received the following note from Mr. Robert Buchanan, from which, however, we have omitted one passage on account of its libellous character:

     I hope, and indeed feel sure, that you would not willingly do me an injury. Be that as it may, I must ask you to add to your paragraph of last Monday this explanation. That the “Shadow of the Sword” failed through no fault of mine, since the piece was a mutilated and brutalised version of my drama, produced without my supervision and in spite of my remonstrances; and that “Lucy Brandon” could not under any circumstances have been kept in the bills, because . . . These are the facts; nor need I add to them by any explanation of how I have been personally befooled and impoverished. If you will at the same time contradict a cruel statement (made first, I believe, in a Glasgow paper, and afterwards copied into the Figaro and other journals), you will do me a substantial service. This statement, utterly groundless and malicious, says that I have “recently been married, in Switzerland, to Miss Jay, my deceased wife’s   sister.” When I tell you that my dear wife died only last November, and that of all human beings her sister was most devoted to her, you will understand how much pain the report has given to all concerned. I will say nothing of my own feelings in the matter, save to say that the bitterness of my personal loss is renewed by the mere thought of such a want of respect for the beloved wife who was my friend and helper for 20 years.

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Western Mail (Cardiff) (1 May, 1882)

     Mr Robert Buchanan has found it necessary to deny a very cruel rumour of which he is the subject. A story has been actively circulated that he was recently married in Switzerland to Miss Harriet Jay, the authoress and actress, who happens to be the sister of his wife, who died only five months ago. “By whom it was originated,” says Mr. Buchanan, “I am at a loss to guess;” and “in the name of public decency” he protests against “such violations of the sanctity of great and enduring grief.” Everyone will sympathise with Mr. Buchanan in having to make such a denial. Unfortunately, he has a good many enemies on the London press, as was shown by the severity of the criticisms on his recent dramatic efforts, “The Shadow of the Sword” and “Lucy Brandon.”
     But inventions which deal with the sanctity of private life, and can only possibly find their way into the papers in consequence of carelessness which borders on the reckless, can never have a vestige of justification. Mr. Buchanan truly says that the press “transcends its functions when it intrudes upon domestic sorrow.” Of course it may very well be that he is wrong when he talks about the gratification of “some secret spite” as an explanation, but, nevertheless, the insertion of such a report on what must have been the vaguest of hearsay evidence is not creditable to journalism.

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The Evening Telegraph (Angus, Scotland) (4 May, 1882 - p.2)

THE RUMOURED MARRIAGE OF MR ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     The statement that Mr Buchanan, the poet, had married Miss Harriet Jay was originally made, with the utmost particularity, in a London letter to one of the New York papers, the writer explaining that the marriage ceremony had been performed in Switzerland on account of the state of the law in England respecting marriage with a deceased wife’s sister. It now turns out that the story was a pure fabrication, the work, it is conjectured, of some private enemy of the poet.—N. B. Mail.

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The Sunday Herald (Syracuse, N.Y.) (28 May, 1882 - p.4)

The English law which prevents a man from marrying the sister of his deceased wife has caused Robert Buchanan to take a matrimonial journey to Switzerland, where that absurd regulation is not in force. His new wife and former sister-in-law is—or rather was—Miss Jay, author of the “Queen of Connaught.”

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The Sunday Herald (Syracuse, N.Y.) (1 October, 1882 - p.4)

—Harriet Jay (Buchanan), the novelist and actress, the author of “The Queen of Connaught,” and formerly the sister-in-law and now the wife of Robert Buchanan, has written a new story with the title of “My Connaught Cousins.”

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The Martyrdom of Madeline

 

The Academy (1 July, 1882 - No. 530, p. 11-12)

“THE MARTYRDOM OF MADELINE.”

                                                                                                                             London: June 20, 1882.

     A man who is Quixotic enough to attack windmills must expect summary and clumsy treatment. My windmills are, as everybody knows, the English journals of society and criticism—in the present instance, I regret to say, the ACADEMY. One of your miller’s-men, whose name is unfamiliar to me, has loosed the big wheel to unseat me—à propos of The Martyrdom of Madeline; but I hope that the miller-in-chief, who has always seemed to be good-natured enough, will allow me a few words of protestation.
     Now, I am not going to defend my novel as a work of art against any mere miller’s man that ever, in coat or cassock, cast dust into the people’s eyes. The public will read my work and form its own opinion—the generous perceiving, perhaps, how difficult was the adequate illustration of my theme in a story meant for popular circulation in England. But your reviewer, because he dislikes my big-eyed heroine, and sympathises with certain of my foes, roundly accuses me of Charlatanism, applying that loose word, if I understand him rightly, not merely to my last work, but to my writings in general. Such a charge, indeed, concerns rather the secret motives of a man than his special inspiration; and, much as your reviewer may distrust my motives, he should at least be accurate in his descriptions of my performances. He accuses me, in the first place, of attacking my “old friends the fleshly poets.” Who are the fleshly poets, so-called? If your reviewer refers to Mr. Swinburne, to Mr. Morris, to Mr. Rossetti, and to those whom I once classed as their disciples, I beg leave to re-assert (in addition to the disclaimer in my Preface) that my satire concerns not them, though it may, I suppose, have a certain retrospective application to writings which were merely a phase of their genius. Mr. Swinburne has long left the pastoral region shepherded by the impeccable Gautier; he has risen to heights of clear and beautiful purpose, where I gladly do homage to him. Mr. Morris may be passed by without a word; he needs no apology of mine. Mr. Rossetti, I freely admit now, never was a fleshly poet at all; never, at any rate, fed upon the poisonous honey of French art. Who, then, remains to complain of misinterpretation? If your reviewer had said that I satirised Gautier and his school of pseudo-aesthetics, and their possible pupils in this country, he would have been within his right. Then, again, your reviewer complains of the severity of my attack on society journalists. He thinks it “Pharisaic.” Surely only the most reckless of miller’s men would treat Pharisaism and Charlatanism as interchangeable terms? My attack was either Pharisaic and mistaken, or Charlatanish and insincere—either designation might have suited your reviewer; but, in true windmill-compelling fashion, he must clutch at both.
     In reference to the charge of personality, I should like to tell you a little parable. Once upon a time, there came to a wild village “out west” a quiet individual of studious tastes. His unsocial ways annoyed the original denizens of the place. Their annoyance presently took the shape of strong language, then of stones and other dangerous missiles. They disturbed the recluse’s rest with hideous howling, they battered down his door, they broke his windows, they popped at his house with their revolvers. One day he lost his temper, and fired a shot out of his window in return. That afternoon there was a meeting at the local “bar,” when one of the ringleaders, virtuously indignant, exclaimed, “What’s to be done neow, with thet dern’d stranger? He never understood sarcasm, and neow he’s clean outside civilisation—he’s nick’d Long Jim in the heel!
     The parable would be even more appropriate if the stranger, instead of firing a shot, had simply published an exact description of the amenities practised in the village, accompanying it, perhaps, with a pen-and-ink sketch of his chief assailants. This, at any rate, is just what I have done. After suffering a long literary persecution, after being treated to all the amenities of civilised criticism, I have simply put on permanent record the precise condition of matters journalistic. And so I don’t understand sarcasm, and am outside the pale of your reviewer’s civilisation.
     Perhaps, if I were a Charlatan indeed, I should have let the windmills alone; for no honest man was ever truly victorious over any one of them. But, though rudely assaulted, and even unseated, I shall at least have published a description of these monsters of mechanism, which grind no corn and make hideous the fair landscape of literature. I am not their only victim. I am not the only man of letters who, smarting under injustice and indignant at wrongdoing, has been called a Charlatan and a Pharisee. But the truth is great and will prevail, though Don Quixote tumbles in the mud.
     One word more. Your reviewer insinuates (there is no mistaking his innuendo) that a certain character in my story is a shadow-picture of the late Mr. Dante Rossetti. To show the injustice of this supposition, I will simply ask your readers to compare the lineaments of my Blanco Serena, a society-hunting, worldly minded, insincere, but good-humoured, fashionable painter, with the literary image of Mr. Rossetti a solitude-loving, unworldly, thoroughly sincere and earnest, if sometimes saturnine, man of genius, in revolt against society. The blundering of windmill-criticism could surely go no further. I wish to have no mistake on this, to me, very solemn matter. What I wrote of Mr. Rossetti, ten years ago,  stands. What I wrote of Mr. Rossetti in the inscription of God and the Man also stands. Time brings about its revenges. Can the least acute observer of literature have failed to notice that the so-called fleshly school, in proportion as it has grown saner, purer, and more truly impassioned in the cause of humanity, has lost its hold upon the so-called fleshly public—even on the dapper master-miller’s and miller’s men of the journals of nepotism and malignity? Certain of our critics said to certain of our poets—“Go that way; there lies the short cut to immortality!” But the poets, after going a few paces, paused, recognising, as only true poets can recognise, the easy descent to Acheron. How strange it would be, after all, if we, the so-called Pharisees of ten years ago, should find ourselves called upon, in the end, to defend these very poets against their own critics, against society, against the world. Stranger things have happened. Ishmael, after all, is close akin to Esau; and I can say for my own part that not even the dread of the brutal, blundering windmills would prevent me from championing Esau, if ever I should find the smooth hands of Jacob raised to destroy him.
                                                                                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.

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                                                                                                                               Oxford: June 23, 1882.

     Mr. Blanco Serena, while parodying the opinions of one artist, painted the Nocturnes of another. I, therefore, carefully qualified my identification by the words “if we mistake not.” I am now happy to hear that I was mistaken, and accept with deference the author’s disclaimer. My other remarks I did not qualify, nor can I do so now—unless it be my infelicitous allusion to the Higher Charlatanism.
                                                                                                                                           THE REVIEWER.

 

[Note: The Academy’s review of The Martyrdom of Madeline is in the Reviews section.]

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Lucy Brandon

 

The Era (4 November, 1882)

A Word of Explanation.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—In your report of the bankruptcy of Messrs Mansell and May, late managers of the Imperial Theatre, you adopt the mistake made by the newspapers—viz., that they were adjudicated for the amount of fees due to me for performances of Lucy Brandon; and one of your contemporaries, with characteristic generosity, assumes that the bankruptcy of the managers is a consequence of these performances. Permit me to say, therefore, that the £76 12s. 9d., the amount for which these gentlemen were adjudicated, was simply a moiety of private money lent in cash previous to the production of the play; that the fate of the management had nothing to do with that production; that in addition to the losses in hard cash, I have also been mulcted in large sums on guarantees given by me to several tradesmen and to Captain Hobson, of the Aquarium; and all this in connection with a speculation in which I had no share, save as the author of a piece accepted for performance. Those who know me are aware how little disposed I am to be exacting in money matters; those who do not know me may be assured that the action I have taken was absolutely necessary, and in no sense arbitrary. A few weeks after the closing of the Imperial the same managers found money enough to take the Opera Comique, to pay down a large sum for rent in advance, and to produce a comic opera. Verb. sap.
                                                                                                                        
I am, &c.,
     Grosvenor Club, W.                                                                                              ROBERT BUCHANAN.

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Dramatic Criticism (A Sailor and His Lass)

 

The Era (6 October, 1883)

A CHALLENGE.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Mr Clement Scott has seen fit to publish my portion of a brief correspondence with his solicitors, and has jumped to the conclusion that my object in desiring an interview with those gentlemen was to “litigate” over an article, written by him, purporting to be a criticism of The Glass of Fashion. As my object was nothing of the sort, and was one of general interest to the dramatic profession, I ask to be allowed to state it in your columns.
     Some months ago, the manager of a West-end theatre was very anxious to produce The Glass of Fashion, but it was pointed out to him that there were certain galled jades whose withers the comedy might wring. The manager suggested that the play should be submitted to the judgment of Mr Clement Scott. I promptly and emphatically repudiated the proposition. A few days later I received a letter from the manager, in these words:—
     “Dear Mr Grundy,—I have taken the opinion of two dramatic critics about The Glass of Fashion, as the opinions were so varied, and they are so dead against its production, and speak so strongly on the subject that I fear it would be madness to think of it. I am more sorry than I can say, as I personally believe in it, &c.”
     Events having confirmed my conjecture that one of the “two dramatic critics” was Mr Clement Scott, I vainly sought an interview with his solicitors, in order to give him the opportunity of correcting me if I was wrong, and if I was right, of explaining on what grounds he justifies the perusal of my manuscript without my consent, and the private expression of his premature opinion of work on which he has to pass judicial sentence. I did not choose to deal with Mr Scott himself, for experience has taught me the unwisdom of corresponding with a gentleman who marks his own letters “Private,” and publishes mine.
     I publicly challenge Mr Clement Scott to admit or deny that he is one of the “two dramatic critics” who read my manuscripts without my authority, and I call the attention of the dramatic profession generally to the growing practice on the part of one or “two dramatic critics” of passing private opinions on plays before they are produced. When a cause comes up for trial before a judge who has given an opinion on it when at the bar, he retires from the bench, or the case is postponed until another judge can try it; yet, surely the honour of an English judge is an unimpeachable as that of one of the dramatic critics.
                                                                                         I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
                                                                                                                     SYDNEY GRUNDY.
     Globe Theatre, October 5th, 1883.

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The Era (13 October, 1883)

“A CHALLENGE.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—The insolence of Mr Grundy’s “challenge” is only equalled by the audacity of the language in which it is conveyed to your columns. This hyper-sensitive and wearisome gentleman, having written an unpopular play, seeks to shuffle the burden of his sins of omission on to the shoulders of one of the unfortunate individuals whose destiny it is to devote the greater part of their existence to the study of the undramatic trash that is from time to time dished up for the edification of a long-suffering public. A man with a grievance is commonly understood to be a bore, but the worst kind of bore is the man with a grievance which has been imagined from the cells of a morbidly irritable brain.
     Mr Grundy has conceived this position in order to account for his own misfortunes. He has dreamed of a phantom critic consulted by a harassed manager in order to relieve him from the pressure of worthless manuscripts; and he has persuaded himself to believe that such a philanthropic and phantom critic would be guilty of mala fides if he honestly told the distracted manager that the wares offered to him for sale were of no commercial value. By a direct process of morbid imagination the phantom critic who occupies his spare time in reading plays for illiterate or ignorant managers is one Clement Scott, who is credited even by Grundy with experience enough to discriminate and force enough to condemn.
     This is all great fun for the dramatic Grundy, but it is death to the critical Clement Scott. He is wearied with correspondence, interrupted in his work, threatened with actions at law, dragged down to the office of his solicitors, placarded and lampooned, misrepresented and impudently challenged, merely in order to extract from him the very obvious statement that Grundy is a manufacturer of grievances as well as of plays; and that Clement Scott—thank heaven—never saw one of Grundy’s productions in manuscript in his life; was never in his life—thank heaven—consulted by any manager as to Grundy’s genius or eccentricity; never looked into The Glass of Fashion until it was produced at the Globe Theatre; and since 8th September, 1883, has never been called upon to sit out one of Grundy’s plays—thank heaven!
                                                                               Yours obediently,         CLEMENT SCOTT.
     6th October, 1883.
     P.S.—Mr Grundy’s side charge that I “mark my own letters ‘private’ and publish his” is to me even more incomprehensible and groundless than the other. As I have written no letter at all to Mr Grundy on the subject, it is necessarily impossible that I could have marked “private,” or “published” what does not exist! The personal element has been affixed to this silly controversy by Mr Grundy himself, and he has himself alone to blame if for the moment he cuts but a sorry figure.

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The Era (20 October, 1883)

“A CHALLENGE.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—If I correctly interpret the confused mass of verbiage, pious ejaculation, and postscript which appeared in your last issue around the signature of Mr Clement Scott, that gentleman labours under the delusion that he is engaged in a controversy. The facts are these:—I endeavoured privately and with an excess of courtesy to obtain from Mr Scott some information on a matter which concerned me. I was rudely repulsed, and my private letters were published by Mr Scott in an article containing a number of insulting charges, which he has since discovered were unfounded, but has not withdrawn. I thereupon challenged him publicly to give me the information I desired. There is no controversy.
     In an elaborately involved sentence of one hundred and twenty words, Mr Scott appears to imply that he is not one of the “two dramatic critics” who read The Glass of Fashion without my consent. Life is not long enough for the analysis of such a sentence; but if I have rightly understood it, there is an end of the matter. To other dramatic critics my objection does not apply. Although the business of advising seems to me incompatible with the business of criticising, I personally have no objection to my manuscript being judged by any other gentleman of the press.
     In that part of his letter which is intelligible, Mr Scott characterises my challenge as “insolent,” and my language as “audacious.” I admit the audacity of the playwright who comes into collision with Mr Clement Scott; and a gentleman who directs a management to “take down the placards and get another piece into rehearsal” ought to be an authority on “insolence.” But assuming that it is “insolence” to ask for a plain answer to a plain question, surely that may be forgiven in a “hyper-sensitive” author which in a critic is a scandal.
     I can well believe that I am troublesome to Mr Scott. After five years of damnation at his hands, I have the “insolence” not to be damned yet, and the obstinate public persists in applauding to the echo the “unfortunate play” he says it doesn’t like. The remedy is in Mr Scott’s own hands. If he ever has any calm moments, let him take advantage of one of those epochs, seriously to reflect whether the writer of the letter in last week’s Era, whose very eyesight is so clouded by prejudice that he discerns “rent oak, split   fireplace,” and “broken tables” in one table that was not broken, a fireplace that was not split, and no oak at all, is in a frame of mind to form a fair estimate of any work of mine. If Mr Scott cannot conscientiously say that he is towards me in that mood of equanimity and charity in which alone just judgments can be formed, let him relieve himself from the discomfort of sitting out my plays and refrain from criticising them and me. Then I will forgive him his past trespasses, and will even join him in his “thanks” to “heaven.”
                                                                                     I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
                                                                                                                   SYDNEY GRUNDY.
     Globe Theatre, Oct. 15th, 1883

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THEATRICAL GOSSIP.
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. . .

“THE GLASS OF FASHION” was presented at the Globe Theatre on Thursday to an audience composed almost entirely of members of the theatrical profession, who had accepted the invitation of Messrs. Hollingshead and Shine to be present. The house was crowded, and Mr Grundy’s bright, witty, and clever comedy was thoroughly enjoyed, as was shown by the laughter and cheering it provoked. At the end of the second act all the artists engaged had a most enthusiastic call before the curtain.

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The Era (27 October, 1883)

“A CHALLENGE.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I have done with Grundy, and I devoutly trust Grundy has done with me. Having been proved incorrect in his facts, he is becoming tedious in his fiction.
     He challenged me. I went out and hit my man very hard. Luckily for him he was pachydermatous, and no harm was done. Whenever he cares to stand up again I have another barrel ready.
     Towards our “unappreciated Shakespeare” I have no personal animosity whatever; and I can assure him that he will earn my absolute forgiveness for his past misdeeds when he writes better plays for the public and less nonsense concerning,
                                                                                     Yours wearily,         CLEMENT SCOTT.
     20th October, 1883.
     [Mr Grundy’s “challenge” has been given in two letters; Mr Scott has answered in two letters; and we must now decline to insert any further correspondence upon this subject.]

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“DRAMATIC CRITICISM.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I have read with no little sympathy Mr Sydney Grundy’s letters in your journal apropos of the criticisms on that brightest and most good-humoured of satires The Glass of Fashion, now running so successfully at the Globe Theatre. It would have been a matter for regret, indeed, if a work of such merit could have been “snuffed out by an article,” or by half a dozen; but, as I have frequently asserted, the public—and in that word I really include a large portion of the press—is ever on the side of honesty, independence, and talent, as against venality, nepotism, and incompetence. The protection of us authors, when we are beset by the rancour of the dramatic “ring” and the contumely of the critical  coterie, is the fair play of the public at large, and the independence of the newspapers in general. For the rest, no dramatic production of these days is quite so good or quite so bad as certain writers would lead the public to believe, though it must be sufficiently bewildering for simple-minded readers to find a dramatic critic by profession, with a keen eye to both the main and the minor chance, and a vested interest in filchings from the French, combining in himself the individualities of both Mr Puff and Mr Sneer; sending round the hat with one hand, and brandishing a bludgeon in the other; alternating between the epilepsy of savage abuse and the hysteria of sycophantic praise, and generally performing such antics under high heaven as must make even his employers blush and his critical brethren weep.
     In the Contemporary Review, a few years ago, I first drew attention to the “Newest Thing in Journalism,” and in “The Martyrdom of Madeline,” published last year, I was rash enough to return to the attack. What I tried to do critically Mr Grundy has done dramatically, and with much more success. Neither of us, therefore, can complain if the journalists of society tear us to pieces. When, in the current number of Truth, Mr Labouchere scarifies A Sailor and his Lass as he scarified Storm Beaten and Lady Clare, I feel no indignation; it would be cowardly to resent a violence which I myself have provoked, and which comes from a source which I have consistently held up to derision. Mr Labouchere has the courage of his opinions. He makes no pretence to either magnanimity or culture; a cynic pure and simple, he naïvely abuses his opponent, whether that opponent be Mr W. S. Gilbert or myself; and he himself would be the last man in the world to assume airs of superhuman honesty. Then, again, he has no vested interests at stake; he does not float his journal on charity, or praise or blame productions with a side-view to odd “jobs” from the management. It is altogether different with that other gentleman whom Mr Grundy has had the courage to name. But, after all, what does it matter? The public is not to be misled; the bulk of critics holds aloof from coterie conspiracy; and the practical illustration of the impotence of personal malice is to be found in the fact that The Glass of Fashion runs merrily at the Globe, and that crowds are turned away nightly from the doors of Drury-lane. I am, &c.,
                                                                                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Drury-lane Theatre, October 23d, 1883.

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The Era (3 November, 1883)

“DRAMATIC CRITICISM.”
_____

A DISCLAIMER.

Mr Augustus Harris has written as follows:—

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Although Mr Buchanan’s letter in The Era of October 27th is addressed from Drury-lane Theatre, it was written without my knowledge or consent, and I saw it for the first time on reading the paper this morning. I am perfectly satisfied with the favourable notices of A Sailor and His Lass which have appeared in a large number of the leading journals and have no inclination to enter into any discussions or old-standing disputes between Mr Buchanan and any individual member of the press.
                                                                                     Yours, &c.,         AUGUSTUS HARRIS.
     Drury-lane Theare, October 27th.

     [EDITORIAL NOTE.—It is only right to state that Mr Robert Buchanan’s letter, eliciting the above very judicious rejoinder, is not in any way to be identified with the Editor’s sanction of certain opinions therein expressed. It has always been the object of the Editor of The Era to afford in its columns a generous opportunity of discussing any real or fancied grievances affecting the interests of the theatrical profession; but aspersions on the motives of those called upon to discharge the very onerous and not always agreeable duties of a dramatic critic are neither in accord with our public duties nor our personal inclinations.]

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TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—My collaborateur in A Sailor and his Lass has written to the newspapers, intimating that my letter in last week’s Era was written “without his knowledge or consent.” This is most certainly the case, and I should be very sorry indeed to have left on Mr Harris’s shoulders any portion of a responsibility which rested entirely with myself. Moreover, I quite agree with Mr Harris that our drama has been fairly, and even generously, judged by the majority of dramatic critics. The very point of my letter was that private malice is almost invariably defeated by the fair play of the newspaper press in general. Of all our leading critics, only one, so far as I know, combines in his own person the irreconcileable functions of dramatic critic and dramatic author.
                                                                                                       I am, &c.,          ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Grosvenor Club, W., October 29th, 1883.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—A letter appears in your last number signed “Robert Buchanan.” I can add nothing to the chapters of contempt that have been devoted to this writer by the powerful pens of Algernon Charles Swinburne and Edmund Yates, except a public expression of absolute and, I trust, dignified silence.
                                                                                     Yours faithfully,         CLEMENT SCOTT.
     October 31st, 1883.

[The correspondence on this subject is now closed.—EDITOR THE ERA.]

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The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (3 November, 1883 - p.18)

     VERY judiciously Mr. Augustus Harris disavows association with his collaborator, Mr. Robert Buchanan, in that gentleman’s violent attack upon “the rancour of the dramatic ring and the contumely of a critical coterie.” Mr. Harris is too shrewd a manager not to have discovered long ago that the “dramatic ring” is a figment of the imagination of the playwright, who for one reason or another thinks himself hardly used by his critics. It cannot be pleasant to have such silly, vulgar letters from Drury Lane theatre, and Mr. Harris is to be sympathised with in the circumstances which made his disclaimer necessary.

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The Entr’acte (3 November, 1883 - p.4)

Merry-go-Round.

THAT letter which Mr. Robert Buchanan wrote to the old lady of Wellington Street last week, was something more than warm. If it had aimed at any other critic than Mr. Clement Scott, it is quite possible that Mr. Ledger would not have been violently in love with it.

     That Master Gus should repudiate this letter is only wise. Gus does not wish to make enemies of the newspaper people.

     I can’t help thinking that “A Sailor and His Lass” has been condemned with something more than necessary severity. It is a very much better piece than “Freedom,” and the last-named was never a tenth part slated like the more recent production has been.

     The highest-class drama stands no chance at Drury Lane Theatre, where the actors’ voices are not heard at times, and their facial play is not seen by those members of the audience at the back of pit, boxes, and gallery. Broad effects are wanted here; plenty of intelligible incident, stirring situations, and good scenery are the factors which, above all others, are required to pull a drama through, at this vast theatre.

     The late Samuel Phelps told me that he played “Werner” at Drury Lane to something under a twenty-pounds house. The old man made this humiliating confession not because he liked to do it, but to prove to me how utterly futile were experiments with the classics at this establishment.

__________

 

Revolting Realism (A Sailor and His Lass)

 

[Although I have not come across the ‘short leader’ in the evening edition of The Standard mentioned in Buchanan’s letter, the review of A Sailor and His Lass from that paper is available here. The review begins: “The Sailor and His Lass, the new piece at Drury Lane, which began last night at 7.45 and came to an end—after a revolting scene which should never have been put upon the stage—at 12.15, is a melodrama of the familiar pattern, elaborately set forth by the painters and carpenters.”]

 

The Standard (19 October, 1883 - p.3)

“REVOLTING” REALISM.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD.

     SIR,—My attention has just been called to a short leader in your Evening Edition of Tuesday commenting somewhat severely on the realisation of a public execution, with all its “revolting” details, in the Drury-lane drama, A Sailor and his Lass. Unfortunately, I quite fail to see in what respect such realisation differs, artistically speaking, from the pictures given in true tragedy of executions by the axe or guillotine, as in dramas illustrating the lives of Mary Stuart and Marie Antoinette, or of burnings at the stake, as in the well-known French play of Jeanne d’Arc, made famous by the acting of Rachel. I shall be answered, doubtless, that the rope is anti-poetical and hideous, while the axe, the guillotine, and the faggot are poetical. Again, I fail to see the distinction, though it was pointed out to me, adversely, when I first attempted, years ago, in my poems, to get pathos and beauty out of themes of coarse contemporaneous life. To myself individually, there is solemnity and poetry in the idea of a poor modern martyr, condemned to die at the hands of the common hangman, awakening in the dim light of a wintry morning, and walking to the scaffold, while the death-bell tolls, amidst the thickly-falling snow. From the beginning of my literary career I have been among the strongest opponents of capital punishment; and if, in the drama already named, I picture that horrible blot on our civilisation as it is, I do so, both as artist and man, in the confidence that the representation can shock no truly tender heart, or otherwise do anything but good. Nowadays, our judicial murders are done in secret, and nowadays the super-sensitive nerves of certain playgoers are “revolted” by any reproduction of the stern and terrible facts of human suffering. Though such things are, they must not be spoken of or seen.
     Moreover, the misery of a ragged criminal is prosaic and disagreeable, while the sufferings of a King in sock and buskin are without offence to the æsthetic spectator. Fortunately, the playgoing public in general are differently constituted; they accept truth to nature, however familiar, and they sympathise with humanity, however lowly. For the rest, I am certain that no representation of merely revolting details, if unillumined by imagination and untempered by art, would be tolerated on our English stage; and if I had really overshot the mark in my drama—or rather, in the drama in which I have had the invaluable assistance and co-operation of Mr. Harris—the organised cabal which came to Drury- lane last Monday night would have succeeded in its purpose, instead of being crushed and defeated by the strength of an unprejudiced audience. No dramatist need fear the British public; for though its severity is sometimes terrible, its fairplay is proverbial. Judging from my own experience, I should surmise that the fairplay of some professional critics is more doubtful; but the Press in general, I am glad to say, resents unnecessary savagery on the part of particular members. To the critic of The Standard, among others, I owe my obligations; for though, as in the present instance, his criticism is somewhat hostile, he tempers justice with good nature, and now, as on former occasions, declines to deal in wholesale abuse.
                                                                                     I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                                                                                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Drury-lane Theatre, October 18.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (19 October, 1883)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan is much exercised in mind to think that the charge of “revolting realism” should have been brought against the execution scene in the Drury-lane drama of “A Sailor and his Lass.” Mr. Buchanan is a poet as well as a playwright, and perhaps this is why he fails to see “in what respect such realization differs, artistically speaking, from the pictures given in true tragedy of executions by the axe or guillotine.” But a critic might remind Mr. Buchanan that there are many things which are fitting enough in poetry, but which are wholly unsuited to sensuous realization either in painting or on the stage. Perhaps Mr. Buchanan would have remembered this canon but for the fact that he was influenced, it seems, by a didactic motive. He has always been “among the strongest opponents of capital punishment,” and he pictured that “horrible blot upon our civilization” as a man as well as an artist. If the result is one of which the critics cannot approve, it is only another instance of the loss which a work of art always suffers from the intrusion of a directly didactic purpose. All good art is didactic, no doubt, but, like happiness, the moral will be found all the better if it is not too assiduously sought.

___

 

The Daily Graphic (New York) (22 October, 1883)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, poet and novelist, declares that stage hangings (they have one now in London which will in course of due time be imported to America) “shock no truly tender heart.” Hence, a truly tender heart belongs to one who can be amused by the representation of an official strangulation. Mr. Robert Buchanan can do this and so has a “truly tender heart.”

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The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (27 October, 1883 - p.3)

     I CAN scarcely believe that Mr. Robert Buchanan is in earnest when he writes to the Standard and talks of an “organised cabal” against his play, The Sailor and His Lass. If Mr. Buchanan is sincere he is seriously mistaken. The idea of an “organised opposition” was invented a few years ago by a dramatist whose play failed, and who, after reflecting on the plot, incidents, and dialogue, could not see why. In common with the few hundreds of people that were in the theatre on the first night of the production, I could have told him, and “bad piece” would have been the explanation; but, oddly enough, from the outside point of view, this was the one thing that never occurred to the dramatist. The notion has been adopted a few times since, and now Mr. Buchanan takes it up. As a matter of fact, the reception of The Sailor and His Lass was astonishingly good. “Organised cabals” do not exist. What is more, they could not exist if members of a cabal arrived with the most malevolent designs, for the good feeling of the audience would summarily suppress them. If the flattering unction comforts Mr. Buchanan’s soul, by all means let him adopt it. It is nonsense all the same.

__________

 

Lady Clare

 

The Era (29 December, 1883)

“LADY CLARE” AND “LE MAITRE DE FORGES.”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

Sir,—In reading your last number I came across an account of the first performance of M. Ohnet’s Le Maître de Forges at Paris. I was immediately struck by the resemblance of the plot to that of Mr Buchanan’s Lady Clare. The similarity was so striking that I was surprised it was not noticed in your columns.
     In both plays the heroine is jilted by an aristocratic lover on account of her lack of fortune, and out of pique marries a rich manufacturer. In both plays she consents to be his wife only in name, and subsequently begins to love him; and in both plays she saves her husband’s life by receiving the bullet in the duel between him and her former lover. Even the name of the heroine is the same in both plays. But the most striking similarity is that between the Melissa Smale of Mr Buchanan and the Athenaïs Moulinet of Le Maître de Forges. The characters and deeds of these two people are identical. Reckoning these similarities up it seems a moral certainty that M. Ohnet, has been largely indebted to Mr Buchanan’s play.
                                                                               Yours sincerely,         FRANK W. MASON.
     Dulwich Wood, S.E., December 25th.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—In reading your notice of M. Georges Ohnet’s new play, produced at the Gymnase last week, entitled Le Maître de Forges, it must surely strike the most casual observer the remarkably similarity, both in plot, characters, and incidents, to a piece produced at the Globe Theatre last summer, then under the management of Mr Robert Buchanan, entitled Lady Clare. Le Maître de Forges has, I believe, been purchased for a large sum, and is to be produced in London shortly. Is this singular likeness between Lady Clare and Le Maître de Forges of M. Ohnet merely a coincidence, or has Mr Robert Buchanan taken the story which appeared in the Paris Figaro, and placed it on the stage without acknowledging his indebtedness to the author?
                                                                                               I am, yours faithfully,
     December 27th, 1883.                                                                                  AN ENQUIRER.

___

 

The Era (5 January, 1884)

“LADY CLARE” AND “LE MAITRE DE FORGES.”
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—One of the readers of your valuable journal, I notice, has written to ask you if I did not draw my novel and my play, Le Maître de Forges, from a work of Mr Buchanan, entitled Lady Clare, and played some months ago in London. Had the reader in question glanced at the poster of Lady Clare, one of which was sent to me, he would have seen these words: “Founded on a well-known French romance.” Now the celebrated novel—for celebrated it is, I blushingly own—is Le Maître de Forges, published more than two years since by me in Le Figaro. I am astonished that, under these circumstances, Mr Buchanan was not the first to protest on my behalf, for nobody better than he knows what he owes me. And having profited by his work, it seems to me that that gentleman might, at least, have proclaimed my literary integrity.
     Well, then, since it is left to me to speak, let me give you the exact truth. Lady Clare was taken entirely from Le Maître de Forges. Mr Buchanan, following a common enough custom (against which old English loyalty is constantly protesting, though vainly, I own) confined himself to merely changing the names of the characters in my novel. His work, in fact, is a downright plagiarism. Having been adapted, to use the delicate euphemism customary in the Buchanan and Co. household, I resigned myself to it. But when charged with being an adaptor I become rebellious; and I ask that each shall have what belongs to him—myself the small merit of having written Le Maître de Forges, and Mr Buchanan the great advantage of having used a good pair of scissors to it. I reckon on your impartiality to publish my letter in your next issue. And I beg to remain,
                                                                                             Faithfully yours,
     14, Avenue Trudaine.                                                                              GEORGES OHNET.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Your correspondent Mr Frank W. Mason (in common, no doubt, with many others) is apparently not aware that long before the production of the play of Lady Clare M. Ohnet had written and published his famous novel “Le Maitre de Forges.” It is from that novel that Mr Buchanan drew his material for Lady Clare. It will be apparent to your readers that M. Ohnet’s mortification at having been forestalled in dramatising his own work will not be lessened at hearing that he is “largely indebted to Mr Buchanan’s play;” the truth being that Mr Buchanan is wholly indebted to M. Ohnet’s novel.
     Our excuse for troubling you on this subject is that we hold all English rights in “Le Maitre de Forges” direct from M. Ohnet, and so feel compelled, in justice to that gentleman and to ourselves, to enlighten your readers as to the real facts of the case.
                                                                                             Faithfully yours,
     St. James’s Theatre, London, January 2d, 1884.                                      HARE and KENDAL.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I am obliged to your correspondents Mr F. W. Mason and “An Enquirer” for calling attention to the similarity between Lady Clare, produced at the Globe Theatre, London, nearly a year ago, and Le Maitre de Forges, produced at the Gymnase, Paris, within the last fortnight. The explanation is very simple. The English drama (announced by me in the original programmes as “founded on a well-known French romance”) was suggested by M. Ohnet’s highly popular novel, and was written by me in Paris some two years ago. My indebtedness to the French novelist, however, must be acknowledged under the following qualifications:—
     1. All my characters are English personages, to whom their French prototypes bear little or no resemblance, and several of them—such as the Eton boy with his humorous courtship of the ingénue, the Irish major who seconds my hero in the duel, &c.—are quite original.
     2. Beyond two lines spoken by Lady Broadmeads, the dialogue of Lady Clare is entirely my own.
     3. Over and above all this, the motif and psychology of my play are quite distinct from those of the novel, and, presumably, of the French play. In M. Ohnet’s work, the central situation, that of the duel, is brought about in what I cannot help characterising as a very absurd, or, at any rate, a very French fashion, being founded on a squabble between the heroine and her lover’s wife, and the consequent action of the lover in taking his wife’s part! In Lady Clare, John Middleton goes, as he imagines, to his death, at the hands of a professed duellist, because he believes his wife loves his opponent, and even when Lady Clare interposes between them he fancies she does so to save his enemy, not himself. This furnishes, I fancy, the finest portion of the English drama, and it belongs wholly to myself. The French John Middleton is a very different person, who fights “for his honour” in consequence of domestic jars, and means no kind of self-sacrifice whatever.
     4. The incident of the duel is entirely different in the story, Clare placing her hand over the mouth of the Vicomte’s pistol, and having her hand shattered in consequence. It is a natural inference, therefore, that the arrangement of the duel portion of the Gymnase drama is founded, not upon the novel, but upon that particular portion of Lady Clare.
     Briefly, then, those who take the trouble to compare Le Maitre de Forges with Lady Clare will speedily discover how much the two works differ—in psychology, in dramatic arrangement, in character, and in dialogue. My play depended for much of its success on the light comedy portions, none of which are even foreshadowed in the French original. For the rest I made no concealment of the principal sources of my inspiration, and a reference to the original criticisms will show that the press generally were quite properly instructed as to the connection of my drama with a well- known French novel “Le Maitre de Forges.”
     Lady Clare has now been played in England several hundred times, with almost unvarying success. Since last June it has been the property of Mr Augustus Harris, who “travels” it with beautiful scenery, expressly painted for the tour, and an excellent company. It is important, therefore, to point out in how many cardinal respects it differs from M. Ohnet’s French drama so recently produced at the Gymnase, and how it is in no sense of the word a reduplication of that drama, but a freehand English version of a French novelist’s subject, with new characters, fresh incidents and situations, superadded comedy, and dialogue which I may call (quoting Touchstone) “a poor thing, but mine own.”  I am, &c.,
                                                                                                                                     ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Grosvenor Club, W., January 1st, 1884.

_____

 

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—The notion of Georges Ohnet, the novelist and dramatist, stealing a plot from Robert Buchanan, poet and playwright, is surely “enough to make a cat laugh.” The boot is I fear on the other leg. But the originality of Robert Buchanan’s Lady Clare was never for one moment in doubt. This upright and virtuous gentleman, who had not the candour to acknowledge the origin of his “new drama of modern society,” was, however, soon detected by one of the gentlemen who, to use his own elegant phrase, “carry a hat in one hand and a bludgeon in the other.” It was a dramatic critic who brought Robert Buchanan to book and unmasked his disingenuity; it was a dramatic critic who pointed out that Lady Clare was nothing more than a barefaced reproduction of Ohnet’s novel; it was a dramatic critic who within twelve hours of the production of the “new drama of modern society” told the public that Buchanan had without authority dramatised a French novel that he knew was being dramatised by its author for the French and English stage; and there is no one more rejoiced at the exposure of Robert Buchanan’s moral principles than one who has so often listened to the virtuous tirades and sanctimonious indignation of this savage Scotchman and calumniating Chadband.
                                                                                             Yours obediently,          A DRAMATIC CRITIC.

__________

 

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