ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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LETTERS TO THE PRESS (5)

 

William Archer (1)

 

The Era (19 June, 1886)

MR. ARCHER’S CRITICISMS.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Mr William Archer, in his book “About the Theatre,” after asking the question “Is the drama advancing?” answers it in the affirmative, in-so-much as he discovers in sundry products of the stage a proof that a certain saturnine current of cynicism (which, however, frequently fails to please the public) has been here and there displacing old poetical and ideal landmarks. He, in fact, sees hope where most writers for the stage, and fortunately most accredited critics, find only despair, in the dearth of the literature of imagination, and in the growth of the meaner art of observation and characterisation. It is on this score only that I desire to join issue with a gentleman whose views are otherwise unimportant in themselves and essentially impertinent; who scatters imputations recklessly and, I am bound to add, ignorantly; whose chief feats in literature have been a spiteful attack on Mr Irving, to whom the drama owes so much, and a copy of clever and insulting verses thrown with cruelly bad taste upon the coffin of the late Mr Charles Reade; who is, in fact, a writer to whom the world owes nothing, but who is well fitted, nevertheless, to write criticisms for the World.
     So far as I can gather Mr Archer’s drift, he regards the influence of our great ideal dramatist as rather disturbing, rejoices in the disintegrating influence of cynics like Mr Gilbert, and desiderates a drama which shall be disagreeable rather than edifying, fantastic rather than ennobling. He seems, in other words, a critic quite without imagination and radically without insight; smart, subacid, and rectangular, nevertheless, and with the courage of his somewhat ignoble opinions. Observe his definition of melodrama. “Melodrama,” he asserts, “is illogical and sometimes irrational tragedy; it subordinates character to situation, consistency to impressiveness; it aims at startling, not at convincing,” &c. Now, this is not a definition at all; it is an ex parte dogmatic assertion, and defines nothing. It would be far truer to say that melodrama is the rhythmic and melodious drama of situation, illustrating character and relieving it against the background of events, startling but convincing at the same moment, and now and then by tragic means. The Agamemnon is a melodrama; Æschylus was a melodramatist. Macbeth is a melodrama; and here, as elsewhere, Shakespeare was a melodramatist. If we contrast the method of either of these giants with that of the egregious M. Sardou, we shall discover the difference between the art of the comic melodramatist, or tragic poet, and the art of the microscopic manufacturer of dramas of observation.
     I will quote in this connection Mr Archer’s description of a drama of my own, Stormbeaten, as “a prodigious piece of paste and size melodrama, amusing in its blusterous, bombastic transpontism.” “What probably attracted the public,” says Mr Archer, “was a grotesque scene at the North Pole, or thereabouts, in which Mr Charles Warner, Mr Barnes, and an Aurora Borealis played some fantastic tricks before high heaven.” With the literary criticism I have nothing to do; no one can be more sensible than myself of the literary defects of the piece in question; but the public is well aware, and the critics were generous enough to recognise, that it was precisely this scene, to Mr Archer so grotesque, which removed the play from the category of transpontine pieces, and which, I may add, ultimately affected its popularity, at least, in England. Neither in Æschylus nor in Shakespeare (I say it in all humility) can there be found a more tragic situation than the piteous reconciliation of two life-long enemies left alone in all the world than the disintegration of the vilest of the social passions, hate, under the elemental influence of nature. Popular audiences could not understand, and Mr Archer cannot understand, a great motive and a poetical conception; popular audiences saw only, as Mr Archer  saw, two well-known actors declaiming on the snow, in the presence of canvas-icebergs, and an Aurora Borealis created by the magic lantern. Popular audiences are deaf as even Mr Archer to the divine issues of a sublime reconciliation, and see no difference between a situation like that and the vulgar hurly-burly of minor sensationalism.
     It is here, at last, that we touch the horns of the modern dramatist’s dilemma. He has often to face a public as devoid of imagination as rectangular critics like Mr Archer. He has to recognise the fact that Mr Gilbert, in destroying theatrical sentiment, has destroyed the true as well as the false, and made all sentiment of the nobler kind seem preposterous. He has to combat clever cynicism and educated ignorance. Mr Archer fails to find the “poetry” in Olivia; Mrs Kendal, in his eyes, is our only “great” actress; romantic plays, plays of passion and imagination, like those of Victor Hugo, are fustian; Faust, at the Lyceum, is “worse than unskilful, it is unintelligent;” Sophia, at the Vaudeville, “bores” him; but he grows enthusiastic, nevertheless, over Lords and Commons, and eloquent in praise of The Great Pink Pearl. I hardly know what to say to such a critic, if critic he is to be called. I only know that if the drama is advancing in the direction he supposes, if the outcome of modern art is to be the death of all that is spiritual and ideal, if what Mr Archer likes is to be taken as an indication of the plays of the future, the drama is hastening to the same pitfall which has swallowed up the modern novel. Fortunately for the drama and for art generally, Mr Archer, though he represents the callous cynicism and superficial culture of a small class of the public, is almost alone among critics in his ignoble hopes and aims. Mr Irving and Mr Wilson Barrett, men of imagination, encouraged by sympathetic criticisms and popular approval, are working steadily in the opposite direction—in the direction of a bold poetical ideal; and it is with them upon the heights, not with the critic of a society journal upon the ground, that the drama is advancing to a successful and triumphant regeneration,
                                                                                                     I am, &c.,          ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Vaudeville Theatre, June 16th, 1886.
     N.B.—Bad taste and bad English do not constitute good criticism. Here is an average sample of Mr Archer’s slipshod habits of expression:—“A Lyceum first night has grown into a solemn function, which peers, millionaires, and honourable women intrigue to see.” Mr Archer, in one of his absurdest passages, introduces the name of the late Mr Darwin; but what would Mr Darwin have said to a young gentleman who talked of “seeing” a “function.” Elsewhere Mr Archer talks about “writing a style,” an expression about as meaningless as “singing a music.” A critic so microscopic in his observation should really study the language in which his views are published.—R. B.

 

[Note:
William Archer’s critical assessment of Robert Buchanan in the chapter ‘Are We Advancing? (1882- 1886)’ from About The Theatre: Essays and Studies (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1886) is available on this site.]

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The Era (26 June, 1886)

DRAMATIC CRITICISM.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—That critics judge by rule and not by feeling has often been the abused author’s plea. May not much of our modern dramatic criticism be said to reverse this? To criticise the dexterity of art is rare, the critic’s own taste being usually the sole arbiter of merit. Is the author the better for the change? A recent dramatic criticism in a leading London journal contained the following remarkable statement:—“I am told sometimes that I ought to like what is true to nature. I don’t. It is the very thing I am most anxious to avoid.” With these simple words is the critic’s art explained. The writer does not like a play, it does not suit his tastes, it wounds his feelings, therefore he condemns it. But Pope tells us,—

A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ.

And, Dr. Johnson defines the word critical as “to be exact and nicely judicious.” How, then, can this candid confession be consistent with that justness of mind which is necessary for one who is to judge and advise others? Mr Partridge, we know, did not like what was true to nature, but intelligent minds have long since come to the conclusion that Mr Partridge’s judgment was wrong. Besides, is there not a maxim “Opinionum commenta delet dies; naturæ judicia confirmat”? A confession so unguarded forces one to reflect on Addison’s words, “there is nothing in the world so tiresome as the works of that critic who writes in a positive, dogmatic way without either language, genius, or imagination.” He then adds, “I must beg such a writer’s pardon if I have no manner of deference for his judgment, and refuse to conform myself to his   taste.”
     Another dramatic criticism, in a leading morning paper, informed the public that “a woman who silences a brute by blinding him is the ordinary heroine of Bow-street police-court.” Without doubting the truth of this statement, may it not be questioned whether the ordinary heroine of Bow-street police-court might not, under the exigencies of fate, reveal the highest attributes of humanity, duty, and self-sacrifice, as well as the titled lady or the apostle of culture. Surely, if criticism is to be founded upon a taste that would banish Shakespeare’s tragedies from the stage, condemning the play of Hamlet for the use of poison, and that of Lear for “his detestable passion,” let authors have back the good old times when dramatic criticism was based upon principles of art which could be ascertained by reason, and was not the simple product of personal feeling.
                                                                                                 I am, Sir, yours, &c.,         W. P.

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The Era (3 July, 1886)

MR. ARCHER’S CRITICISMS.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—Mr Robert Buchanan, in a recent issue of your widely read journal, administered a very well- deserved castigation to the young gentleman whose views upon the drama are “unimportant in themselves and essentially impertinent.” Mr Archer seems to have brought Mr Buchanan out by describing his drama Storm-beaten as a prodigious piece of paste-and-size melodrama, amusing in its blusterous, bombastic transpontism. He thinks that all melodrama subordinates character to situation, consistency to impressiveness; it aims at startling, not convincing. hence it is worthless. Now, Sir, I need not remind you of the saying that the most crusty critics are those who have tried their hands at authorship, and have ignominiously failed. Has Mr William Archer ever attempted to write for the stage? Let us see.
     At the Grecian Theatre in April, 1881, under the management of Mr T. G. Clark—who, having for some years directed the refreshment saloons at the Adelphi, considered himself competent to direct a theatre—there was brought out a five-act drama called Australia; or, the Bushrangers. Your own columns, Sir, bear testimony to the fact that in its five acts and half a score tableaux almost every kind of sensational incident popular in modern melodrama was introduced. In the third act the incidents, according to your critic’s account, became absolutely bewildering. Among the sensational devices may be mentioned the attempt to blow up a railway with dynamite. There is a tremendous explosion, but the train has stopped in time. Australia ran for about three weeks—eighteen nights—and I believe has not since been heard of. The drama was the work of A. G. Stanley and W. A. I am open to correction, of course, but I entertain the thought that W. A. here stands for William Archer.
     I could not for a moment suggest that Mr William Archer was the “Miss Archer” who, at the Gaiety in December, 1882, produced a piece called My Life, with a story of the kind most dear to kitchen-maids as you described it. Even, however, before the wonderful Australia brought out “W. A.” at the Grecian, William Archer had contrived to get produced at a Gaiety matinée a gloomy adaptation of Ibsen called Quicksands; or, the Pillars of Society. The good materials in Ibsen’s play, the adaptor, according to your own notice, did not turn to the best account, and the four acts dragged along in a way that did not furnish a very lively entertainment for a Gaiety audience. I am not aware that Quicksands has ever since been heard of. In conclusion I would like to ask whether Mr William Archer is or is not the author of a printed play called Auto-da-fè which has been sent for acceptance to almost every manager in London, and, like the other pieces referred to, still lies “on the shelf.”
                                                                                   I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                                                                                                                             INQUISITOR.

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The Era (10 July, 1886)

MR. ARCHER’S DRAMAS.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—From the fact of your inserting “Inquisitor’s” letter in your last issue, I presume that your readers are curious as to my “Dramatic Works”—why, I cannot conceive. It is an innocent curiosity, however; and as “Inquisitor” has made some omissions and mistakes in his catalogue, you will, perhaps, allow me to supplement and correct it.
     Firstly, I am not “Miss Archer,” and I never heard either of that lady or of her play.
     Secondly, it is quite true that I translated rather than adapted a play by Henrik Ibsen, which was produced at a Gaiety matinée. It was a sufficiently melancholy performance, and, like most pieces produced at Gaiety matinées,

Elle a vécu, ce que vivent les roses,
L’espace d’un—matin!

“Inquisitor” is quite right; it has never been heard of.
     Thirdly, he is right in the main as to Australia; or, the Bushrangers, produced at the Grecian Theatre; but my impression is that he exaggerates the length of its run, which, if I am not mistaken, was not three weeks, but one. A three weeks’ run would have meant a fair success at the Grecian, whereas I have always understood that the play was a desperate failure. It certainly deserved to be. I wrote it (in collaboration with a friend) under the delusion that nothing was too bad for a Grecian audience; but long before it was produced I recognised that we were wrong, and that our play was too bad for any audience under the sun. It was the worst melodrama I ever saw—or rather the worst I never saw, for when the authors were called for (if they were called for), by the infuriated audience, I, for my part, was “not in the theatre.” I saw two acts of it rehearsed, and that was quite enough for me. In saying this, I make no reflection upon the actors, who were, I believe, thoroughly competent had we given them a chance. It was the play that was at fault; and having had a hand in the concoction of what was probably the feeblest play ever seen in the City-road, I think I may claim to be something of an authority on bad melodramas. So far, again, “Inquisitor” is right.
     Fourthly, it is quite true that I have written a one-act play called Auto da fé—“Inquisitor” should surely be well posted on this subject—but it is not printed, nor “has it been sent for acceptance to almost every manager in London.” So far as I can remember (indeed I am almost certain on the point) I have sent it to only one manager, Mr Wilson Barrett, and to one actor, Mr Hermann Vezin—in both cases, about six years ago. If “Inquisitor” is still further inquisitive, it may interest him to know that I have written two other one-act plays within the last ten years, one of which I once sent to a manager, while the other has never left my desk.
     Is Torquemada satisfied? Or will he give the rack another twist and extort a full confession of boyish enormities committed in my teens? There is one burden on my conscience (who is there that has never known remorse?) which public confession may perhaps lighten—I once wrote a burlesque! It was an infantile effort, I have little doubt, and I can only plead infancy as an excuse; alleging further in mitigation of sentence that it is better to write burlesques in your first than in your second childhood. I have also a vague recollection of commencing a five-act tragedy in blank verse on a Greek subject, opening after the approved formula with a chorus of revellers R., and a chorus of priests L., chanting amœbean strains. The five acts never got any further; providence (in the guise of laziness) intervened; and the portion of my dramatic works to which I look back with most unmixed satisfaction is precisely the unwritten four acts and seven-eighths of that Hellenic tragedy. “Il est si facile de ne pas écrire une tragédie en cinque actes!” said some Frenchman; thereby showing a deplorable ignorance of human nature. On the contrary, it is no small distinction not to have written a five-act Hellenic tragedy in blank verse; and that distinction I proudly claim as mine. May the unwritten tragedy atone for the written burlesque!
     I have now, Mr Editor, confessed the worst, and can but throw myself upon “Inquisitor’s” mercy. If he insists on having my dramatic works burnt by the common hangman I am sorry to inform him that most of them are beyond his reach. I myself made an auto-da-fé of them years ago, and strewed their dishonoured ashes to the winds. As for the survivors they are such “very little ones” as to be, I trust, beneath the vengeance of a Torquemada.
                                                                     I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
     London, July 5th, 1886.                                                                       WILLIAM ARCHER.

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MR. ARCHER AS AN AUTHOR.
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     The letter from Mr WILLIAM ARCHER, which we print in another column, shows that he is as ready to answer personal inquiries as to criticise the drama of the day. Instead of fencing with the questions asked by our correspondent “Inquisitor,” Mr ARCHER “confesses the corn” (as an American would say) in the most open and complete manner. As answered Falstaff to Shallow, so says Mr ARCHER to Inquisitor:—“I will answer it straight;—I have done all this:—That is now answered.” It is true he makes a single exception in his confession. He, metaphorically speaking, has beaten the men, killed the deer, and broken open the  lodge. But he will not own to having kissed the keeper’s daughter. In other words, though Mr ARCHER does not deny the soft impeachment of having adapted IBSEN, and does not wish to repudiate Australia; or, the Bushrangers, he will not own that he ever appeared as a “female impersonator.” He distinctly denies that he is the Miss ARCHER who once produced a drama of “the kind most dear to kitchen-maids” at the Gaiety Theatre. Mr ARCHER wishes it to be known that he has no connection with this authoress.
     Mr ARCHER has committed the unpardonable crimes of being a young man and of possessing the ability to write musical English. His judgments are often as reckless as his syntax; but both his literary style and his criticisms are pre-eminently attractive. As an agent for the ventilation of theatrical questions Mr ARCHER’S work is useful to the drama; as a solid and logical guide he has too much of the will-o’-the-wisp about him to be always reliable. His letter to us this week is a case in point. It is most pleasantly written, and tinged with a spirit of agreeable banter calculated to disarm hostility. We must not, however, allow Mr ARCHER to thus smilingly “put the question by.” His epistle suggests strange reflections.
     It is an old and stale sneer at the critic that he is an author who has failed. In a great many cases he is simply an author who has not succeeded. We believe that Mr GEORGE SIMS and Mr W. S. GILBERT both did theatrical notices before more profitable work occupied their attention. But the contrasts between Mr ARCHER the critic and Mr ARCHER the dramatist is somewhat startling. Mr ARCHER the critic is nothing if not elevated. He takes dramatic art very seriously. He is angry with Mr SIMS for not writing a second Lights o’ London, and says that Mr PETTITT “never had any artistic birth-right to sell.” These very bitter words are written in 1886. But it was, it appears, only five years ago that Mr ARCHER was a Philistine of the Philistines. In collaboration with a fellow criminal he wrote a melodrama of the “dynamite and railway accident” order, and had it produced at the Grecian Theatre. It is useless for Mr ARCHER to endeavour to commit infanticide on this offspring of his and somebody else’s brains. Australia ran for three weeks, not one, at the Grecian, as the advertisements in The Era during that length of time are extant to testify. For eighteen nights did this dreadful play run its baneful course, poisoning the artistic tastes of the inhabitants of the City-road. According to the account given of it by our critic, Australia was an abstract of all crimes that melodramatists are usually guilty of. His criticism says that it introduced “in its five acts and half-a-score tableaux, almost every kind of sensational incident popular in modern melodramas,” and “not a few of a novel kind as well.”
     The mere fact of Mr ARCHER’S failure as a dramatist is of no significance. The critical and the creative faculties are often divorced in an individual, and Mr ARCHER need be no worse a critic because he has not been successful as a dramatic author. But we should naturally have expected Mr ARCHER to have fallen by having aspired too high. On the contrary, he himself confesses that he failed through grovelling too low. He was under the delusion that “nothing was too bad for a Grecian audience.” This means that, believing (erroneously, as the result showed) that the taste of these audiences was degraded, Mr ARCHER and his friend Mr STANLEY deliberately set to work to pander and “write down” to it. What a contrast between the practice of the dramatic author and the preaching of the dramatic critic! We were prepared to hear that Mr ARCHER had tried his hand at play writing at some time or another; but we expected to discover that the rejection of some over-high and noble tragedy, or some super-delicate, too poetical creation of another kind had been the reason of his deserting production for criticism. It reminds us of the story recently published of the Strange Case of Dr. JEKYLL and Mr HYDE. On no other hypothesis than a supernatural one can we comprehend Mr ARCHER’S double dramatic existence. ARCHER-JEKYLL writes high-flown critiques, and ARCHER-HYDE concocts melodramas, introducing not only all the sensational effects of transpontine realism, but others of a novel sort of artistic depravity as well. Mr ARCHER is not quite ingenuous in calling Australia a feeble play. If a drama which positively teems with hairbreadth escapes and startling situations, in which a Negro walks off the stage in a flour barrel firing shots rapidly through the holes in its sides, a drama where the air is thick with the smoke of revolvers, and a train is nearly blown up by dynamite, be a “feeble” piece, then commend us to the late T. W. ROBERTSON as a real “blood and thunder” melodramatist. Indeed, from the description which our representative gave of the amount of gunpowder burnt in Australia, it would seem that one of its “acts” might well have borne the title of Mr ARCHER’S other attempt—Auto-da-Fé.
     Mr ARCHER asks, “Is Torquemada satisfied?” If he is, we are not. We want to know the name of the manager to whom Mr ARCHER sent the first of the two one-act plays which he has written during the last ten years, and we should like (very much, indeed) to know the sort of play which Mr ARCHER keeps locked up in his desk. Would its production mark a new epoch; or is it a miniature Australia?

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Sophia

 

The Standard (13 October, 1886 - p.2)

“TOM JONES AND SOPHIA.”
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD.

     SIR,—My adaptation of “Tom Jones,” now running at the Vaudeville Theatre, has been so lavishly and generously praised by the Press in general, that I have no fear of seeming discontented or atrabilious, if I offer a few good-humoured comments in reply to one or two critics who accuse me of castrating and Bowdlerising a masterpiece. The fact is, I fail to see where my offence lies; save in shaping a popular and inoffensive play our of extremely different materials; and I contend, moreover, that I have in no respect perverted the spirit, while carefully suppressing the letter, of Fielding’s great fiction.
     According to Mr. Thackeray, no author since Henry Fielding has dared in fiction to pourtray “A Man.” I shall paraphrase this extraordinary utterance by asserting that no author since Fielding has dared to pourtray a coarse and filthy animal in a man’s clothing. If “Tom Jones” contained nothing save the brutal amours of its hero, if it were only a history of dirty liaisons and ignoble vices, if it were a picture merely of the manners of the pigsty and the customs of the stud stable, the book might lie (where many of Fielding’s contemporaries left it) in the gutter, and Henry Fielding might remain (what the good Mr. Richardson considered him) the laureate of the literary farmyard.
     But “Tom Jones” is great, not because of its uncleanness, but in spite of it; great in its pictures of rugged human nature, in its liberal humanity and tender humour, in the nobility and beauty which comes of “sweet reasonableness” and all-embracing sympathy. The character of Sophia Western, which I have transferred without a change from mud- bespattered pages, dominates my drama as it really dominates the novel—a type of female purity so fresh, so  wholesome, and so original that it imparts to the entire work an atmosphere of purity which Clarissa Harlowe herself might share.
     I have not called my play “Tom Jones;” I have christened it Sophia; and I have found in Miss Kate Rorke perhaps the one living actress capable of realising to the life that beautiful ideal of maidenly virtue and power. With regard to Tom Jones, I have certainly purified that scapegrace a little to fit him for a young lady so infinitely his superior; but it is untrue to say that I have made him immaculate. I have again and again, in my first act, alluded to his escapades, although for dramatic purposes I have exculpated him from any amour with Molly Seagrim. It is not a pleasant thing to say, but I fear that some people have visited the Vaudeville in the hopes of finding Fielding’s coarseness made unpleasantly visible to the naked eye, of gloating over indecent suggestions, for which, however, I must refer them back to the book.
     For the rest, I like to see this jealousy for the reputation of a deceased author, this eagerness to have him honoured in all his nakedness. It contrasts so pleasingly with the contempt and indignation lavished upon him, and lavished upon all robust writers, by the virtue of contemporaries. Were Henry Fielding alive now he would be told, as Thackeray was  told, that he was “no gentleman;” he would be informed, as Goethe was constantly informed, that he was a writer who delighted in filth for its own sake; he would be covered with the opprobrium of the superfine reviewer, and damned with the faint praise of the literary cliques. It is so courageous to grow eloquent over the virtues of dead authors, and so easy, again, to throw stones at authors who are still living. From his contemporaries Fielding received what all great writers must accept—the scorn of mediocrity, the misconception of the uninstructed; indeed, it is not too much to say that, by adversity and the bitter blows of literary battle, his noble heart was broken. From posterity he doubtless receives his due, insomuch as the dilettantism which never honoured genius when living, which killed Goldsmith, slaughtered Keats, and tortured Shelley, while crowning with the laurel Sotheby’s asses’ ears and filling the stomach of Rogers with port wine, is so punctilious to preserve for the stage, in all his native strength, the eighteenth-century “Man” of Fielding’s creation.
                                                                                   I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                                                                                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Vaudeville Theatre, October 11.

 

[Note: This letter was also printed in The Era (16 October, 1886).]

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The Stage (18 February, 1887 - p.11)

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.

“SOPHIA” IN NEW YORK.

     DEAR SIR,—Mr. Robert Buchanan, in a note to Col. Sinn, of Brooklyn, published in the New York Dramatic News, in discussing the subject of the careless production of his plays in the United States, says, incidentally, “Howard Paul, who saw Sophia at Wallock’s, says he would not have known the play, so badly was it staged and presented.” Will you allow me to contradict this statement? I have never seen Mr. Buchanan since my return to England, and the only occasion I ever spoke of Sophia as done at Wallock’s was to Mr. Alport, the acting manager of the Vaudeville, to whom I remarked that the part of Partridge was not so humorously acted in New York as it was in London. Of the “staging and presentation” I said not a word.—Yours, &c., HOWARD PAUL, Savage Club, February 15.

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The Era (19 February, 1887)

“SOPHIA” AT WALLACK’S.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—In an extract from a private letter of mine, published in the New York Dramatic News, I am quoted as saying, incidentally, “Howard Paul, who saw Sophia at Wallack’s, says he would not have known the play, so badly was it staged and presented.” Mr Howard Paul is naturally annoyed at a remark which I may have made in a strictly private letter, but which was never intended for publication. I was certainly under the impression, however, that he had expressed some such opinion, though it now appears that the chief fault he had to find was with the performance of Partridge.
     I need hardly say that life and correspondence will soon become impossible, if every stray sentence or word in private letters is to be printed, apart from its context, and misconstrued. Colonel Sinn had asked me to let him produce my new melodrama in New York this season, and in refusing, because I could not personally superintend it, I remarked en passant that there had even been complaints concerning the New York production of Sophia, Now, of the management of Wallack’s Theatre I have not merely a high, but the highest opinion; and to Mr Lester Wallack personally I owe a debt of gratitude for many kindnesses. But I know Mr Wallack himself to be of my opinion—that no one understands so well as the author of a piece how it should be presented to the public. he himself is a consummate master of stagecraft, a perfect stage-manager; he casts his pieces perfectly, mounts them magnificently, and spares neither time nor money to make them succeed. I should be sorry with all my heart if any garbled words of mine should seem to reflect upon the cleverest, the most generous, and, in every respect, the most accomplished of American managers.
                                                                                                   I am, &c.,         ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Vaudeville Theatre, February 17th.

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The Quarterly Review and Edmund Gosse

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (21 October, 1886 - p.6)

THE “QUARTERLY REVIEW” AND LITERATURE.

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—Will you permit a not quite disinterested spectator to say a few words concerning the recent attack of the Quarterly Review on Mr. Edmund Gosse? I have no particular reason to love this gentleman, and perhaps some right to distrust the circle to which he belongs; I do love fair play, however, and when I see a man of letters coming under the ban of a literary vendetta my sympathy is all for the victim. A plague on all your cliques, say I, who am neither a Capulet nor a Montague. But when the leader of the attack is the poor, purblind, pedagogic Quarterly Reviewer, who has about as much critical insight as Mr. Wackford Squeers, and has from time immemorial conducted the Dotheboys Hall of Albemarle-street on principles of corporal punishment and intellectual starvation, my sympathy turns, as now, to amused indignation.
     The first apostle of the knife in modern journalism was the atrabilious and colour-blind cobbler William Gifford. The latest inheritor of his stabbing instrument, or bradawl, is a gentleman who seems to have only one thought when surveying an ambitious work by a young and rising writer—how to find holes in it, and where holes do not exist to make them. I have not even read the article in question (to read the Quarterly Review in patience requires a soul without any reverence for the illustrious dead); but it clearly belongs to the effete school of petty carping and fault-finding—to the school which regarded a false quantity as criminal, and a clerical error as blasphemous. The wonder would be if Mr. Gosse, in a work of such scope, had not erred occasionally; indeed, in any book, not written by a pedant for pedants, a schoolmaster may easily discover dozens of errors. Fortunately the day has long departed when authors pretended to be superhumanly accurate and impeccable. While the criticism which hunted mischievously for minor blemishes has become unpopular, a criticism is now desiderated which appraises, higher than all pettifogging accuracy, the fervour, the insight, the culture, of literary catholicity and sympathy. Whatever may be the judgment on Mr. Gosse, he has proved himself a man who loves, honours, and understands literature. Whatever may be the judgment of the Quarterly Review, it comes from a quarter which has always hated and reviled true literature, from persons who have slavered the hands and licked the feet of bogus authors recruited from the coroneted classes, from men who have never to my knowledge said a kind or a liberal word since the day when they tried to kill John Keats until the day when they threw mud at the fair fame of Alfred Tennyson.
     Literary “log-rolling” is another matter; but, after all, the log-rollers are chiefly to be blamed for liking and admiring each other. For my own part, I wish men of letters loved each other a little more. Things used to be different when I was younger, and “rolling logs” was always merry pastime yonder in Bohemia. Et ego in Bohemia fui! How many of us would gladly be there still, log-rolling, if need be, for one another!—I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,

     Vaudeville Theatre, Oct. 20.                                                                                    ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     [We should have been sorry to exclude Mr. Buchanan’s letter, but we feel bound to remark on the curious fact that a gentleman who thus advocates the higher criticism should begin with himself criticising, in the strongest of terms, an article which he avows that he has “not even read.”—ED.]

 

[Note: This was Buchanan’s only contribution to a debate which was sparked by a review of Edmund Gosse’s From Shakespeare to Pope and was carried on in the pages of The Quarterly Review and The Athenæum as well as The Pall Mall Gazette. It would serve no purpose to add the rest of the letters in The Pall Mall Gazette since Buchanan’s contribution was not remarked upon, apart from the fact that he admitted to reading neither Gosse’s book nor the review. However, one of the contributors to the debate signed himself ‘Oxoniensis’, writing to The Pall Mall Gazette on 23rd, 25th and 30th October, and, following The Pall Mall Gazette’s editorial summing up of the discussion, a final letter on 6th November. Which brings us to Stuart Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (London: T. Werner Laurie Ltd. 1914. pp. 141-145) in which this letter of 6th November is reprinted after the following explanatory note:

bibwildequartbit

Wilde’s letter of 6th November concerning a letter in The Athenæum written by Algernon Swinburne, is of interest here because it includes a direct comparison of Swinburne’s letter with Buchanan’s of 21st October and concludes with the following statement:

“Truly the thunders of the Quarterly Review would seem to be like adversity: they make strange bedfellows. Mr. Swinburne, as we all know, has at other times paid Mr. Buchanan the compliment of immoderate abuse; but never before, I imagine, has he rendered in that quarter the last flattery of all—the flattery of imitation.”

The Pall Mall Gazette’s summing up is available below, along with Oscar Wilde’s letter of 6th November.]

pallmallquarterlythmb pallmallquartwildnov6

The Pall Mall Gazette
(30 October, 1886 - p.1) - editorial.

The Pall Mall Gazette
(6 November, 1886 - p.6) - Wilde’s letter.

__________

 

A Look Round Literature

 

The Academy (5 March, 1887 - No. 774, p.165)

CORRESPONDENCE.

“A LOOK ROUND LITERATURE.”

                                                                                                                                   London: Feb. 28, 1887.

     I think my friend, Mr. Hall Caine, whom I have to thank for a very generous review of my Look round Literature, mistakes my meaning here and there, or, perhaps I should say, exaggerates my meaning. At any rate, I should not like it to be understood that what both I and he call “Philistinism” means imaginative rioting as opposed to veracity. My quarrel with such writers as George Eliot is not that they are “natural” and “veracious,” but that they are too pragmatic and rectangular—admitting nothing into their pictures which cannot be easily touched, handled, turned this way and that, and put under the microscope; in a word, that they are prosaists, not realists. True realism is true imagination, and embraces the whole world of thought, feeling, and dream—for which reason “Macbeth,” the “Prometheus Bound,” and the “Inferno” are just as surely realistic as Robinson Crusoe and the Vicar of Wakefield. I agree in toto with Mr. Caine in all that he says about the old dramatists. Contrast the method of any one of them with that of the modern critical novelist, and the reader will understand what I mean in denying the latter true imagination. As to Mr. Arnold and hoc genus  omne, I stand to my guns. If Mr. Caine finds poetry in the “Strayed Reveller” or “East and West,” I find there only simple prose. Mr. Arnold seems to me like a man who had never been a child, and was, therefore, quite incapable of understanding religion; and religion forms at least two-thirds of poetry as I conceive it. Nor did Goethe ever understand it. He looked upon “God” as a capital “subject”; and I hold that, from the first to the last of his preposterous career, he never really lived. All this, however, is too long for a letter, and much of it is touched upon in my book. I must be allowed to add that my views of literature are not quite so despairing as Mr. Caine makes out, for I only despair when I encounter sham criticism and sham literary science; but, in any case, I should not base my hopes of a romantic revival on works written by many talents for the old or young boys of England. True romance faces what is actual, and is far removed from the foolish flights of Peter Wilkins. Bulwer just missed it in A Strange Story, because, instead of continuing as he began, in the region of the psychically and metaphysically verifiable, he shot off at a tangent into the region of the intellectually impossible. His veiled woman Ayesha, nevertheless, is far nearer to true imagination than the other “veiled woman Ayesha” of the modern bookstalls. The nearer we come to life itself, to living healthy life and thought, the closer we shall approach the region of legitimate romance. Few men should be better aware of that fact than the author of The Shadow of a Crime.
                                                                                                                                     R
OBERT BUCHANAN.

 

[Note: Hall Caine’s review of A Look Round Literature in The Academy is available in the Reviews section. Although it is slightly out of chronological order I have placed Caine’s reply to this letter immediately below.]

___

 

The Academy (19 March, 1887 - No. 776, p.202)

CORRESPONDENCE.

“A LOOK ROUND LITERATURE.”

                                                                                                           Isle of Man: March 8, 1887.

     The differences of opinion between Mr. Buchanan and myself are so unimportant that it is a pity to suggest an idea of controversy, but I wish to say a word in answer to his letter.
     I think that George Eliot has done harm to imaginative literature, because she has cultivated a taste for the prose of every-day life. She has not attempted in fiction what Wordsworth achieved in poetry—to flood the commonest incidents in the light of imagination, to reveal a familiar landscape under the unfamiliar charm of moonlight. That combination of the actual and the supernatural makes half the difference between Macbeth and Robinson Crusoe, for both are real, and both are imaginative. George Eliot’s intellectual force and great literary power are apparent in every line she wrote; but her veracity and her imagination are perhaps seen at their best in the first part of Silas Marner only. There the imagination is the imagination of metaphysics, and the realism is the realism of the “pots and pans” of life. Compare George Eliot’s realism and imagination in this best part of her work with the realism and imagination of so slight a thing as Wordsworth’s “We are Seven.” The veracity is about equal, but how different the imagination! Macbeth is more realistic than Holingshed’s Chronicle; but its realism is imaginative—it is the familiar bathed in the light of the unfamiliar.
     I do not base my hopes of a romantic revival on any imitation of
Peter Wilkins, and I think that sort of work very cheap, and likely to be very short-lived. I remember that Coleridge said that if a man wanted to make a sensation he could not do it easier than by resorting to the marvellous as seen in Peter Wilkins as distinguished from the real as seen in Robinson Crusoe. I have no love of what Mr. Buchanan calls “imaginative rioting,” chiefly because I find little imagination in it, and only a little fancy. It seems to me that the author of the “other veiled woman Ayesha,” in his hatred of the realism of France and his contempt for the realism of America, in his determination not to be beastly, and his unwillingness to sit down and draw a copy more or less feeble of feeble men and feeble manners, has fallen into the error of thinking that he can invent both men and manners too. I am sure it is a mistake; and when the people who delight in his new universe have realised that having come out of nothing it has gone into chaos, they will no doubt play their olden game of whipping their spoiled child for allowing them to spoil him. But he is a man of genius as sure as is the author of God and the Man; and when his “imaginative rioting” is over he will show the power of the imagination that can work within the limits of nature and actual life, and yet is not bound down to the said pots and pans.
     Meantime, I regard a new
Peter Wilkins as a more hopeful sign for imaginative literature than another Sir Percival would be.
                                                                                                                             H
ALL CAINE.

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (7 March, 1887)

MR. BUCHANAN’S “LOOK ROUND.” *

“SOME of these opinions,” says Mr. Buchanan, in his Prefatory Note, “will doubtless awaken animadversion in quarters self-considered authoritative; but the literary Inquisition, like its religious prototype, will soon be a thing of the past. . . . At the same time, I have quite as great a distrust of my own discernment as of that of any of my contemporaries.” In this it is clear that Mr. Buchanan either says what he does not mean or means what he fails to say. He tells us that the opinions of his contemporaries are probably every bit as good as his own, and yet he resents by anticipation the cavillings of a certain “literary Inquisition.” What is this “literary Inquisition” which Mr. Buchanan threatens with swift extinction? Can it be periodical criticism? If so, what remotest analogy has it with the Holy Office? and on what ground can Mr. Buchanan declare it moribund? As for his “distrust of his own discernment,” that is all nonsense. He is “self-considered authoritative” (as he elegantly puts it), and why should he not be? No sane critic supposes himself infallible; but, on the other hand, no critic has any right to express an opinion at all unless he heartily believes in it. Mr. Buchanan is quite as ready as any one else to “back his opinion;” indeed, he sometimes backs it with unnecessary emphasis. In the present volume he “animadverts” pretty sharply upon the opinions of a good many very respectable people; why, then, does he cry out when his own opinions “awaken animadversion”? and why menace the animadverters with sudden death?
     The essays in this volume are for the most part reprints from magazine and newspapers. The first is a parallel between Æschylus and Victor Hugo, followed by an unsympathetic study of the character of  Goethe, a paper on Lucretius and Professor Tyndall, notes on Rossetti, Thomas Love Peacock, Sydney Dobell, Charles Reade, Zola, and Whitman, “A Talk with George Eliot,” three essays on the modern stage, and a good deal of padding in the shape of ephemeral magazine articles and reviews which might well have been omitted. Mr. Buchanan loves to pose as a “literary Jacobin,” and seems to consider himself in a state of chronic revolt, we know not against what. He has a vivid admiration for all that is grandiose and symbolic in literature, a hearty contempt for mere observation and analysis, and a scornful hatred of science in so far as it conflicts with a certain optimistic theism of his own, which he would probably describe as Christianity. His physico-metaphysical polemics are out of date and unprofitable. They are mere skirmishes with over- hasty pioneers of science, or rather with incautious irregulars who straggle from the main body into the marshes of metaphysics. Mr. Buchanan considers that he has scored a triumph when he has landed his opponent up to his knees in the morass; blissfully unconscious that he himself is in up to the armpits. His literary judgments, though often perverse enough, are of more value, and so are his literary reminiscences. The paper on Peacock is delightful, the essay on Sydney Dobell is full of interest, the personal sketches of Charles Reade and Walt Whitman are worth preserving. One cannot but smile to think that a book in which the “pretentious and pedagogic Talent” of George Eliot is over and over again consigned to oblivion, may perhaps itself escape oblivion in virtue of two or three authentic glimpses of the Priory drawing-room which it affords us. The papers on the drama contain a good deal of sound criticism, as well as some swashing blows at that grotesque and deplorable survival, the Censorship of the stage.
     Mr. Buchanan’s printer has played him such strange tricks both in his English and in his Greek, that we hesitate which to blame when we find Frau von Stein figuring as “Fräulein Stein” and Lord Tennyson’s patriotism described as “actual Anglophobia.” It can scarcely be the printer, however, who conceived the quaint idea of speaking of “the whole Bostonian cosmogony, from Lowell upwards.” Fancy the glee of “the Savile Club cosmogony” on catching their Jacobin reviler in such a flagrant delict as this! “It is doubtful,” says Mr. Buchanan, “whether any Frenchman will ever understand the sea”—a piece of Rule-Britannia-ism (or shall we say “Anglophobia”?) which, if it comes to the notice of the Paris Figaro, cannot fail to heighten the irritation caused by Mr. Gilbert’s wanton insult to the French marine. Lastly, let the reader listen to this Buchananade over the grave of Napoleon:—“He had mounted the popular Monster, and although he seemed to curb and drive it, it took him pretty much where it pleased; and finally, in mercy to the man’s immortal soul, God made England pitiless and consigned him to St. Helena.” If it was thus that Mr. Buchanan nourished the name of God in his Adelphi melodrama, one can scarcely wonder that the Censor intervened.

_____

     * “A Look Round Literature.” By Robert Buchanan. (London: Ward and Downey. 1887.)

___

 

The Pall Mall Gazette (9 March, 1887)

“THE LITERARY INQUISITION.”

To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.

     SIR,—How dearly I love sweet simplicity when I meet it in a reviewer! Your guileless critic does not know what I mean by the “Literary Inquisition,” how anything in literature resembles the “Holy Office,” or what difference there is between such an inquisition and ordinary expressions of individual opinion. Surely, however, he is aware that certain bodies of literary men are banded together to hunt down heretics, to canonize mediocrity, and to hold heterodoxy of any kind up to derision? Surely he has read his Quarterly, his Saturday Review, his Blackwood, and “hoc genus omne”? Does he mean to tell me (without “putting his tongue into his cheek,” like a sly rogue as I fancy him to be) that any living writer can express his honest judgment on any possible subject except the musical glasses, without becoming a “marked man” and the victim of a constant and often successful persecution? If he does tell me so, and really means it, he ought to extend his information, and to do so he need go no further than the file of his own Pall Mall Gazette. I daresay there are blunders in my book. I am a bad reader of proofs, and while this work was being printed I was very ill. “Anglophobia” is an obvious misprint for “Russophobia.” I think the expression “Bostonian cosmogony” is a quotation from Whitman, who uses a queer vocabulary. I got from him also the delicious word “affetuoso,” over which my dilettante friends made such fun twenty years ago, thinking I meant it for very choice Italian. But “affetuoso” is a lovely word, whoever invented it. Your critic, however, is far funnier than I can ever hope to be, when he suggests that my religion is an “optimistic theism,” which I would “possibly call Christianity;” which is about as pertinent as to say that my religion is a monotheism, which I would “possibly describe” as a belief in the Trinity! However, I thank him for his praise, and also for his honest blame; and I have really only the one fault to find with him—that he is sceptical as to the existence of my “Inquisition.”—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
    
March 7.                                                                                                                   R
OBERT BUCHANAN.

__________

 

The Novelty Theatre

 

The Era (6 August, 1887)

THE NOVELTY THEATRE.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ERA.

     Sir,—I see it stated in a contemporary that the stage of the Novelty Theatre is “about the size of a small drawing- room.” Permit me to say that the Novelty stage, like the auditorium, is one of the best in London, quite deep and large enough for any effects, save those elaborately mechanical ones of which the public is a little weary. Had this not been the case, Miss Jay would not have found the theatre suitable for her purpose, which is to produce strong and elaborate comedy and drama.
     The same authority, I think, suggests that it is Miss Jay’s intention only to produce plays from my pen. If this were so I fear I should have some difficulty in supplying her demand, for it will be part of her programme to avoid long runs, and so to establish a répertoire; and to realise this programme she will have to ask the co-operation of many authors. One suggestion of mine, which I hope she will carry out, is that she should give the use of the theatre gratuitously for matinées to such untried dramatists as may submit to her meritorious works.—I am, &c.,
                                                                                                                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Novelty Theatre, August 3d.

__________

 

Mr. Robert Buchanan and his Critics

 

The Morning Post (6 October, 1887 - p.2)

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN AND HIS CRITICS.
_____

TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING POST.

     SIR,—In the current number of a weekly publication appears an interview with myself, entitled “Scholar and Theatrical Manager,” in which I am made to say so many belligerent things that I am naturally lost in wonder at my own audacity. I am quite sure my interviewer did not intend to misrepresent me, but he has unconsciously exaggerated some very harmless observations into positive jeremiads against critics and actors. For example, he makes me say that I “hate newspapers,” whereas what I said was that the fourth estate was likely, under certain forms, to become an even more terrible social tyranny than the priesthood; that “critics know not what they say or why they say it,” whereas I was alluding, not to critics in general, but to certain critics, who may here be nameless; and that I thought all actors “fools,” whereas I merely observed that many actors were a little uninstructed. It seems to be my fate to provoke the hostility of the Press, and here, I fear, is another casus belli. But I think it should be remembered by those who hate and abuse me, that I have been and am, like my father before me, a critic myself and a journalist; that I have never ceased to stand up for the rights and honours of my class, and that, in a notable instance, when a man who had once insulted and reviled me beyond measure (under deep provocation, however) was committed to prison for a supposed libel on one of the governing classes, I alone pleaded my enemy’s cause, and resented the outrage as an infringement of the privileges and rights of journalism. As to my anonymous interviewer, I know and feel that every word which he uttered concerning me, or which he supposed me to utter, was put down in kindness and sympathy, not in malice, and in asking you to publish this brief explanation, I do so with a feeling of ample gratitude for the terms in which he spoke of one who has had to outlive much misconstruction and much consequent persecution.—I am, &c.,
                                                                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Novelty Theatre, Great Queen-street.

 

[Note: I have been unable to find the interview to which Buchanan refers in this letter.]

__________

 

The City of Dream

 

The Academy (21 April, 1888 - No. 833, p.273-274)

CORRESPONDENCE.

“THE CITY OF DREAM.”

                                                                                                                                 Southend: April 12, 1888.

     In noticing my City of Dream the Saturday reviewer, who is nothing if not clerical, but who, in this one instance, is very unusually goodnatured, seems to be amused at some of my blunders. Now, I never assume to be a correct writer, either morally or literally; but when I talked of “Christ the Paraclete” I was fully aware of the fact (which my critic has apparently forgotten) that the word

citydracadlettgk

is distinctly applied by St. John, in the second of his Epistles, to the Second Person of the Trinity; and this, despite the fact that the same word is used—in chap. xvi. of St. John’s Gospel—in reference to the Third Person. But what are we to say, asks my critic, about “Kratos and dark Bias”? The lines in the poem refer to Prometheus, and run, as printed:

“As when by Kratos and dark Bias nail’d
To that hard rock!”

     It may amuse the reader to be told that this is actually a clerical error, and that the lines, as I wrote them, were:

“As when by Kratos and dark Bia snail’d
To that hard rock!”

I can conceive the horror of the Tory reviewer if the horrible new verb, “to snail,” had been actually printed. The printer’s devil knew better, and corrected the barbarism at the last moment. Yet, alas! I like my own barbarism well enough to restore it if ever my epic reaches a new edition.
     Here, says the critic, is another barbarism:

“—a waste
With never wood or gentle cynosure.”

“Does Mr. Buchanan know that cynosure means a dog’s tail?” Just as well, perhaps, as Milton knew it, when he used the word in “L’Allegro,” and talked of the “cynosure of neighbouring eyes.”
     Your own friendly critic makes a more serious charge—that my poem culminates in merely “a vain hope,” instead of “a serene and assured faith.” I presume, then, after all, that I have written in vain; though I was foolish enough to fancy that the faith I put in the mouth of the old man Masterful was serene and assured enough. Does the rejection of all formulated dogma imply the absence of all spiritual certainty? If so, my work is indeed a colossal blunder, and I have lost all power of expressing my own ideas. I am encouraged to hope, however, that less hasty critics will acquit me of preaching a creed of mere nescience, and understand that I base my final philosophy on the certitude of the Human Soul, which—

“Knowing itself, beholds within itself
The inspiration it has christened ‘God,’
And which alone betokens it divine!”

                                                                                                                                     ROBERT BUCHANAN.

 

[Note: The review of The City of Dream from The Academy is available in the Reviews section.]

__________

 

The Glasgow Ode

 

The Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph (7 April, 1888 - p.3)

GLASGOW EXHIBITION.
_____

THE OPENING ODE.

     The ode to be sung at the opening ceremony of the Glasgow International Exhibition has come to hand, and the words are now published through the courtesy of the Exhibition authorities. Mr Robert Buchanan, the author, received £50 for the composition. The ode has been set to music by Dr A. C. Mackenzie, who will also conduct its performance in person at the opening ceremony in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Mr Buchanan gives his poem the title of “The New Covenant.” The following are some of the verses:—

Dark sea-born city, with thy throne
     Set on the surge-vex’d shore,
The trumpet of the storm was blown
     To break thy rest of yore;
In that dread hour thy soul was stirred,
     While, ’neath the night-black sky,
Fierce as an eagle’s shriek was heard
     The Covenanters’ cry!

But now deep night hath taken flight,
     Thine eyes serene and free
Watch they wing’d ships, like angels bright,
     Walking a summer sea!
While out of grief and travail born,
     Hope comes with large increase,
Thy second Covenant is sworn
     In sacramental peace!

So raising now the palm and not the sword,
               Praise ye the Lord!
Now that the night is done, from sea to sea
Wander our people by the Word set free,
In one strong voice of pride and sweet accord,
               Praise ye the Lord!

Tempest and wrath subside for evermore,
The dove of Peace wings on from shore to shore,
While countless Cities echo back our cry,
               “Uplift the bright green palm! lay by the sword!”
Hark, from the Eastern to the Western sky,
               Clear voices make reply—
               “Praise ye the Lord! Praise ye the Lord!”

City, whose birthright is the Sea,
     Storm-rent and tempest-blown,
That made thee strong, that keeps thee free,
     And rocks thy craggy throne—
Thy sisters from a thousand shores
     Look hitherward this day,
While on thy footstool rain the stores
     Of harvests far away!

Symbols of plenty and of power,
     Signs of man’s bloodless toil;
Largess of sunshine and of shower,
     Harvest of stream and soil;
All that the human mind can plan,
     Or human strength can move,
Now crown, as heritage of Man,
     This Covenant of Love!

For that first faith in Freedom’s sacred word,
               Praise ye the Lord!
For the city link’d to city, loving hands
Waving in blessing from remotest lands,
For that one Light still follow’d and adored,
               Praise ye the Lord!

For lives set free, for labour bravely done,
For peace triumphant and for victory won,
Praise with one voice our Covenant and cry,
“Lo, now the palm hath triumph’d, not the sword!”
Hark! from the Western to the Eastern sky
               Our brethren make reply—
               “Praise ye the Lord! Praise ye the Lord!”

___

 

The Dundee Evening Telegraph (17 April, 1888 - p.2)

THE COMIC PAPERS.
_____

. . .

(From the Bailie.)

. . .

     The Ode Man of the Day—Mr Robert Buchanan.

THE FIFTY POUND ODE.

Bards live no more in this section,
     No one is now on the job;
Tennyson’s gone to the House of Correction,
     And Morris is gone to the mob.
Browning’s effeminate, Swinburne is mystical,
Both of them metaphor-mad and euphistical;
Blackie is old and a shade eulogistical,
While Bobbie Buchanan has turned egotistical
         And written a fifty pound ode.
     Sing hey for a fifty pound ode.
         Ho for a sanctified sonnet;
     Here’s to the brain that concocted the strain,
         And here’s to the “bee in his bonnet.”

___

 

The Glasgow Herald (8 May, 1888 - p.3)

MR ROBERT BUCHANAN ON HIS
EXHIBITION ODE.

 

Hamlet Court, Southend, Essex, May 5.

     SIR,—I have only just learned from an article in the Musical Times that there has been much fluttering among the local dovecots on account of my ode, “The New Covenant,” written for the opening of the Glasgow Exhibition. It has been suggested, in the first place, that the Committee of the Exhibition have gone too far afield for a poet, and that at least ten poets in Glasgow—and twenty in Paisley—would have produced a better poem for half the money paid to me as honorarium. But, greatly as the result is to be deplored, surely it is no fault of mine. So far from soliciting the engagement, I only accepted it at the special desire and request of the Committee, at a time when my hands were very full of other work. Had I dreamed for a moment that I was standing in the light of any of my local brethren, I would have cheerfully stepped aside and resigned the task to better hands.
     It is further suggested, however, that my poor ode is fustian, in so far as it describes Glasgow as a city seated on “a craggy throne,” whereas it lies on the banks of a dirty river; and that the “white-winged ships walking the windless sea like angels” might be more fitly described as “devils, or steamboats.” My own idea was that Glasgow might, in a poem, be happily represented as embracing not only the Cowcaddens, the Saltmarket, and the Broomislaw, but the outlying places, as far on one side as Greenock and Largs, and as far on the other as Rothesay and Arran, or, to push imagination even further, as dominating the whole wild western coast. Doubtless, I should have been more literal. An invocation beginning—

City of slums and alleys, set
     Round the black Broomielaw,

would have been more correct to the actual facts. Then, although I have seen even steamers with “white sails or wings,” I could have more categorically enlarged on the prospect of smoky river boats, black-sail’d barges, and mud-carrying dredgers. But a local bard, with a mind thoroughly assimilated, like the dyer’s hand, to what it works in, would in such a poetical catalogue have beaten me hollow. I did not want to be beaten, so I sought refuge in vagueness, in pure fancy, in what the uninstructed are pleased to call the poetic fallacy.
     I regret what has occurred, because this writing of an Exhibition Ode was to me a pleasant work, and might have been a pleasant memory. My early associations lead me to Glasgow and its neighbourhood: my boyhood was spent there, and the friend of my boyhood is buried there; and I believe I have friends there even now. Writing my poem for such an occasion was like coming home for a brief space to a quiet and familiar haven, after a life spent in warfare in the wild waters of literature. Out there every hand was raised against me, every big ocean-going craft I encountered had tried to run me down, and in all my battles I had been hated most because I was classed as a “Scotchman.” Well, my wished-for haven turns out to be stormy too; unkindly faces thronging the shore, spiteful voices filling the air I hoped to find so still. I am sorry!—I am, &c.,
                                                                                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.

___

 

The Dundee Evening Telegraph (11 May, 1888 - p.4)

LADIES’ COLUMN.
_____

A GOSSIP ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION.
[BY OUR OWN LADY CONTRIBUTOR.]

     The inaugural ode of the Exhibition, “The New Covenant,” has been very severely criticised since its appearance, but everybody must be sorry that its author has assumed the ungracious and undignified task of replying to his critics in the newspapers. Robert Buchanan is a sort of Ishmael of literature—a man who has an unhappy knack of making enemies—and his letter will not add to the number of his friends. Certainly the “twenty Paisley poets” whom he contemptuously alludes to will not be flattered, and will thirst for an opportunity of “having their knife in.” To write an ode about Glasgow which should be at once poetical, pleasing, and true to nature would be, I fear, an impossibility. Matthew Arnold somewhere speaks about what he calls “the inhuman ugliness” of Glasgow, and yet, had Robert Buchanan sang, as he sarcastically proposes—

City of slums and alleys, set
Round the dark Broomielaw,

instead of

Dark sea-born city, with thy throne
Set on a surge-vexed shore

—what a howl of indignation would have arisen from the slandered Western metropolis! What a frenzy of protest from the very people who are now sneering at the “poetic fallacy” which has gilded the commonplace with the picturesque and the sublime!
     Unlike some people, I don’t find fault with the two verses of the Hundredth Psalm which wind up the ode. I think they are most appropriate, and they formed a grand finale to the music. The setting of the ode is very fine, and it was sung with the greatest precision and clearness by the magnificent Choral Union; but no part of it touched me like “All people that on earth do dwell,” to the grand tune “Old Hundred.” That and the “Hallelujah Chorus” were to my mind the finest musical efforts of the day.
     Four lines of the epode picture very happily the brightest features of the opening gala day—

“So turn the furrow, seeds of brightness setting
     Where seeds of sin and sorrow long have been!
So gather in our harvests, not forgetting
     The poor who only glean!”

As I drove the other day along Argyle Street, and saw the long vista of Venetian masts, streamers, and garlands which marked the Royal route—saw, too, the closes and alleys which had poured forth their dingy inhabitants to feast their eyes on Royalty—I thought that the Prince would not need to ask, as George the Fourth is said to have done on a historical occasion in Edinburgh, “Where are all the poor?” They were too much en evidence to be overlooked. And yet everybody had exerted himself to do honour to the occasion, were it only by donning a paper rose filched from some part of the decorations! . . .

 

[Note: More information on “The New Covenant”, Buchanan’s Ode written for the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, is available here.]

_____

 

What is a Tragedy?

 

Hall Caine’s play Ben-my-Chree was first performed on 17th May 1888 at the Princess’s Theatre. By the beginning of June he had changed the ending, as commented upon in The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post of June 5th:

“The authorities of the Princess’s Theatre have bowed to the will of their patrons and now make the ending of “Ben my Chree” a happy instead of a fatal one.”

At this point Hall Caine wrote a letter to the press (which I have not yet found) and then on 11th June, The Pall Mall Gazette ran the following item:

“Mr. Hall Caine is mildly distressed because the critics have called “The Ben-my-Chree,” even in its original form, a melodrama, and not a tragedy. He appeals to the definition given by Fletcher (late of the firm of Beaumont and Fletcher) —“Tragedy is a species of play which leads by a natural sequence of events to the death of the principal character”—and asks whether “The Ben-my-Chree,” as originally played, did not fulfil these conditions. There are three answers to this question: first, the definition is not Fletcher’s; second, it is not a good definition; third, “The Ben-my- Chree” does not come under it. The fact that one man has killed another in self defence is no good reason for his submitting passively to be “marooned,” or, so to speak, Robinson-Crusoed without a Friday; and the fact of his breaking through his boycott to take part in a preposterous ordeal by oath does not satisfy any one as a natural, far less a necessary, reason for his death. Without worrying about definitions, which are “kittle” things to deal with, Mr. Hall Caine may assure himself that the concluding scenes of “The Ben-my-Chree” were on altogether too low a literary plane to permit of their aspiring to the great name of tragedy.”

There was also an article about ‘happy endings’ published in the Liverpool Mercury on 13th June, which is available here.

In the July issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine another comment about the altered ending prompted a second letter from Hall Caine, which was published in The Academy on 7th July (and reprinted in The Era on 21st July). Buchanan’s letter was published in the next edition of The Academy on 14th July. The original of this letter, written on 7th July 1888, is in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington. and is included in the Letters from Collections section of the site.

 

The Gentleman’s Magazine (July, 1888)

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hallcainegentleman2

The Academy (7 July, 1888 - No. 844, p.15-16)

THE STAGE.

CORRESPONDENCE.

WHAT IS A TRAGEDY?

                                                                                                             Bexley Heath: July 3, 1888.

     I see that in the July number of the Gentleman’s Magazine our old friend “Sylvanus Urban” opposes the argument of a letter I wrote a few weeks ago on what I thought the transformation of “Ben-my-Chree” from tragedy to melodrama. So far as I can see he finds no answer to his difficult question “What is a Tragedy?” But after quoting the Encyclopaedic Dictionary, Prof. Skeat, and Milton, against my rendering of Fletcher, he seems to join hands with those who have told me (with rather unnecessary warmth) that tragedy is a “sacred name,” that it is confined to what is “lofty and elevated” in dramatic art, and that it “belongs to the great houses.” Putting the dictionaries aside (and as many of them are with my definition as are against   it), I am unable to see that by “general acceptance throughout Europe” tragedy has been a “sacred name.” Going no further than our own literature we find that by “general acceptance” tragedy has been allowed to include nearly every kind and quality of dramatic composition of which the end has been death. There have been good tragedies and bad; and in Shakspere’s day the name of tragedy was no more “sacred” than the name of comedy or tragi-comedy. The very titles given to the old plays show clearly that the word “tragedy” was used by the old dramatists in a very simple and ingenuous sense. Thus we have '”The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus,” “The Tragedy of Nero,” “The Atheist’s Tragedy,” “Byron’s Tragedy,” “The Revenger’s Tragedy,” and “The Tragedy of the Duchess of Malfy”; just as, on the other hand, we have “The Comedy of Old Fortunatus.” Clearly the term “tragical” was used quite without thought of “loftiness” or “elevation,” whether as regards diction or subject, and was simply meant to show that the dramatic action led up to and terminated in death. I see as little reason to think that Marlow intended to indicate the “elevation” of his subject as that so modest a man as John Webster wished to advertise the “loftiness” of his diction. Indeed, I am convinced that if “The City Madam” had been tragical in its draft Massinger would not have been restrained from so describing it by any thought of the meanness of its dramatis personae. In fact, the gods were not more lawful or essential than mean people to a tragedy written in the best days of English tragic art.
     To come to the “general acceptance of tragedy throughout Europe,” “Faust” is properly called a “dramatic mystery,” because in its first part it is tragical in only one of its episodes—the episode of  Margaret. The first part of “Wallenstein,” ending with the struggle between father and son (but not with death) is described in its early form as a drama; the second part, ending with the death of Wallenstein, is described in its early form as a tragedy; and yet the first part is in many respects loftier and more elevated than the second both as to action and diction. I think I am not wrong in saying that in Russia certain of Tourgenieff’s short stories (such as that of the porter and his dog) and some of Gogol’s (such as, if I mistake not, that of the poor official and his new overcoat) are with “general acceptance” described as tragedies. And I would go so far in support of the definition given in the former letter as to say that tragedy is a term which is independent not only of literary quality, but even of literary form; that the
Bride of Lammermoor is as much an English tragedy as “Hamlet” is, and that M. Daudet’s story of Fromont and Risler is as certainly a French tragedy as Mr. Buchanan’s play on that subject is an English melodrama.
     As for the definition that I rendered from Fletcher’s “Apologetical Preface,” let any reader interested in the subject judge for himself how far my implication is justified by Fletcher’s description of tragi-comedy. And since there is now no definition of melodrama that fits the more recent developments of that species of play, let me make bold to offer one that shall be in the manner, and partly in the words, of the author of the “Faithful Shepherdess.” A Melodrama is so called because it does not bring its hero to his death (which is enough to make it no Tragedy), and yet brings him very near to it (which is enough to make it no Comedy).
                                                                                                                               H
ALL CAINE.

___

 

The Academy (14 July, 1888 - No. 845, p.30)

CORRESPONDENCE.

WHAT IS A TRAGEDY?

                                                                                                               Hamlet Court, Southend: July 7, 1888.

     I think we are getting very “mixed” in our definitions when Mr. Hall Caine describes my play of “Partners,” founded on Daudet’s novel of Fromont Jeune et Risler Ainé, as a melodrama, and thereupon suggests that a melodrama should be so called because it does not end in the death of the leading character. The difference between tragedy and melodrama is in reality technical. The first is a form of art where the old unities of time and place are generally preserved, and where the action moves grandly and monotonously towards the final consummation, foreshadowed from the outset, of a sublime death; in which, moreover, all the interest is subordinated to the one central purpose, to the one solemn issue—generally spiritual and ennobling, and the very essence of which is moral or religious concentration. A melodrama, on the other hand, is a varied picture of life and incident, a mélange, a mingled web of thought, passion, and character, and may or may not end tragically—the point being that its style and treatment, not its catastrophe, differentiate it from tragedy. The great Sophoclean trilogy is tragedy pure and simple. Most of Shakspere’s serious plays—notably “Macbeth” and “Richard III.”—are melodramas. Such masterpieces as “Hamlet” and “Lear” are of twofold character, extremely melodramatic in their style, highly tragical in a certain monotony of characterisation and moral suggestion. Of course, the more popular and etmylogically correct definition of melodrama—i.e., drama accompanied with musical effects—will scarcely serve us here; but it is a good and right definition, if we insert the word “varied” before the adjective “musical,” and imply that the drama itself is many-mooded.
     I learned with deep regret that Mr. Hall Caine’s fine play, quite tragical in its character, had been vulgarized and made absurd by a “happy ending.” There is a superstition among managers that “happy endings” can reform a serious and monotonous theme, and render it pleasing to the vulgar; but the truth is, the public care little how a play
ends, so long as it is not depressing, and deficient in relief, throughout. A very popular and not quite worthless play of the late Watts Phillips, “Lost in London,” is a case in point. The piece is a melodrama, though the end is tragical in Mr. Caine’s sense; but the action throughout is all alive with life and comedy—effective if very conventional, so that average spectators enjoy it, and do not by any means resent the heroine’s pathetic death just before the fall of the curtain. I think Mr. Caine should have nailed his colours to the mast, standing or falling by the absolutely and inherently tragic nature of his theme. To change the dominant note at the last moment into a doubtfully lively one, was something like singing through all the magnificent verses of the “Old Hundredth,” and then suddenly breaking into “Haste to the Wedding.” Fortunately, this is an error which can be easily corrected, for the preservation of a piece which has justly received high encomium.
                                                                                                                                       R
OBERT BUCHANAN.

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[Click the images above for Buchanan’s original letter.]

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