ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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ROBERT BUCHANAN’S LETTERS TO RODEN NOEL

image8

(Drawing of Roden Noel aged 34, by George Richmond.)

The friendship between Roden Noel and Robert Buchanan is covered in Chapter XI of Harriett Jay’s biography, which concludes with the following:

“Such was the man who, stepping into the place left vacant by the death of David Gray, became the most intimate and lifelong friend of Robert Buchanan.”

The chapter also includes this entry from Buchanan’s diary following the death of his friend:

“If I survive beyond this lingering cloud of Time, those whom I have loved will survive with me, and not least of these is the beloved friend who was taken from me yesterday. He has been writing verses and publishing them for nearly half a century, yet few readers even know his name. A noble-hearted man, he has dwelt upon the skirts of life and literature, independent of all necessity to work for bread, and yet eager and willing to take his part in the great strife of modern thought. If any writer of verse possessed the deep poetic heart, it was certainly Roden Noel.”

Roden Noel is now one of ‘the forgotten’, perhaps even more so than Buchanan, but in 1998 he was the subject of a book, The Victorian Poet Roden Noel: A Wide Angle - Letters, Pictures, Poems, written by Desmond Heath. Rather than being some dry, academic monograph, the book is more of an eclectic family album - Mr. Heath is married to Roden Noel’s great-grandaughter. Several letters from Buchanan are included in the book and when I contacted Mr. Heath I was extremely grateful when he offered to let me see the originals of these as well as a few others in his collection, and gave me permission to add them to the site.

An article by Desmond Heath from the Paragon Review, Issue 7 (Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull) is available online and serves as an introduction to Roden Noel: A Wide Angle. And the Internet Archive has the following works by Roden Noel available for download in a variety of formats:

Essays on Poetry and Poets (1886) (the essay on Robert Buchanan is also available on this site)
Thomas Otway: with an introduction and notes by Roden Noel (1888)
Life of Lord Byron (1890)
My Sea & other poems (1896)

As well as the complete letters and three fragments from Desmond Heath, I have added a couple of other mentions of Buchanan from other letters in Roden Noel: A Wide Angle and the extracts from letters to Roden Noel included in Harriett Jay’s biography.

 

1. Letters

 

Letter 1: 6th June [1865].

Belle Hill,
near Hastings
June 6th.

My dear Sir,

                   Your letter has been forwarded to me by Maxim & Co.—but only this morning;—so that I have had no time to write to you sooner.
         Your invitation is very kindly—& flattering; and its evident sincerity could be associated with & productive of nothing but the best understanding. Yet you see, we are further apart than you knew at the time of writing. I seldom or never visit London—now that I can afford to walk in the country sunshine. It is more than possible nevertheless, that I may visit town in the course of a week or so, & I might be able to run down & shake hands with you. And it is still more likely that you may be passing in this direction during the summer. So that, on the two counts, we stand a good chance of meeting.
         Once more accept my thanks for your invitation, and believe me,

                   Faithfully yours,
                   Robert Buchanan.

The Hon. Roden Noel.

 

[This first letter was not included in the package sent by Desmond Heath and this transcript is taken from his book, Roden Noel: A Wide Angle. The note accompanying the letter reads: “No year on letter, but presumably this is one of the earliest, if not the first, of those between them.”
In Chapter XI of Harriett Jay’s biography of Buchanan, she places their first meeting in 1865:
“Another and a deeper friendship also dates from this time, for it was in the summer of 1865 that the subject of these memoirs made the acquaintance of the Hon. Roden Noel, for whom, all his life, he entertained feelings of deep affection. At the time of which I write Mr. Noel was staying at Hastings with his father, the late Earl of Gainsborough, and he walked over one fine day and sent in his card while the Bohemians were at dinner. In those days Robert Buchanan was Radical to the finger-tips, and the prefix “honourable” on the young patrician’s card awoke a strong prejudice within him, but no sooner had he come face to face with his visitor, and shaken his hand, and looked into his eyes, than he was spellbound with the thrill of love which began that day between them and lasted till the day Mr. Noel died.”]

_____

 

Letter 2: 16th June 1866.

Bexhill
June 16th 1866

Dear Noel,

                   I have only just heard of your father’s death, & hasten to assure you of my sympathy. What can I say but that? The rest is between God & you.

                   Always yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hon. Roden Noel.

 

[Noel’s father, Sir Charles-Noel Noel, Earl of Gainsborough, died June 10, 1866.]

_____

 

Letter 3: 3rd June [1869].

7 Ashton Terrace
Gourock
         N. B.
June 3rd

My dear old Boy,

                   I made your waterproof into a parcel, & left it with my Landlady, she strictly promising to forward it at once by Parcels delivery. Surely it has reached you ere thus. Tell me!
         Curse the cash!—& bless you for it over & over! You are the best gold. I think there is going to be a brightening shortly, & you’ll at any rate soon see some of my money. What a debt I owe you!—pounds of affection!
         I should certainly say to Macmillan—square up at once. There need be no delicacy, as he made you pay down, —and you have given ample time. It will be quite comme il faut.
         Do tell me more about Scotland? Shall I look after some snuggery abt Oban?—for Mamma & yourself? I have been to see my Cottage, & altho’ it’s ’umble & deficient, I think it may do. I have written to the Owner, insisting on several alterations before I settle. Nous verrons!
         All kindest wishes to your Wife. She will be sorry to hear that Mary is down—ill—with internal inflammation. On Sunday she was in real danger. She is now better and the Doctor hopes for a slow but permanent cure—for the assurance of which she is ordered to keep her bed for weeks. Perhaps Mrs Roden will write to her, and prattle the kind talk that women love!—For yourself, you owe me a letter indeed, after this “leading article.”—All good things be with you is the constant wish of

                   Yours ever affectionately,
                   Robert.

 

[Desmond Heath has the following note regarding the year of this letter: “Again no year, but somewhat later! - (’69, judging by the remark about the oilskin in the letter after this).” The next two letters have neither addresses nor dates so I presume the information given in Roden Noel: A Wide Angle is taken from the postmarks on the original envelopes. The one envelope included in the package of letters is postmarked Oban on the front and, one day later, Greenock on the back, which doesn’t help. Buchanan’s mention of seeing his ‘Cottage’ refers to the house in Oban where he settled for some time, but, I would suggest that the next two letters are also from Gourock (just down the coast from Greenock).

Desmond Heath also has the following note attached to this letter: “It appears this was not the only occasion upon which R. B. resorted to borrowing money - in 1871 Tennyson responded to a letter with a gift of £200 !” ]

_____

 

Letter 4: [25th June 1869 - Greenock].

Dear Roden,

                   Come to the Highlands by all means; and after seeing Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, the Trossachs, Stirling &c. (which will only take 2 or three days) sail on to Oban,—put up in the Kings Arms there,—and I will see you. Expenses for one person should not exceed £1 per diem, inclusive of everything; you may do it, of course, for much less. When you have quite decided on coming, I will sketch you out a Tour, which will include all beautiful things in the West. But you should purchase Black’s Guide. It is invaluable and must be bought sooner or later.
         Did you get the Oilskin?
         I quite agree with Tyndall about you. There were several ugly metaphysical blotches in the book—ie. passages which fell short of poetry & tumbled into what you would call “philosophy”—sufficiently accurate generalizations, without genius. I am sure you dont know your danger in this & other literary matters. You are, for example, cultivating catholicity at the expense of art—which is limitation.—But I have no right to lecture you. You will grow by your own lights. I have been looking at the book again, & always with fresh pleasure. It is full of beauty,—most enjoyable.
         The Shadow at last!—Ha ha! Dont show your head for a year after reading it! I fancy I hear your howl of  anguish!

                   Ever yours
                   R. B.

 

[The book referred to is Roden Noel’s Beatrice, and other Poems published in 1868. The last line of the letter (omitted in Desmond Heath’s book) possibly refers to Buchanan’s poem, ‘The Shadow’, from The Book of Orm.)

_____

 

Letter 5: [21st July 1869 - Greenock].

My dear Roden,

                   A million congratulations on the birth of an heir! After all, he will have something—which is more than I shall ever say of any beggar’s issue of mine. All joy with you & yours!
         I’ve been headsore—very, but am trying ice again. Shall you come to Scotland? I long very much for a pipe & a chat with you! Come,—like a dear! The weather is cerulean.
         What are you doing—writing—thinking? You’ve seen Schneider, of course—a treat I envy you. But you Swinburnians lollipop yourselves too much. We slow Philistinish coaches mean to win the race after all.
         Love to all. Write to

                   Yours ever affectionately
                   Robert.

 

[This refers to the birth of Conrad Noel on 12th. July 1869. Desmond Heath attaches the following note regarding the comment about Swinburne to this letter: “B. was either ignorant of his feelings, or R. was not so anti-Swinburne in his younger days!” ]

_____

 

Letter 6: 16th October 1869.

Soroba
Oct 16th 1869

My dear Roden,

                   Better a bit, thank God, tho’ still far from well. That’s the first news, & by far the most important—to me. Secondly, I dont know to what new work of mine you can allude? Tell me, please, its name. The Travels are not suspended. They—and Orm—and Ballads of Life—are just abt ready.
         I have made great friends here with Petherick the African traveller, who has a shooting close by. He is a jolly fellow & good companion—not literary—but full of experience & “Savoir vivre”. I told him your account of North Devon, & we are both envying you. This is rather a relaxing place, & hence (I fancy) cure of my bad health.
         Please, please, please, send me a proof (or M.S.) of the Fraser poem. Is it Palingenesis? I often look over your book—always with fresh pleasure—& I feel confident it will keep its place.
         You dont know how I long to see you. A day or two with you is indeed something in prospect. I must come to London soon on business. Where shall you be?
         There has been snow here & I feel quite exhilirated—so much so that I this morning wrote an Orm poem “the Lamb of God.”—God bless & keep you my dear boy!—& with best love to wife & babes from both believe me

                   Your ever affectionate
                   Robert.

         Have you noticed all this fish-gut & hen-dung stuff scattered on Byron’s grave,—and how even the hermaphrodital Hutton has brought his basket of delicate offal—What is God about, that he lets the British nation convert one of its noblest tombs into a privy,—where every little virtuous monkey may squat.

_____________________
| For Whitman, either
| Cornhill or Macmillan,
| but if very elaborate
| the North British. I
| should like sincerely to
| see the paper.

_____

 

Letter 7: 1st August 1871.

Soroba
Oban
         N. B.
Augt 1st 1871

My dear Roden,

                   You were right enough in all you said abt the Session of Poets, but the jeu d’esprit was hardly worth criticism. The words abt Arnold were ungentlemanly, &, I daresay, would have been altered; but I do not propose publishing the piece—or indeed the volume of which it formed part—just at present.
         Whatever Ruskin may say on any conceivable subject is to me a matter of such supreme indifference that the only wonder to me is that any intelligent thinker can quote the words of such a foolish gibbering person. Ruskin never had any insight, tho’ he got the glimpse of an artistic truth by inverting the classicism of Lessing; and people are at last beginning to perceive his extreme shallowness & affectation.
         I do not plead guilty to any wanton desire to make enemies. If you will examine my motives for any personal attack, you will find they are invariably moral & in a sense sacred. I have never yet attacked any man on merely literary grounds.
         How are you keeping? You mustn’t blame poor Strahan, who has been in America some time, & was there when you were writing to him. He is a true man, tho’ a careless correspondent, and would readily prove your friend. Shall I press him abt your book on his return? We expect him here for a few days; & he may turn up any moment.
         In your bustle & fever of seeing many people, & the eagerness of your very keen ambition, I can hardly expect you to be quite fair either to the work or the literary motives of a reserved man like myself—misunderstood & in reality unpopular. I could not live in the constant discussion of mere literary subjects, and I warn you against such discussion with all the affection & interest of

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hon. Roden Noel.

_____

 

Letter 8: 5th June 1872.

Yacht “Ariel”
Tobermory
         N. B.
June 5. 1872

Dear Roden,

                   Thanks for your letter. You will I know defend me from calumny, but as to broaching my little secret, tis not worth while. I set no value whatever on the good opinion of the men you allude to. Myers, par example, is a type of being I sicken from—& at.
         Your Berkeley is masterly. I am not a metaphysical person, but I fancy I can tell a good argument when I see it; and I am full of admiration both at thought & style. If I were better I would say more; but I am still very very shaky. Spencer’s paper is fine in its way too, but there is a nobler intellectual heat in yours.
         I cant understand Strahans. Write—or see them—instantly.—Write as before to Soroba, Oban.

                   Your affectionate friend
                   R. Buchanan.

Hon. Roden Noel.

_____

 

Letter 9: 5th November 1873.

Rossport
Belmullet
County Mayo
Ireland
Nov. 5. 1873

My dear Roden,

                   Why doesn’t Mrs Noel write to Mrs B? I looked for news of you long ago. As for myself, I have been too self-involved & worried for correspondence with any one, even you. My work this year has been nil, & my pecuniary troubles distracting. Happy man! gifted with plenty & total literary ease!—Money matters are bad enough when one is well, but when one is ill—ah!
         I often wonder what you are doing & thinking. I have read your first paper on “Byron”, but can make little of it in the shape of a personal credo; it has fine passages, but I miss its drift. And surely you cant affiliate Heine on Byron with any show of reason?.. I have been looking for your Contemporary article. Why has it not appeared?
         By the way, did Symonds review my Roses as you said he would? I have been reading his “Greek Poets”: an edifying book; but surely the sympathetic passages are in high falsetto?
         This is a wild place, breeding wild moods. There is nothing but dead waste, squalor, & the Ocean—all one sombre tint of gray. But I am happier here than in England. The mallard prefers his fen to a light green hill, the wild goose his bog to a field of turnips or mangold wurzel.
         Farewell!—& write, if (to quote Mrs Gamp) “you are so dispoged.”

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hon. Roden Noel.

         Are you writing any poetry?

_____

 

2. Fragments

There were three ‘fragments’ of letters included in the package. I have added notes to these regarding my own speculations as to their origins.

 

Fragment 1:

or three—male or female?

——————————

         I know you’ll want a word more abt the Book, but it must still be very brief. “Beatrice” pleases me better on a new reading, only the story is to me unsatisfactory. It contains some first rate things. The lyrics that follow are some of them perfect. The descriptive pieces—“Summer Clouds &c.”—I like as much as ever; they are full of subtilty & fine touch. “Palmyra” is faultless. But the gem of the book, so far as I have read, is “Pan”. I have read it again & again with simple wonder, & can conceive nothing finer. The second paragraph—the seventh ditto—the lines commencing “one  self-same Spirit”—& the superb line,
                   The motion travels, & the wave subsides,—
are not to be forgotten. “Mencheres” I’m only just beginning, & many other pieces remain to be studied.—(You’ll see my printed opinion soon,—but I am getting frightened abt the “Athenæum”, tho’ I’ve applied for the book.)
         Altogether, I can honourably assure you that, had I known nothing of you at all, many of the poems in your volume would satisfy my mind as little modern poetry has been able to satisfy it. I have really enjoyed it,—I, a bigot. And I ought to observe that you have nearly or quite got over your early faults of style. Setting aside a certain tendency to over-load your pictures, you need no correction in Art. Your blank verse is stately, rhythmical & limpid—especially “Pan.”—I ought to add that I dislike the “Confession” & dont much like “Blind & Deaf.”—So far I class you as a fine descriptive & philosophical poet, with an unmistakeable gift of colour; and as such, I think you have the power to achieve greatness. In brief, my soaring Spirit, make these your limitations!
         Of one thing be convinced—you are a Poet. Never mind about rank as such, but glory up to your ears that you are suffered to sit by the side of such demigods as myself, Shakspere, & Tupper.

                   Yours affectionately
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hon. Roden Noel.

         I am burning, burning, for the London platform! & trembling at every delay!—Write, write!

 

[Note: Buchanan’s review of Roden Noel’s Beatrice, and other Poems appeared in the Athenæum on 13th March,  1869 (Issue 2159, p. 368-369), so this fragment would have been written prior to that date and presumably also predates Letter No. 4. A literal interpretation of the postscript would suggest that Buchanan is referring to the Public Reading he gave in London in January 1869, which would indicate that this fragment was written in late 1868 when he was living in Gourock.]

_____

 

Fragment 2:

in August. The climate would just suit you & the scenery delight you both. I could get you a little place very cheap, & you could run down from London at a trifling expense. Think of it!—What do you propose doing for the winter? Would you go south to Capri or Rome?
         Tell me abt your new Book—all about it. Is it poetry or prose? What is it about?
         I have just been reading Rossetti & Morris this for the first time. Rossetti is justly described by the North American Review as “a poetical man”; he has the instrumental without the shaping capacity; and his nature seems very poor & thin. Morris, I fancy, mistakes his vocation entirely when he writes in verse; his shallow stories & false style will not bear the poetical test; best if he had told the same tales in prose, something in the manner of his “Grettir”, he would have produced a book that would have lived. A more barren week I never spent than when reading these men. I am not flattering you, believe me, when I say that there is more absolute poetry in your “Palingenesis”, “Pan”, & “Ganymede” than in all these two have written: more, I mean, that comes upon one with the freshness & newness of insight. I have no sure belief in any really vital

 

[Note: Chapter XVI of the Jay biography opens as follows:
     “It was in the summer of 1870, when he was still living at Oban, that Mr. Buchanan read the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which had been received with much praise by the entire newspaper press, to the accompaniment of rapturous salvoes from the writer’s friends and personal admirers.”
However, in the ‘Fleshly School’ pamphlet, Buchanan opens Chapter V with:
I had written thus far of Mr. Rossetti’s poems, just after reading them for the first time when cruising among the Western Isles of Scotland in the summer of 1871”.
The review of Rossetti’s Poems appeared in the October, 1870 issue of The North American Review, which would favour Buchanan’s version and date it sometime in 1871.]

_____

 

Fragment 3:

         If any word or act of mine could make you happier, either as regards literary recognition or truer fame, be sure they should not fail. I never forget your tenacity of friendship & your many marks of tenderness; & I am very grateful for so generous a “soul-fellow,” to use poor David Gray’s expression. I shall be very glad to see some of your new poems, & to give you my opinion abt them.
         Our kindest love to you both—& to both the bairns.

                   R. B.

[Note: In Desmond Heath’s book, this fragment is assigned the address and date of Letter No. 8 - the one from the Yacht, “Ariel” - and the rest of that letter is not included. However, looking at the originals, this page does not match the envelope folds in the “Ariel” letter and it is on slightly larger paper. Going by paper size and folds, the best match is Letter No. 7 (1st August, 1871 from Oban) - which is not included in the book. There are other factors which would indicate this is a postscript to that letter (which does end at the bottom of a page), including the style of handwriting, the fading of the ink, and the subject matter.]

_____

 

3. Two mentions of Buchanan in Roden Noel: A Wide Angle

 

Page 178

Letter from John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) to Roden Noel
(source: Bodleian Library, Oxford - p.178):

Davos Platz,
Switzerland.
Sept. 14, 1891.

“..... Of Buchanan I have seen nothing for a long time. I cannot understand why he is so little appreciated, in proportion to his merits. When I reflect upon this & similar problems, I seem to feel that the world in art is undergoing a slow transfiguration of sensibility - and that men like R.B. are neglected because they belong to the spirit of the tempus actum (not in thought but) in expression.”

_____

 

Page 238

Letter from Roden Noel to his sister-in-law, Pauline de Broë, re the move to Kew (p.238):

Kew Green,
Kew,
         S.W.
Oct, 21. 1868

“..... The Buchanans are expected by us, but of course have not turned up - yet, tho’ they said they would come.”

_____

 

4. Letters to Roden Noel from Robert Buchanan by Harriett Jay

 

1. From Chapter XV: Readings, 1868-69:

Loch Slighan
Isle of Skye
August, 1868.

Dear Noel,

                   You will think me a beast for my silence, and indeed I reproach myself daily for my neglect of you and other dear friends. I cannot, however, help being a bad correspondent; and moreover each letter is so much taken from my scant literary hours. Were I to write to you as often as I think of you, and as kindly, you would be sick—with sugar.
         We have had a long wander, roughing it a good deal both literally and figuratively, and we have drunk much wonder by eye and ear. The little craft we sail in has behaved bravely and gone through her work like a lady of the old Norwegian school—with a fierce grace. I have thought much and written little, eat little and walked much. I don’t know that I am much the better in health for this cruise—the cuisine has been a little too bad; but I shall enjoy civilisation better when I next enter an eating-house.
         How goes your book? You never told me what Chapman said, or how he said it; and you never sent me that Heroditan romance, of course. My horrid bigotry revolts you. Well! you will think my views larger some day, when I have had my full say. Meantime I am merely mumbling an odd music with little meaning to the foreign. That I do not love all you love, that I do not see all you see, that I do not hope all you hope are misfortunes; but with a little clearer light, some day, we shall find we agree better than we think. I am doubtless silly and fantastical when your Arnolds and your Swinburnes, even your Tennysons, do not anyway move me, any more than my crude stuff moves them. I really do believe it is some vice in myself; yet were you to know me alone, when I have been reading of Sancho’s government, or of the Miltonic epos, or of poor Jack Falstaff’s death—of these and a thousand other beloved things—you would know I could love something, much. It is my vice that I must love a thing wholly, or dislike it wholly. Of contemporaries, I love only a few wholly. You see I have only been half educated, and my tastes are very raw.
         But one thing let me confess—my total obtusity about Clough. I have not read a line of him since, yet all at once the light has grown on me of its own accord, and I see that Clough was a star—not one in the same heaven with my Chaucer and my Shakespeare, and my Burns and my Cervantes—but a pure scholastic light, real and everlasting.
         I don’t know what will come next, but I shall try to get to London for a month soon, when I hope to get a little more of your company. I have great bothers of course, and am still troubled; but the clouds clear. I was shipwrecked in the night, but I swam for shore, and am looking out for another ship. Where will you be in October? Write to

                   Yours always,
                   Robert Buchanan.

_____

 

2. From Chapter XVII - Life In Ireland:

Malvern
[1873]

It is awfully dull and damnably dear, in fact a perfect catarrh of cash. . . . I got a lighter heart directly I had seen Reynolds and Gulley, and they to some extent dissipated my greatest dread.

*

Rossport
Ireland

I simply cannot work in Town, but directly I get here, though I take twice the exercise, and am out thrice the time, I do twice or thrice the work. I never felt one tithe of the literary power I feel now, and the results will make or mar me. So much for Oxygen. Not that I feel quite the thing—I never do that, and I suppose few do.

_____

 

3. From Chapter XXII - The Death of His Wife:

Southend
November 1881

Dear Roden,

                   We have arranged for the funeral to be on Sunday at one o’clock. A train reaches here at 12.10, leaving Fenchurch Street at 10.35. I do hope this will suit you somehow. I am so anxious for her sake. It is asking much and putting you to sad inconvenience, I fear; but it is the last time you can ever prove your kindness to her.
         And Alice? Of course if the weather is bad she would not go with us—Mary would be the last to have wished it. But to see her here will be a comfort, knowing their faithful affection for each other.
         God bless you for your kind words. I see it all as you see it, but ah! so darkly. If this parting is only for a time, I see its blessedness—but if, as I dread and fear, it is a parting forever, what then? Ah, God, what then?
         With love and thanks to you both.

                   Ever your friend,
                   R. B.

         She looks so beautiful in her coffin. I feel as if she were my child too, child and wife; for she had a child’s angelic disposition.

*

1894

Dear Roden,

                   With regard to this question of Christianity, I really do think that you are (unconsciously of course) disingenuous—in other words, you are trying to cling on to a Notion which your better reason combats. I can’t take all the points you raise, though I understand them all by sad experience; but I will comment on one or two. You say that as I personally am God, or of God, I should accept Christ’s sonship. I do not accept it, because God within me points out that it was fraught with miraculous pretension. To my mind, Christ did not experience the ordinary sufferings of men, if he assumed to be more than man. In other words, his Divine claim quite destroys his power of suffering or sacrifice. Then again, though I am entirely with you in preferring anthropomorphism to pantheism and can conceive a heavenly Fatherhood, I can’t reconcile a Father who is omnipotent with a Father who is cruel and tyrannical. If God is my Father, I claim the right to survey his conduct to me and others, and I often feel, as Mill felt, that the only way to excuse Him is to assume that his power is limited by a greater Power behind him. I cannot respect a process of schooling which postulates endless pain. I have seen my wife die in slow agony of cancer, and I find no mercy there. I find, moreover, that I myself, after years of harsh schooling and suffering, am not a whit better than when I was a happy boy—or rather an unhappy one. Men may grow cleverer, but they seldom or never grow better. I am considerably sceptical, therefore, about human progress upward.
         ‘Christ, Buddha, Gordon’—children of God! Then equally so all other good fellows, all loving spirits. That thought doesn’t help to make me a Christian. In the sense you mean all are mediators, so why select one for special honour? You say, ‘Because He was the best and highest.’ Not to me. There is some ground for believing that he loved men for their own sakes less than Buddha. Moreover, his claim to moral supremacy is, to me, the very proof of his flawed humanity. At all events He has delayed the world’s happiness for eighteen hundred years.
         Finally, I hate the common cant of ‘loving God.’ It is a form of gross egoism, and means ‘I love myself and my own feelings and opinions.’ Anthropomorphically I cannot ‘love’ a Father whom I distrust, and when my brethren assure me that everything is right because it is, my reason revolts, and the God within me says, ‘accept nothing on such grounds, and distrust any Mediator who offers you any absolute solution of a World riddle.

                   Yours always,
                   R. B.

         It all amounts to this: a creed should be judged by its practical results, and Christianity has deluged the world with innocent blood purely owing to its loose terminology. Our talk began on this very ground—the looseness of religious definitions. Better to be a pure materialist or an atheist than a nebulous Christian. All the good in Christianity is summed up in the words ‘Love one another;’ all that is evil in such nebulosities as ‘Give Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar,’ &c., i.e., respect the status quô here, and look for results yonder. Scientific religion, on the other hand, says: ‘Clean this world and make it habitable, widen the area of health and joy, prove your love by acts of love, and change the status quô whenever it conflicts with human happiness.’ And it adds, ‘The other world, if it exists, can take care of itself; your plain duty is to make this world beautiful if you can.’

                   R. B.

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4. From Chapter XXIII - “The City of Dream”:

Hamlet Court,
Southend

I spend the time between this and London—without the stage I think I should go melancholy mad. It is not only a source of profit but of recreation, as I produce and stage-manage my own dramas in every detail. I think moreover there is moral gain in rubbing shoulders with non-literary people. Perhaps I can persuade you to spend a few days here. There is no lovelier spot when the spring becomes a certainty. Just now I am doing the influenza, and your letter comes with sweet refreshment and memory of old times.
...
The public don’t want poetry—they want pretty verses, short snatches, lyrics got ’twixt sleeping and waking. Just now indeed folk seem to read little beyond shilling dreadfuls and penny papers. Literature will soon be a lost art.

___

 

And finally, for no real reason apart from the fact that it came to the surface while googling for information about Roden Noel, here’s a photo of 9, St. Aubyns, Brighton:

staubyn

Although Roden Noel died in Mainz, Germany on 26th May, 1894, he spent his final years in Brighton, and according to a letter sent to Walt Whitman in 1891, he lived at this address. Also, Virginia Woolf spent several summers as a child in the same house. Whether Buchanan ever rang the doorbell is not known, but it seems highly likely.

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