ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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ROBERT BUCHANAN’S LETTERS TO GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

 

These thirteen surviving letters from Robert Buchanan to George Bernard Shaw are in the collection of the British Library (Add MS 50529 G. B. SHAW PAPERS: SERIES 1. Vol. XXII (ff. 212) ff. 179-212). Shaw’s letters to Buchanan have not survived, but Buchanan did publish an extract from one in his pamphlet, Is Barabbas a Necessity? A discourse on publishers and publishing, a copy of which, from Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1874 - 1897 edited by Dan H. Laurence (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1965) I have also included on this page. That collection also includes this note on page 315:

     ‘Buchanan, who addressed Shaw variously as “Jehovah Junr” and “Dear Timon,” was also addicted to open letters, and later published two of these (“The Jester as Moral Pioneer” and “The ‘Translation’ of Bottom the Realist”) on Shaw in the Sunday Special (3rd and 24th April 1898).’

Unfortunately I don’t have either of these items (the archives of the Sunday Special are not available online) but in the Letters to the Press section, there are two exchanges between Buchanan and Shaw on the subject of Ibsen in the pages of the Pall Mall Gazette from June 1889 and January 1891.

I should also point out that Christopher D. Murray, in his unpublished PhD thesis, ‘Robert Buchanan (1841-1901) : An assessment of his career’, does discuss Buchanan’s letters to Shaw on several occasions.

_____

 

Letter 1: 26th October [1891].

25 Maresfield Gardens
South Hampstead
                   N.W.
Oct 26.

Dear Sir,

                   I’m not an Ibsenite, but a ‘critic with a wooden head’. I feel impelled, nevertheless, to tell you how much pleasure I’ve received from your Quintessence—which I look upon as a quite masterly statement of the case for the Defence. The only review I’ve seen describes your book as mystifying & intended to mystify. Nothing, I think, can be more untrue. It is strong, simple, & clear as crystal.
         It is curious that I agree with you so much & yet so little; for it is you, as well as nous autres, who are idealizing—only yours is the idealism of the pessimist, ours that of the optimist.
         Pardon me sending you this line. I shall, opportunity offering, say something in print about your book, and for what I do say I shall want still more pardoning. All I wish to express now is an impression of great interest in as fine a piece of polemical writing as I have read for many a day.
         With all good wishes,

                   Yours truly
                   Robert Buchanan.

Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Year [1891] added by another hand.
‘with’ crossed out and ‘as well as’ inserted above, before ‘nous autres’.

Envelope:
The original address, “Bernard Shaw Esq c/o Walter Scott, Publisher, 24 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Road E.C.” has been struck through and  ’29 Fitzroy Sq, W” substituted. “Please forward.” written by Buchanan is in the top left hand corner. Buchanan’s initials are in the bottom left corner.
The following notes are written (presumably by Shaw) at a 90 degree angle:

1891

Robert Buchanan

26 Oct.

     Introducing himself as a
dissenting admirer of the Quintessence.”

Notes:
Buchanan’s description of himself as a ‘critic with a wooden head’ originates in an exchange of letters in the Pall Mall Gazette in June 1889 on the subject of Ibsen.
Shaw’s The Quintessence of Ibsenism was published by Walter Scott Ltd. in September 1891. It is available at the Internet Archive.]

_____

 

Letter 2: 27th October [1891].

‘Merkland’
25 Maresfield Gardens
South Hampstead
Oct 27.

Dear Sir,

                   Your note increases the interest first awakened by your book; for it is another illustration of the truth that mere dogmas (and your book bustles with them) seldom explain human character. I quite realize that your practical experience of men is larger than mine, and that you are a ‘Meliorist’ in the sense you mean. I never, with your book before me, thought you a Pessimist of the Schopenhauer stye. What I meant was that you took an exaggerated view of social evils, were unjust to the good side of conventions established for general convenience, and harped too strongly and too aggressively on the old string of Self. You seem to me, indeed, despite all your claims to the character of Realist (using your own definition of the words) a thorough-going Idealist, dreaming of a state of affairs which never has been & never will be. And the kind of Art you admire is (still using your definition) outrageously idealistic, even to the extent of losing all touch of life. Ibsen’s people seem to me moral Phantoms,—hypocondriacs of the Ideal, searching their own secretions (as the old priests searched the entrails) for signs & portents. The results, to my mind, is universal ugliness, the very negation of the law of Art, which is Beauty. The very writing is devoid of both grace & charm. The joy of life has gone out of these creatures, as surely as it has gone out of the dwellers among arid orthodox creeds.
         Self-sacrifice is not a formula, nor is chivalry, and when all is said & done, there is such a thing as poetic justice. I understand what you mean by classing these things as mere idealisms of the head; but I believe they are something more—discoveries verified by the experience of Humanity, & sanctioned by the human heart. Don Quixote does more than fight Windmills—he radiates Love & Humour, & so saves the world by his very self-failure. Not an atom of his loving will is lost or wasted.
         And finally, my dear sir, you are playing Don Quixote, despite all your sanity. More power to your elbow! Good & true enthusiasts must always succeed, even when they must fail; for they are the salt of the earth, & keep it from putrescence.

                   Robert Buchanan.

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Year [1891] added by another hand.
‘the Schopenhauer stye’ is presumably ‘style’.
An unreadable word is crossed out before ‘were unjust’.
‘Ibsen’s people seem to me’ -  ‘me’ has been written over ‘be’.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

1891

Robert Buchanan

29 Oct.

     In reply to my reply
to his first letter.” ]

_____

 

Letter 3: 2nd March, 1892.

25 Maresfield Gardens
South Hampstead
March 2, 1892

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   I should very much like to read your article on your own novels, if you will send me a copy, as you kindly propose. It has always seemed to me that a man should be his own critic: he is certain, however great his vanity, to show himself unconsciously in puris naturalibus.
         “For Blougram, he believed (say) half he said.” In dealing with a writer of your temperament, one has to read very much between the lines. Your daily life & work is an absolute refutation of your own statement that you hate “charity” & philanthropy” & such things, for your whole practical labour seems to me both charitable & philanthropic, & I think your happiness comes to you that way—as it should. Surely, also, what shocks you in life, & makes you often think of leaving it, is not its poverty & suffering, but its animalism, its arrogance of health? ‘Well-fed’, ‘well-clothed,’ ‘comfortable’ people are for the most part detestable, and if you could sanitize & meliorize all physical states right off the reel, the world would be, worse, not better. I never feel so completely a brute as when my digestion is perfect and my mind at ease. Materialism, pessimism, egotism, & every damnable ‘ism’, are the products not (as is generally conceived) of miserable bodily conditions, but of grossly functional ones—the popular mens sana in corpore sano. The healthiest & most vigorous folk are the Jews, and they are the least progressive. In saying this, I am not suggesting that bodily health is objectionable in itself, but that it is often opposed to those higher instincts which we call aberrations but which may be in reality flashes from the divine Unconscious underlying all sensational existence—defects apparently. but really movements of growth.
         What you say about the French paper is very amusing. Personally, I have never been a Puritan, & when long ago I attacked the so-called Fleshly writers, it was on the ground that they pictured, not human carnality, but that of cats on the housetops. They retaliated by classing me with the upholders of ‘common or garden’ Morality, & hence many tears. I am, in fact, as out and out a Realist as yourself, in the sense that I never uphold any sentiment which experience cannot verify. But I do not find my real & absolute self in such phenomena as some of you Socialists assume to be realities, & so I continue to believe in all the gods, & to think Apollo & Jesus far more actual than this carcase, or bread & butter.
         But there, I haven’t conveyed my meaning, & to do so is impossible in a letter. I can only add that I love all revolters (for the very same reason that I love the gods—i.e. their revolt against the supremacy of “Nature”) & that this love draws me towards that opposite point of the compass where dwells the redoubtable Bernard Shaw.

                   Truly yours
                   Robert Buchanan

Bernard Shaw

 

[’the world would be, worse, not better.’ A word has been crossed out, then, possibly overwritten with ‘worse’, which is then repeated. A word is also crossed out before ‘better’, and ‘not’ inserted above.
‘those higher instincts’ ‘higher’ is inserted between ‘those’ and ‘instincts’.]

_____

 

Letter 4: 8th June, 1895.

24 Margaret Street
Cavendish Sq
                   W.
June 8, 1895

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   In a story about to be pubd by Fisher Unwin, I have made a sort of fancy sketch of a person called G. B. Shaw. When I tell you that I am rather in love with the character, you’ll infer that ’tis no unkind caricature; but ’tis done like a child’s drawing ‘out of my own head’, since I have no personal knowledge of you & have only built up the creature as I conceive him. I shall be very curious to know what you think of him. Only in one thing does he differ from my conception of you—there is never the least mistake about what he says & means.
         I shall send you a copy of the tale, of course, and I hope you will forgive me my want of vraisemblance in the picture.
         I ought to explain, though, that the character has a fictitious name. My first paragraph might lead you to infer that I had had the impertinence to name you personally.

                   Truly yours
                   Robert Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

I send this c/o The Saturday Review, as I have mislaid your address.  Your contributions to that venerable publication seem like a live man’s voice sounding in a sepulchre. How did you wander there? and dont you feel shadowed with the clammy presence of the dead criticasters?

 

[In the upper left corner, a date ‘2/7/95’ is written diagonally with what looks like shorthand marks beneath - whether this is Shaw’s notation or a library mark, I have no idea.
Something is crossed out before ‘Cavendish Sq’.
‘’tis no unkind caricature’ ‘unkind’ is inserted between ‘no’ and ‘caricature’.
‘I had had the impertinence’ second ‘had’ inserted between ‘had’ and ‘the’.
‘clammy presence’ a word is crossed out after ‘clammy’ and ‘presence’ is written above.]

_____

 

Letter 5: 3rd July [1895].

24 Margaret Street
Cavendish Sq.
                   W.
July 3.

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   I was a little premature in writing to you. I thought the book was coming out at once, for ’tis months since I revised the proofs, & behold, ’tis not yet pubd. However, I expect it very soon.
         After all, perhaps, it was needless to draw your attention to the character, which is merely and wholly imaginative, tho’ it uses a few of your stock phrases. In my youth, I had intimate acquaintance with Socialists of all kinds, my dear father being one of them and my beloved mother (whom I lost last year, losing with her the better half of my own heart & soul) the daughter of another. But I have ceased to believe in Progress & social developement, & I dont care a damn for Demos, now. Life altogether seems a sorry business, if what we know & see is the beginning & end of knowledge. I would rather have the dingiest of my old gods than all your precious progressionists & saviours of Society.
         You shall have the book directly it is out.
         With all good wishes

                   Yours truly
                   Robert Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Year [1895] added by another hand.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

“1895

Robert Buchanan

3 July.

Book delayed.
Has ceased to believe in
Progress & Social Development.
Doesn’t care a damn for Demos.” ]

_____

 

Letter 6: 8th September 1895.

24 Margaret St
Cavendish Sq
                   W
Sept 8, 1895

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   On returning from Scotland this morning, I find your criticism on Nordau, which is full of wit and wisdom like all you write. I haven’t read Degeneration, for I am familiar with the kind of mind which created it. You touch the quick of the whole matter, when you suggest that all wars, literary or political, are really the fight of temperaments, not of reasons.
         I shall send you to-morrow an early copy of the tale I wrote to you abt. Please bear in mind that it is an early & private copy, & that the book will not be pubd till the 23rd. You will smile perhaps at my saying that ‘M. A. Short’ resembles yourself, but what I meant was that it was a sort of fancy sketch of what G. B. S. might be. The physical attributes you will overlook, for Ive really no notion of your personality & have only been ‘manufacturing’ a character. True or false, it touches me very much & I am pleased with you for inspiring it, however remotely.
         I need not say that I value your good opinion, as that of one of the few true men writing nowadays—so I shall send you also, to look through at your convenience, the sheets of a new poem which will be pubd shortly by

Robert Buchanan,
Author and Publisher.

This publishing for myself is a step I am taking with good reason, & it involves a challenge to the usual publishing Jonathan Wilds of Paternoster Row.
         You will of course regard these sheets, like the early copy of Diana’s Hunting, as ‘strictly confidential’. The few lines of Dedication faintly adumbrate the greatest sorrow of my life. Nothing, I know, can touch me further, this side of Silence. But as one more at peace (I hope) with Life as it is, or more hopeless of finding any solution to it in speculation, you, I hope, will not resent the constant, inevitable, haunting way in which my temperament turns to religion. All my life long I have been entertaining these wraiths, & indeed, the world seems deadly without them.
         With all kind wishes

                   Yours truly
                   Robert Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

         If ‘Arms & the Man’ is printed, I should like a copy. If pubd, you need only tell me by whom.

         P. S. Why I want you to look at the Devil’s Case is not because I want your opinion of it as literature, but because I should like to know if it impresses you as true or false as religion, or as a facet of religion. The book was finished some weeks before my great sorrow came, and I have kept it by me since. If I thought it was opposed in any way to the highest & holiest instincts of Humanity, to my fixed and unalterable faith in the spiritised future of myself as an individual, I would not publish it. I loathe nothing so much as base & brutal ribaldry on sacred subjects—by sacred I mean subjects touching on the essential truth underlying phenomena. That it will shock some good souls va sans dire, but will it shock any one who is deeply & honestly reverential, as I am? That is the question. And is the latter portion, where the Devil mourns over human sacrifice, mere sentiment, or something better? Most people I meet seem to think me a fool for taking this question so seriously. How does it strike you, from your point of view, different as it is from mine? You will see & understand that this is no literary question, but one concerning the key principle by which we think & live, & by which alone our existence may be justified.

                   B.

 

[‘the fight of temperaments, not of reasons.’ A word has been crossed out and ‘reasons’ written above.
‘any solution to it in speculation, you, I hope, will not resent the constant,’ ‘to’ inserted between ‘solution’ and ‘it’, ‘you’ inserted between ‘speculation’ and ‘I’, a word (‘you’) is crossed out before ‘will not’.
‘no literary question’ a word, possibly the start of ‘concern’, has been crossed out before ‘question’.

Envelope front:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.C.”
“By hand.” written in top left corner.
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
At a 90 degree angle Buchanan has written: “I have sent on the Parcel that has come.”
Shaw’s notes:

“1895

Robert Buchanan

10 Sept.

On the Nordau article.
Is sending the story “Diana’s Hunting” alluded to in
letter of 10 June.
Sending also proofsheets of “The Devil’s Case”, a poem.”

Envelope back:
Written by Buchanan:
Private.
Sept 10
. I herewith send the book & the proof-sheets together, by hand.
                   R. B.”

Note:
From ‘The Worthy Adversaries: Benjamin R. Tucker & G. Bernard Shaw’ by Shoshana Edwards:

     ‘In 1895, the Boston Transcript published an article attacking critics who praised frivolous dramatic inanities and condemned serious studies of contemporary social conditions. Undoubtedly the editors of the Transcript had in mind Max Nordau’s Entartung, later translated as Degeneracy, which had first been published in 1892.
     In this work, Nordau maintained that all modern art was pathological and degenerate. He regarded modern music, contemporary poetry and Impressionist painting all to be symptomatic of corruption and mental decay.
     Shaw was appalled by the book, but since none of the London editors seemed inclined to take issue with Nordau, he attempted to ignore the whole affair. It was Benjamin Tucker who persuaded Shaw to expose the absurdity of Nordau’s argument.
     Tucker “felt instinctively that Nordau was all wrong.” He believed that Shaw was “the only writer living who could cover the fine arts with enough knowledge of them to put his finger on all Nordau’s weak spots.” So he wrote to Shaw in 1895, asking him to determine “the highest price ever paid for an article in the history of journalism.” That price, whatever it might be, he offered Shaw for a review of Entartung.
     Shaw accepted the challenge, although he never charged a fee for his article. His analysis of Entartung appeared in Liberty on July 27, 1895. Entitled “A Degenerate's View of Nordau,” the article was as much a statement of Shaw’s critical and artistic beliefs as a refutation of Nordau and his followers.’

The essay was subsequently published as The Sanity of Art: An Exposure of the Current Nonsense about Artists being Degenerate. (London: The New Age Press, 1908).]

_____

 

Letter 7: 30th October [1895].

24 Margaret St
                   W
Oct 30

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   Thanks for the sheets, for your letter, & for your assurance that no one but yourself has seen the poem. Dont trouble yourself about the matter further! I was only curious to know how the statement struck your keenly logical intellect, quite apart from the question of literary criticism, which I begged you not to raise. Had you had time to tell me, I should have been much interested, as you, by temperament & education, view these things from a quite different standpoint. But why the deuce should I bother a busy man about a point of religion & philosophy? It was a betise on my part, I begin to think, for which I apologise.
         With all kind wishes

                   Yours truly
                   R. Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Year [1895] added by another hand.
Something (possibly ‘&’) is crossed out before ‘for your letter’.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.C.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:
Diagonally above address: “ans. 22/11/95.”

1895

Robert Buchanan

30 Oct.

     Acknowledging return of proofsheets of
Devil’s Case. Notes that I have
not given him the opinion he
asked me for.” ]

_____

 

[Shaw’s letters to Buchanan have not survived. However, Buchanan included an extract from one in his pamphlet, Is Barabbas a Necessity? A discourse on publishers and publishing, which is available on this site and the section dealing with Shaw’s letter can be found here. The extract was also published in Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1874 - 1897, with an explanatory note, and since some of the subsequent letters of Buchanan refer to this letter of Shaw’s, I have placed the extract and note here:

From Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1874 - 1897 edited by Dan H. Laurence (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1965) - p. 584-585.

To ROBERT BUCHANAN

[29 Fitzroy Square W]
[undated: late 1895]

[In March 1896 Buchanan issued a self-published pamphlet Is Barabbas a Necessity? which was a Byronic attack on publishers. In it he noted that he had received a letter from a “distinguished man of letters” to whom he had sent a proof copy, in 1895, of his long poem The Devil’s Case, “and whom I chose for that confidence because I knew him to be diametrically opposed, both in character and experience, to myself.” Buchanan did not divulge the writer’s name, but assured his readers that “he is a man well known for intellectual honesty and practical beneficence, a man for whom I have the very highest respect, short of sympathising in the least degree with his opinions. These are his words, and they are very remarkable words, coming as they do from an enthusiast in the cause of social progress.” Shaw confided to Henry Salt that the letter was intended to be merely by way of illustration in an argument that it is not the inevitable misfortunes, but the evitable ones, that are most distasteful in life. (See “Salt on Shaw,” revised by Shaw, in Stephen Winsten’s Salt and His Circle, 1951.) Buchanan published the extracts without authorisation, and later wrote a letter of apology to Shaw for having taken this liberty.
     Sir Hall Caine (1853-1931) was the author of several romantic novels, frequently with a religious theme, including The Manxman (1894), The Christian (1897), and The White Prophet (1909). Richard Claude Carton (1856-1928), actor (until 1885) and playwright, was the author of numerous popular comedies, including The Home Secretary (1895) and The Tree of Knowledge (1896).]

     I observe that you are superstitious, that you want “solutions,” that you are driven to pessimism by your failure to find them, and that you are highly susceptible to the fullness and oppression of heart caused by love and death to men of strong sentiment. The reason we get on together in our correspondence is because I am as much as possible the reverse of all this. I have lost my father and my sister, with whom I was on excellent terms; and I assure you their deaths disturbed me less than a misprint in an article. If my mother dies before me, I am quite sure that I shall not be moved by it as much as I was moved by your poem on the death of your mother. The inevitable does not touch me; it is the non-avoidance of the evitable, the neglect of the possible, the falling short of attainable efficiency, clearness, accuracy, and beauty, that set me raging. I really care deeply for nothing but fine work, and since nobody can help me in this, no less can greatly affect my self-sufficiency. . . . There is nothing anti-social in all this; quite the reverse. Usually this sort of thing is so terrifying and repulsive to men that they would rather believe that it is a mere affectation of mine to cover what they call “a good heart”—meaning the weaknesses (usually produced by whiskey, ore or less) which they would like to believe common to all the race. But in my heart of hearts I utterly despise all this sort of special pleading. When a man whimpers to me about Goethe’s coldness and selfishness, I pity him. . . . There! that’s the real Simon Pure, with all his goods in the shop window. You may recoil as much as you like, and protest that there is a heart of gold in the back parlour, like Hall Caine’s, or Carton’s, or poor old Thackeray’s; I only reply, do my work, if you can, with that sort of heart, made of gold that any cheesecutter will slip into!’]

_____

 

Letter 8: 23rd November [1895].

The Cottage
Streatham Hill
                   S. E.
Nov. 23

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   You rather misconceive me. I by no means intended Short for a likeness of you—I only suggested that certain public traits of yours had been worked into him. I quite see the point of your objection, but even if I knew you I should still see you à travers mon temperament. And I wont let you describe yourself in terms which remind me of—Oscar Wilde! Poor Oscar talked to me once in almost the same way,—said he didn’t feel moved by real love & sorrow but was deeply moved by them in Art—which is Bosh & Twaddle, my dear fellow, & in your heart you know it. As to your personal affections, they are your own affair, & so, after all, is your precious work. The world can do without them, as without any of us & any Art. But what you cant do without is the very thing you overlook. I would say to you frankly, your duty is first to those nearest to you—eg. your old mother—and all your precious art & work, were they those of a Shakspere, are not worth one ache of her little finger. Thems my sentiments, Scotch, whiskified, if you please—but I shall hold to them till I cease to breathe.
         And what seems so funny to me in men like you is that, with all their talk about work & Art, they seem to admire & emulate what is inchoate & formless. My chief objection to Goethe (I’m one of your jackasses) is not so much that he was a callous sensualist, as that his want of human feeling spoiled his work. The only bit of his work which lives is the tawdry tale of seduction, with an impossible maiden & a worse than impossible Devil. The fellow droned platitudes all his days, because he never felt verities. No man with decent taste could have written Ottilie’s twaddle, in the “Elective Affinities”. And then there’s your Ibsen! I dont deny the peddling knave is clever, but have you read his books—in the Norse, I mean—and having done so, can you seriously contend that he is an artist at all?
         I fancy I hear you whoop at this, & reach out for your shillelagh. Well, I must ask to forgive me for having made you think Short a portrait. I still fancy he is like you, a little: a cock of the eye, a twist of the mouth, or so; but after your protest I can only sigh, & wish—that you were more like him. You would be nearer the truth than you are, in my poor opinion. I have walked this shoddy world longer than you, & my experience is that personal Love is the only thing worth having in it.  This may be only sentiment, but even sentiment can be scientific. To me, religion, Love, pity, call it by what name you please, is the very marrow of my bones. And I will go further & say that no man who existed for Art only ever produced any great Art at all, and no man who was for ever canting about his ‘work’ ever did any abiding work at all.  The riddle of this Life is not to be read by any egotist, however clever. For myself, I know my stake in God’s lottery is my love for the dear & holy dead, and that twenty ‘masterpieces’ would not bring me one hairsbreadth nearer to my ideal. Our ‘work’, forsooth! Our miserable, feeble, foolish manufacture of toys & playing cards! One warm touch of a living hand, one soft blessing from lips that love us, is worth all the Art that ever was or ever will be.
         The ‘Inevitable’? You bungler & dreamer, what do you know about it? Why, you are poking your nose into the dust & crying that the stars do not interest you! You are a clever man, & a good fellow, but now & then, I fancy, you babble like a child.
         With all good wishes

                   Yours as ever
                   R. Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

         After all is said & done, the one good thing that remains to me in life is that the one I loved & love best died as she had lived in the full certainty of my devotion, and the outcome of this in practice is that my heart goes out to all sonship & motherhood, & thence to all humanity. My chief revolt against +ianity is that it makes personal love subsidiary to the enthusiasm of humanity, not the nucleus & soul of that enthusiasm; & to me the most pathetic figure in the Gospels is the poor old bewildered Mother, who looked on in despair while the ‘crank’ her Son was muddling & droning over his mad ‘work’, turning his back on her & his brethren, & raging because he discovered flaws in his imaginary world—in your parlance, ‘misprints in his article’!

 

[Year [1895] added by another hand.
‘public’ is inserted between ‘certain’ and ‘traits’.
‘after all, is your precious work’ ‘Art’ is crossed out and ‘work’ written above.
‘and no man who was for ever canting’ ‘for’ inserted between ‘was’ and ‘ever’.
‘hairsbreadth nearer to my ideal’ a word (possibly ‘the’) is crossed out before ‘my’.
‘old bewildered Mother, who looked on in despair’ a word (possibly ‘living’) is crossed out after ‘Mother’ and ‘who looked’ written above.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.C.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

1895

Robert Buchanan

26 Nov.

     On my disclaiming resemblance to his Marcus
Aurelius Short.
     About Oscar Wilde’s statement that love &c in real
life did not affect him, though in Art it did. Showing
me up for talking like this.” ]

_____

 

Letter 9: 5th March 1896.

36, Gerrard Street,
Shaftesbury Avenue, W.,
London.
March 5 1896

Dear Mr Shaw,

                   I dont know if I have done wrong in quoting from your letter in my pamphlet, but if so I am sorry. I suspect, however, that you do not make statements you would fear to publish, & au reste, your name is not mentioned.
         I should be very glad if you would inform me whether pamphlet & book have reached you. I have special reasons for asking, as I suspect that certain copies have not arrived at their destination.
         You will not be surprised to hear that vigorous efforts are already being made to boycott my book & to brand me as an “atheist”. My earliest recollections are of this sort of thing, for when I was a boy in Scotland I wept bitterly when the cry went round ‘Dont play with that boy—his father’s an infidel!’—And I, alas! am one of few men living who are clinging in desolation & despair to a faith in God—for which, God help me!

                   Yours truly
                   R. Buchanan

 

[The address of Buchanan’s publishing office is printed.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 (?) Fitzroy Square W.C.” (The (?) suggests Buchanan was unsure whether Shaw was still at that address.)
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

1896

Robert Buchanan

5 March.

     Hopes I wont mind his quoting my letter
about my mother in his pamphlet “Is Barabbas a
Necessity”.
     Clinging in desolation & despair to a belief in God.”

Note:
In a letter to William Archer of 6th March, 1896, Shaw wrote the following:

     ‘Did Buchanan send you his pamphlet [Is Barabbas a Necessity?] as well as the leaflet? It (the pamphlet) contains a private letter of mine. B. is in immense spirits, “clinging in desolation and despair to a faith in God.”’

                       From Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1874 - 1897 edited by Dan H. Laurence - p. 608.]

_____

 

Letter 10: 5th March 1896.

36, Gerrard Street,
Shaftesbury Avenue, W.,
London.
March 5 1896

Dear Shaw,

                   Just got your letter here, after writing to you. I do feel seriously concerned over that quotation from your letter, but I dont imagine any one will father it on you, and indeed I fancied that such a deliverance on your part could not be meant in confidence. As for your mother ever seeing it, surely that is most unlikely; and even if she did, would she think you serious? I know my mother would have only laughed, if any one had shown her such words of mine—knowing well, as sons must do, that the real Simon Pure, or R. B, or Bernard Shaw, had only his tongue in his cheek, as (in the case of B. S) is usual.
         At the same time, I feel I ought to have asked your permission, as I really intended to do. If you can, forgive me, & comfort yourself with the reflection that my lapse was the result, not of ill feeling, but of mutton chops, & whiskey.
         My dear Meister, I never said I loved ‘everybody’, as you satirically suggest. I’m afraid I dont love many people. But I really am capable of both liking & loving very much, upon occasion. So I shant pause to protest that I ever loved any body in particular—the proof of that is with those I have loved, & concerns no one but them. Nor shall I stay to reassert that I love the ‘Terewth’. No, my soaring cocksure human Boy, it would really be a waste of time. Surely a rabid Teatotaller, who sets down all human feeling to whiskey, is fit only for the blessing of Sir Wilfrid Lawson.
         I have to thank you for your kindly little notice of The Shopwalker. When you are on the war-path, why dont you point out that what the stage really wants is actors & actresses? The time is fast approaching when it will be simply impossible to cast a piece at all.
         ‘The real objective truth’!!! So that’s whats you’re getting at, while poor sentimentalists like myself are Chadbandizing abt Love & Death. You are really too funny, with your objective truth, & your bicycle, & your Saturday Review, & your generally slapdash excursion into criticism. A sort of Grimaldi-cum-Gradgrind, with an objective red-hot poker & a subjective Fabian grin! Well, God rest you merry, and when (like the baby in the picture) you’ve got your little objective truth, or bit of soap, I really hope you’ll use it on your own skin.
         Goodbye & good luck from

                   Yours truly
                   Robt Buchanan

 

[The address is printed.
‘or R. B’ inserted between ‘Simon Pure,’ and ‘or Bernard Shaw’.
‘My dear Meister’ gave me a lot of trouble and I’m still not sure about it. It looks more like ‘Mentor’, but that just seems wrong, somehow. The phrase can be seen here and any suggestions will be gratefully received.
A word is crossed out after ‘Chadbandizing abt Love &’.
Something is crossed out before ‘bicycle’.
‘subjective’ is inserted between ‘& a’ and ‘Fabian’.

Shaw’s review of The Romance of the Shopwalker is available here. ]

_____

 

Letter 11: 6th March 1896.

44 Streatham Hill
                   S W
London.
March 6. 1896

Dear Shaw,

P. S.

                   I quite forgot, in answering yours, to touch on the Tolstoi question. You may be a ‘political economist’, but you’re no logician. However, the theme is too wide for discussion here. What I would point out to you is that, like most philanthropists by profession, you neglect the duties  nearest to you. You told me in a former letter that rather than scamp your work you allow your old mother to suffer daily inconvenience, and now you tell me that you refused so much money from a prowling entrepreneur because he could only pay you for ‘moral’ rights. Now, no one gains by the free performance of your play but the said entrepreneur—he doesn’t perform it free, but pockets the royalty you refuse—while by accepting what is your moral right you could doubtless give some additional comfort or pleasure to one whom I believe, in spite of all your bunkum, you love dearly. It is you, not I, you see, that ‘love everybody’—it is you that are the Chadband, blessing democracy in general, posing as a highminded man, & forgetting the beloved one by your own fireside. You inherit, in fact, the +ian tradition, which has done more to swamp Humanity than any tradition in the world, and on your tongue is all the old contempt for affection, for sentiment, all the old sense of sin and unworthiness. You are a Calvinist minus +ianity. Tolstoi, again, is a crank of cranks, a blesser of mankind in general. I know by practical experience how much more can be done by private sympathy & Charity than by any organized beneficence, & if you had taken your two guineas a night from the Prowler I could have shown you a hundred ways of spending them if they were not wanted at home. Example, with only one guinea a week, I have been able, during the last 6 months, to make two mortal creatures as happy as sandboys—to keep one poor afflicted fellow from the workhouse, & to comfort the declining days of a poor old worn-out actor. You, I suppose, would think it more proper to give your money to the Charity Organization Society, or to inquire if the cases were deserving? Moral: the next time a Middleman offers you money, & you dont want it, send it on to me, or let me find you a pensioner who will bless you for the gift.

_____

         The more I think of it, the more angry am I with myself for having quoted you without your permission, but having humbly acknowledged my fault, I will only add that I am glad to have pinned you down to at least one bit of objective statement. You deal so largely in generalities, in nebulous statements, that you, like the average +ian, are difficult to catch and hold. Here, at last, you are explicit. Love & death trouble you less than ‘a misprint in an article’—sentiment is the result of whiskey &c.—& Goethe, that intellectual Onanist, was a wise creature. Why, you Saturnine Reviewer, you eternal Carper & Faultfinder, your articles are chokeful of misprints, your sobriety has all the characteristics of intoxication, & your wisdom is the merest self-worship.  If Bernard Shaw is the outcome of water-drinking & vegetarianism, I mean to go in for the Buchanan Blend & avoid green stuff altogether.
         Goodbye again. Try just by way of experiment what an occasional mutton chop will do for you, & believe me your well-wisher

                   Robert Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Letterheaded paper. The first two lines of the Gerrard Street address are crossed through and ’44 Streatham Hill S W’ written above.
A word (‘that’) is crossed out after ‘in generalities,’ and ‘in’ written above.
After ‘misprints, your’ a word has been crossed out and ‘sobriety’ written above. ]

_____

 

Letter 12: [7th] March [1896].

44 Streatham Hill
                   S. W.
March

Dear Shaw,

                   Could you refer me to the Nos of the S. R. containing your remarks on actors & actresses? I should like to see them, & would send to the Office for them.
         Your remarks about ‘clinging to God in desolation & despair’ made me laugh heartily, but I wish they were quite true. Fortunately Ive plenty of pluck & verve, especially when foraying over the literary border, but au fond I’m dismal enough. It’s only when I dont think that I ‘enjoy myself immensely’. God bless the Theatre! If it hadn’t been for that, for its infinite worries & trivialities, I should have gone crazy long ago.
         I am really & truly & deeply glad that my blunder has not caused you any real pain. You may smile at the assertion, but nothing troubles me quite so much as inflicting suffering, tho’ I’m afraid I do it often enough, for ‘words are quick & vain’. At any rate, Little Father, I feel I’m forgiven.
         I’m afraid no two people see alike, especially in matters of literary perception. Here is Archer, who professes to know Ibsen et hoc genus omne, the very Souls of Doggrel, finding fault with my Devil because his verse is ‘easy’, slipshod, flabby. Well, it was meant to be easy & even slipshod, but how great trouble it took me to make it what it is may be seen by comparing it with A’s attempt in the same metre, hardly a line of which will even ‘scan’. And I am more & more convinced every day I live that nearly all existing Poetry is the Art of disguising, diluting, & concealing ideas, or the want of them. Swinburne (e.g) ’tother day wrote a poem abt Burns, & the newspapers called it ‘lovely’, yet it scarcely contained a single idea & expressed hardly a real emotion, & what it did express would have made Robin himself shriek with derision. No, Sir! Poetry is Sense, or nothing—great Sense, is Common Sense, but sense always, even when most flowery. But this is a big subject, and when I write to you, I’ve an inclination to chatter. That means some sort of sympathy & liking, dont it?—Well, you may guess I shouldn’t run the risk of boring you, if I wasn’t attracted to you somehow, though I cordially d—— your ‘opinions’.

                   Yours
                   R. Buchanan.

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.
(“Jehovah Junr.”)

 

[Date ‘7. [1896]’ added by another hand.
Something is crossed out before ‘God bless the Theatre!’
‘me’ inserted between ‘troubles’ and ‘quite so much’.
A word is crossed out after ‘inflicting’.
‘the very Souls of Doggrel’ is inserted between ‘omne,’ and ‘finding fault’.
A word is crossed out before ‘wasn’t attracted’.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.C.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

1896

Robert Buchanan

7 March.

     On modern Poetry, Archer’s burlesque of his “Devil’s Case” &c.” ]

_____

 

Letter 13: 16th June [1896].

44 Streatham Hill
                   S. W.
June 16

Dear Timon,

                   You & the Independent Theatre be blowed! I would sooner hang myself than march thro’ Coventry with any such pack of scarecrows & amateurs. Au reste, the N. D. Q. is copyrighted—I took care of that—& licensed. Some of these fine days, perhaps, it will be acted, to your disgust, for Marcus Aurelius Short is a character in it, a sort of ‘Charles his friend. Perhaps, however, that wont matter, since I know now that my fancy-sketch is not a bit like Bernard Shaw.
         Dont you wish you could feel sometimes like a child with a box of paints? & isn’t it just as well to be such a child as to act as you do, cursing & blaspheming, in the gutter? I wish to God I could feel about the theatre as I used to do, when I made my own little stage, & cut out & painted the characters, & worked the little show for my schoolfellows. I believe that’s the true sort of Art after all. Read in this connection a delightful poem by the late Robert Brough, Tottie’s Consolations. The artist must be happy first, if he is to make others happy. Your darling Goethe used to ‘dress himself up’ & play at being this, that, & the other imaginary character. I like him not the less for that, and if you could tell me that you were equally childish at times I should have more hopes of your future.
         Apropos, do you remember that delightful story of Dickens—how, when he was down in the country somewhere (I think at Rochester) he saw a row of almshouses like a row of cottages in a pantomime; how he ran up and knocked at one of the doors & then lay down outside the threshold, clown-wise; how an old lady opened the door & popt out, & tumbled over Dickens, who got up and ran away! All just as in the comic scene of a pantomime. I love that story, & love Dickens the better for it. But of course you dont love Dickens?
         I really have read a book or two, much as you may doubt it. As for reading you, you mountainous mass of impudence & vanity, I’ll even do that, when you offer me anything to read.
         Well, growl on & prosper, & believe me as usual

                   Yours sincerely
                   R Buchanan

G. Bernard Shaw Esq.

 

[Year [1896] added by another hand.
‘it’ inserted between ‘isn’t’ and ‘just’.
A word (‘than’) crossed out after ‘such a child’ and ‘as’ written above.
‘to’ inserted between ‘he is’ and ‘make others’.
‘But’ inserted before ‘of course’.
Note: “N. D. Q.” is Buchanan’s play, The New Don Quixote, which had caused some problems with the Lord Chamberlain’s office. More details are available here.

Envelope:
Address: “G. Bernard Shaw Esq. 29 Fitzroy Square W.C.”
Buchanan’s initials in the bottom left corner.
Shaw’s notes:

1896

Robert Buchanan

17 June.

     Replying to my suggestion that
the Independent Theatre should copyright
his play.
     Childish clowning of great men. Dickens.” ]

_____

 

[In relation to Buchanan’s publication of that extract from Shaw’s letter in Is Barabbas a Necessity?, I came across the following on the Henry S. Salt website. It is taken from ‘Salt on Shaw’ which was published in Salt and His Circle by Stephen Winsten (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1951).

‘He lived with his mother, who was a music teacher, in Fitzroy Square; and we gathered from what he used to tell us that the household was by no means in affluence. On one occasion when Mrs. Shaw had been away for a week, and had left him sufficiently provided for that time and no more, an old friend unexpectedly arrived and claimed his hospitality, with the result that he was reduced, during the remaining days, to a diet of bread and apples. Mrs. Shaw was a charming old lady full of vivacity and wit; and it was evident that G.B.S., in spite of the levity of his talk, was very fond of her. In illustration of an argument that it is not the inevitable misfortunes, but the evitable ones, that are most distressful in life, he once wrote that his mother’s death would vex him less than a misprint; and it so happened that Robert Buchanan, who was a devoted son, saw this and wrote a severe comment on it, which he sent to Shaw by post in a halfpenny wrapper. This so stirred G.B.S. that he told Buchanan that the very fact of his having sent his reproof in such a way, where it might easily have been seen by Mrs. Shaw, showed that he could not really have cared for his own mother, and that the poems which he had devoted to her memory were mere sentimentality. When G.B.S. told me this, years later, it explained a remark made to me by Robert Buchanan, which at the time rather puzzled me, that Shaw was “extremely brutal”.’ ]

_____

 

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