The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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2. 1869 - 1872







5 January 1869

Buchanan’s second Public Reading at the Watt Institute, Greenock.


20 January 1869

Writes to Browning from 43 Great Coram St., Russell Square:
“I had hoped to see you before the Reading but am suffering from a severe cold & cant get out. Please dont fail to be there!—And wherever you can, speak a word for the affair, as it is of the highest importance to have a good first attendance.”


21 January 1869

According to a letter from Charles Shea (solicitor) to Frederick Ellis, a writ is issued and given to “Nathan the officer of the Sherif of Middlx for service on the Poet.”

Andrew M. Stauffer’s essay, ‘Another Cause for the “Fleshly School” Controversy: Buchanan Versus Ellis,’ published in the Journal of Pre–Raphaelite Studies (Vol. 11 (2002): 63–67) adds some interesting background details to Buchanan’s first Public Reading in London.

22 January 1869

A letter from Charles Shea (solicitor) to Frederick Ellis states: “The ‘arrangement’ with ‘his creditors’ is doubtless only a dodge to allow the B to appear on Monday safely.”
It seems that not only had Buchanan not cleared his debts with Frederick Ellis before going to Scotland, he also had other creditors in London, who were using his widely advertised appearance at the Hanover-Square Rooms, to collect.


25 January 1869

Buchanan gives a Public Reading at the Hanover-Square Rooms, London. It was reviewed in the Penny Illustrated Paper (30 January 1869):
R. ROBERT BUCHANAN, the author of “London Poems,” “Undertones,” and other poetical pieces, gave his first London reading at the Hanover-square Rooms on Monday evening. The programme included “Tom Dunstan, or the Politician,” “Attorney Sneak,” “Willie Baird, or the Drummer’s Story,” “Nell,” “The Wake of Tim O’Hara,” and “Widow Mysie, an Idyl of Love and Whisky.” Mr. Robert Buchanan possesses a good voice, which he knows how to modulate happily, and throws considerable feeling into his performance.’


26 January 1869

Following the Public Reading, Charles Shea writes to Frederick Ellis:
“He was not to be found at the address from which he dated his letter to you [23 Newman Street], & he managed so well at the Reading that altho’ a very experienced Writ-server was after him he managed to get into the Hanover Square Rooms & out again without detection, with some sort of disguise the server believes.

Swinburne writes to Buchanan regretting that his invitation arrived too late to be used.


27 January 1869

Letter from Charles Shea to Frederick Ellis:
“Our friend the Poet has been served this morning at No 9 Great Coram Street,” ... “Judgment will be due in 8 days & execution in 16 if Def[endan]t does not appear simply to delay us.”


2 February 1869

Buchanan writes to Browning from 23 Bernard St., Russell Square:
‘Your letter was a delight to me! I was in awful terror lest you might have been shocked & displeased at seeing our “gentle craft” exhibited on the boards. If I pleased you, I dont care a sous for the rest of Europe! But the fact is, I’ve been very unlucky—nothing really illnatured has been said—& some of the reviews are first-rate. So that I hope to make the Readings pay ere long,—“paying” being the one object of importance in this matter.
     I shall hope to call upon you some day soon. Meantime, I am busy making preliminaries for other Readings.’


4 February 1869

Shea writes to Ellis that he had “signed a final judgment” against Buchanan, and that “we shall in 8 days time be in a position to capture the Poet at the very first opportunity.”


15 February 1869

Shea informs Elllis that “The ‘Poet’ has been compelled to pay something at last.” According to Shea’s figures, Buchanan had to pay 13/15/6, of which Ellis received 12/4/0.


22 February 1869

Writes to Browning:
“Is it too much to ask you to come to my second Reading on the 3rd? It was too kind of you to pay for yr: Tickets, but I wish you’d let me send you them this time.”


3 March 1869

Second Public Reading at the Hanover Square Rooms, London.

This was also the only known occasion when Buchanan met Swinburne, who had been invited to the second Reading.

This was Buchanan’s final Public Reading.

The meeting between Buchanan and Swinburne is verified by the following piece in Appletons’ Journal (21 August, 1875):
‘Mr. Swinburne is one of the most nervous men—he is very slightly built, and not more than five feet two in height—you could possibly imagine. I shall never forget seeing him at the poetic readings given by the poet Buchanan, some years ago, in the Hanover-Square Rooms. There, in a corner, his intellectual face now wearing a scowl, now a beatific expression, as he was pleased or displeased with his brother poet’s elocution, did he sit twirling his fingers and thumbs in a ludicrously- excited way. Ere long he became the observed of every one. “Who is that?” whispered a mercantile friend to me, nodding toward him. “That,” replied I, wishing to surprise the man of figures, “is one of our greatest poets, Mr. Swinburne.” “Indeed!” was the reply. “Well, I’ve always heard that poets were a rum lot; now I’ve no doubt about it!”’

20 March 1869

Buchanan’s review of the remaining volumes of Robert Browning’s
The Ring and the Book appear in The Athenæum.


22 March 1869

Buchanan writes to Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury, asking, “Would a Reading at Canterbury stand any chance of success?”

Buchanan’s final Public Reading was that given at the Hanover Square Rooms on 3rd March, 1869. This letter does suggest that he had not completely abandoned the idea after that date.

24 March 1869

Buchanan visits Browning, accompanied by his wife. A letter from Browning’s sister, Sarianna, to Annie Egerton Smith fixes the date of the visit. She also mentions that Buchanan is planning to produce a play “some time in May”.


c. May 1869

The Life and Adventures of J. J. Audubon, edited by Robert Buchanan, after three editions published in London and one in New  York, is replaced by a revised edition, published by G. P. Putnam &  Son, edited by Audubon’s widow, Lucy Green Bakewell Audubon, with a new introduction by Jas. Grant Wilson. Buchanan’s name is removed from this edition as well as those passages which offended the widow Audubon. This new edition continues to be published until 1901. The Everyman’s Library edition, published by J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. (London) and E. P. Dutton & Co. (New York), in 1912, restores Buchanan’s name.


15 May 1869

The following item appears in The Echo:
“The earliest novelty at the Holborn Theatre, under Mr. Barry Sullivan’s management, will be a new tragic play by the author of ‘London Poems.’ Mr. Robert Buchanan is already known to playgoers by his tragedy of
The Witch-Finder, produced some years ago at Sadler’s Wells.”
The item is repeated in various provincial newspapers.

In the letter to Browning of 22nd May, Buchanan mentions writing a play for Sullivan. However, it does not seem to have been produced. Sullivan’s first production at the Holborn Theatre was Lord Lytton’s Money which opened on 1st May, 1869. This was followed by Sheridan’s The School for Scandal on 19th June. The next season opened with Plain English by Thomas Morton on 25th September, followed by Edward Moore’s The Gamester on October 16th, which was then replaced with a revival of The Lady of Lyons. In Barry Sullivan and his contemporaries; a histrionic record by Robert M. Sillard (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1901) Buchanan is not mentioned.

22 May 1869

Letter to Browning asking for a loan of £20. Mentions two plays he expects to be paid for, one for ‘Sullivan’ and the other for ‘Hollingshead’. Also mentions that he needs to “send off the cash to my people in Scotland at once.”

Jay gives ill-health as the reason for Buchanan abandoning his Public Readings, and also implies he returned to Oban shortly after the second one in London. However, it would appear that although the family returned to Scotland, he remained in London trying to find work in the theatre.

26 May 1869

Letter to Browning:
“I grieve to say that my managers wont pay up for a fortnight; and I write this to ask whether you will be personally inconvenienced by waiting that time for the £20 you so generously lent me.”
He goes on to say:
“Unless under dreadful pressure I should never have asked your help; but your kind friendship came just in time—without it, I should have been in a sickening difficulty—my poor women folk miserable & ashamed.This damnable want of pence is the saddest saltest thing I know: it spoils everything—thought, hope, fellowship. My life is a fiery struggle to get money at set periods to meet claims. Cui bono?”


June 1869

Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian, an unillustrated edition published by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, in London and Scribner, Welford and Co. in New York.
Advertised in
The Times, June 3, 1869.


3 June 1869

Letter to Roden Noel from 7 Ashton Terrace, Gourock, Scotland, thanking him for a loan. The letter also mentions Oban and Buchanan going to see his “Cottage”: “I have written to the Owner, insisting on several alterations before I settle.”
He also mentions his wife being seriously 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.”


21 July 1869

In a letter to Roden Noel (probably from Gourock) Buchanan mentions being ill: “I’ve been headsore—very, but am trying ice again.”


Summer 1869

Buchanan moves to Soroba Cottage, just outside Oban.

Professor John Stuart Blackie in Notes of a Life writes the following about his book, Musa Burschicosa: A Book of Songs for Students and University Men which was published in late 1869 (the Preface is dated, ‘Oban, October 1869’):
“I remember I was living at Oban the summer that I was preparing that little book for the press, and spinning out fresh ones every other day as the breeze of the mountain and the breath of the heather might waft the inspiration. And Robert Buchanan, the poet, was living near us at that time in the highest house of the district, perched up on the green braes behind Soroba, and I used to go across the hills occasionally to have a friendly talk with him and his yoke-fellow, who was a very gracious and pleasant person to behold. On one occasion I had just knocked off one of my students’ songs, and asked Buchanan what he thought of it. “Oh, exalted stuff!” he said, or something to that effect; “but you are flinging pearls before swine to write songs for Scottish students. They are a meagre, hard-working generation, who will grind their nose down to any amount of grammar, and thrust their eyes into any amount of theological thorns, but they do not sing.” These remarks, though they appeared to me somewhat slanderous at the time, and Buchanan was given to say sharp things, I afterwards found to be quite true.”

Buchanan gives his own description of his cottage and the surrounding area in The Land of Lorne (available at the Internet Archive).

Photos of Oban in the 1870s and Soroba Lodge as it is now.

27 September 1869

Storm-Beaten (the1861 collection of poems and short stories, written in collaboration with Charles Gibbon) is republished by Ward, Lock, and Tyler.


16 October 1869

First (surviving) letter to Roden Noel with the Soroba address.
Buchanan begins the letter with: “Better a bit, thank God, tho’ still far from well. That’s the first news, & by far the most important—to me.”


13 November 1869

From The Athenæum:
“Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, is so unwell with cerebral symptoms that literary labour has had to be entirely suspended, and is not likely to be soon resumed. He has been more or less unfit for active work for some years past,—a grievous misfortune to a professional man of letters.


22 December 1869

Browning writes to Lord Carnarvon recommending Buchanan for a civil pension. He writes a second letter on 31 December. Browning receives a reply from Gladstone dated 2 January 1870.





1 January 1870

The Spectator prints a letter from Buchanan objecting to the new edition of Storm-Beaten.


12 April 1870

Buchanan awarded a Civil List Pension of £100 per year. This continued to be paid until Buchanan’s death.

Buchanan’s award and the date is included in the chapter on Civil List Pensions in Notes By The Way by John Collins Francis (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1909). The relevant section is available here.

26 April 1870

Poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti published by F. S. Ellis.


29 April 1870

Letter to Browning from Soroba:
“Long reflection makes me regret nothing in the Pension matter; & the money is a boon indeed. On first getting your letter of explanation I was somewhat disappointed,—having faintly hoped the kind helper was one of us, a singer, a brother-artist; but that wore off. All feels peaceful and pleasant.”



The Book of Orm: a prelude to the epic published by Alexander Strahan.
Reviewed in The Athenæum by William Allingham, May 28, 1870.
The following note appears in
The Book of Orm, referring to Buchanan’s ill health during this period:
“Continued ill health compels the omission of two poems—”A Rune found in the Starlight,” and “The Song of Heaven”—which, although written, cannot at present be rendered perfect for press. Section IX., too, is incomplete, wanting the all-important “Devil’s Dirge,” which, however, will be added in a future edition.—R.B.”


First reviews of D. G. Rossetti’s Poems appear in various magazines.


It was an unfortunate coincidence that Buchanan’s first epic poem about religion, which he’d struggled to complete during his period of ill-health, should be published at the same time as D. G. Rossetti’s Poems. The critical reception for The Book of Orm was mixed, ranging from high praise for certain poems within the work, to a cautious curiosity, to a dismissal of Buchanan’s attempts to create something significant. On the other hand, Rossetti’s Poems received the highest praise in all the notable journals, which was unsurprising since he had taken great pains to plant these reviews by his friends. Swinburne’s effort in The Fortnightly Review verges on the ridiculous. In a few instances the two works were reviewed in the same issue of magazines, with Buchanan coming off worse.

5 June 1870

Letter to Dr. Thomas King Chambers thanking him for helping to secure the Civil List Pension. He goes on to discuss The Book of Orm, denying it is morbid and adding:
“on my Soul, my thoughts of God & the world are not morbid ones, rather utopian ones & glorious.”


August 1870

D. G. Rossetti’s Poems reviewed (anonymously - the author was Mrs. Oliphant) in Blackwood’s Magazine:
“The poems of Mr. Dante Rossetti have already called forth an amount of remark totally out of proportion to their intrinsic importance.”


October 1870

D. G. Rossetti’s Poems reviewed (anonymously) in the North American Review.

John A. Cassidy cites this review as the template for Buchanan’s ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ and assigns it to James Russell Lowell. Christopher Murray believes Cassidy is mistaken and the reviewer is J. R. Dennett.

30 November 1870

Buchanan writes (from Oban) to Browning asking if he can dedicate his new book, Napoleon Fallen: a lyrical drama, to him.


3 December 1870

The Athenæum prints extracts from a letter from Buchanan complaining that he has been accused of being “engaged in book-making, and hungering for royal patronage,” because he has dedicated The Land of Lorne to the Princess Louise:
“... when I, whose whole song has been of the poor, and for the poor, and with the poor, cry ‘God speed,’ in the poor Celt’s name, to the Princess and the man of her choice, I hardly expect to be accused of merely ‘hungering for royal patronage.’”


7 December 1870

Now in London, Buchanan writes again to Browning:
     ‘Just had your letter forwarded from Oban, & was not astonished at its tenor, for I knew something of your old faith & wondered at it, and should never have thought of inscribing to you a “glorification” over the Fallen. No; there is in my poem no attempt whatever to sentimentalize, but I think the general effect is to awaken sympathy with the subject. Shall I, who have been howled at for finding brothers & sisters among Whores & Thieves, hurl epithets as some have done at a Tyrant overthrown? I cannot describe with what loathing & horror I have read such verses as those called “Intercession”, by that conscienceless & miserable inanity, little Swinburne:—verses which brooded, with a feminine fiendishness, over the prospect of physical suffering & torture to the subject. Dont think that I will ever develope the aesthetic instinct at the expense of conscience & feeling. I would rather die. Truth first; afterwards, if possible, Beauty.
     In a word, I feel convinced that you could accept the dedication of “Napoleon” with perfect security & satisfaction. I am not an imperialist, I am in principle a republican; but I am above all one whose religion inculcates charity – to those above & those below me.
     “Charity!” I hear you echo, referring to the epithets “miserable” & “conscienceless” as applied to Swinburne. The fact is, charity is
always right, and it is our own fault & disgrace if we are not always charitable. It requires however a superhuman effort to be thoroughly charitable where the personal antagonism is so intense,—but that effort should be made.’

According to further letters to Browning, Buchanan spends most of December and all of January in London. The letters have a Russell Square address.

12 December 1870

Buchanan writes to Browning cancelling the dedication of Napoleon Fallen following Browning’s objections.





January 1871

Napoleon Fallen: a lyrical drama published by Alexander Strahan.
Reviewed in
The Athenæum by William Allingham, January 7, 1871.

At the end of Napoleon Fallen there are adverts for forthcoming works by Buchanan which include three volumes of selected poems (‘A Selection from the Poetical Works’, ‘Ballads of Life, etc.’ and ‘Meg Blane; and other tales in verse’) and ‘An Epic Poem’, sequel to The Book of Orm. None of these appeared at this time and Strahan’s final Buchanan publications were The Drama of Kings, St. Abe and White Rose and Red.

26 January 1871

Letter to Browning asking if he can call on him “to-morrow” before he returns to Scotland: “My wife is out of Town, but I will take the liberty of bringing her younger sister with me instead.”

Harriett Jay would be 17 at this point.

26 February 1871

Buchanan writes to Thomas Buchanan Read (from Oban). The letter mentions a friend of Buchanan’s, the painter, Walter Maclaren.


March 1871

The Land of Lorne: including the cruise of the ‘Tern’ to the Outer Hebrides published by Chapman and Hall.
Reviewed in
The Athenæum by John Cordy Jeaffreson, March 18, 1871.



George Heath, The Moorland Poet’ published in Good Words.


Buchanan took the trouble to get Royal approval for the book, dedicating it to Princess Louise, who was shortly to be married to John, Marquess of Lorne, son of the Duke of Argyll. Unfortunately Buchanan included a 32 page prologue in the book which criticised the Princess’ future father-in- law and it was this prologue, rather than the rest of the book, which was reviewed in the Press.

This article, later included in Master-Spirits, contains some further thoughts about David Gray and a footnote about Swinburne’s dismissal of Gray’s poetic abilities - evidence that Swinburne’s comment about Gray in his 1867 essay, “Matthew Arnold’s New Poems”, still rankled and perhaps confirming Buchanan’s later statement that this was the root cause of his attack on the ‘Fleshly School’:
Mr. Algernon Charles Swinburne, author of “Atalanta in Calydon,” went some years ago far out of his way to call David Gray a “dumb poet”—meaning by that a person with great poetical feeling, but no adequate powers of expression. So many excellent critics have resented both this impertinence and the unfeeling language in which it was expressed, that Mr. Swinburne is doubtless ashamed enough of his words by this time; but would it not have been as well if, before vilifying a dead man, he had first read his works, which, if they possess any characteristic whatever, are noticeable for crystalline perfection of poetic form, unparalleled felicity of epithet (witness the one word “sov’reign” as applied to the cry of the cuckoo), and emotion always expressed in simple music? When Mr. Swinburne and the school he follows are consigned to the limbo of affettuosos, David Gray’s dying sonnets will be part of the literature of humanity.’

The article also includes extracts from the journals of George Heath, which were never published and which are now presumed lost. It is interesting that Buchanan does not mention his local connection to Heath - Buchanan’s birthplace of Caverswall is 10 miles from Heath’s village of Gratton.

April 1871

‘The Teuton before Paris’ published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.
Subtitled, ‘From a Forthcoming Work’, this is an extract from The Drama of Kings.


2 April 1871

The date of the 1871 census. The Buchanan household at ‘Sorobaw Cottage’ now consists of Robert Buchanan (29, ‘Author in Poetry & Belles Letters’), Mary Buchanan (26, wife), Margaret Buchanan (54, mother, widow), Anne Williams (77, grandmother, widow), Harriett Jay (17, sister-in-law) and one general domestic servant, Jane Inglis.

1871 census.

May 1871

The Dedication and the Proem of The Drama of Kings are both dated May, 1871.

Our Living Poets by Harry Buxton Forman published.



I mention this since Buchanan is not included in the book, which is a collection of essays on ‘living poets’ which had been previously published, mainly in Tinsleys’ Magazine and the London Quarterly Review. The poets included in the volume were: Alfred Tennyson, Menella Bute Smedley, Jean Ingelow, Robert Browning, William W. Story, Augusta Webster, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Gabriela Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, Thomas Woolner, William Bell Scott, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris, Richard Henry Horne, Henry Taylor, George Eliot, John Payne and Arthur W. E. O’Shaughnessy. Whether Buchanan was aware of the book, or had been waiting for his name to appear in the series of articles in the magazines, I have no idea. However, it is an indication of his fading reputation as a poet, who, only six years before had been declared a genius by G. H. Lewes.

Summer 1871

Buchanan opens Chapter 5 of his ‘Fleshly School’ pamphlet with the following:
“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”.
Exactly when during the summer of 1871 is unknown, but there is an undated fragment of a letter to Roden Noel which includes the following:

“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.”

The confusion over when Buchanan actually read Rossetti’s Poems is mainly caused by Harriett Jay opening Chapter 16 of her biography with:
“It was in the summer of 1870, when he was still living at Oban, that Mr. Buchanan read the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti”.

Although the Roden Noel fragment can only be dated to after October, 1870 (the date of the edition of the North American Review which carried the Rossetti review) it does open with the following:
“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?”
This is open to speculation - that mention of August may be connected to some other matter, or it may be part of Buchanan’s invitation to visit. If the latter then it would make sense that the letter was written in the summer of 1871.

However, the importance of this fragment is more that it reveals Buchanan’s initial response to the poetry of Rossetti (and Morris), which seems devoid of anger or outrage.

June 1871

Mr. John Morley’s Essays’ published in The Contemporary Review.


7 June 1871

Buchanan writes to Tennyson asking for a loan of £200. In the letter he blames ill-health and poor sales of his books for the “difficulty which threatens to drown me altogether.”
It appears that Buchanan’s arrangement with Strahan for Napoleon Fallen and The Drama of Kings involved no advance payment and was solely dependent on sales.

The amount which Buchanan asks for is quite extraordinary. Although such comparisons are never totally accurate, £200 in 1871 would be worth around £23,000 today. Or, to give another example: when Buchanan was enjoying the height of his theatrical success and moved, in 1889, to 25 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (next door to Herbert Asquith M.P.), his annual rent was £195. Considering his requests for loans to Browning were only for £20, and also considering he was now receiving a £100 pension from the  government, the scale of this loan from Tennyson indicates the extent of Buchanan’s financial difficulties at this time.

14 June 1871

Buchanan writes to Tennyson, after receiving his letter agreeing to give him the loan.

Buchanan also writes letters to Browning and Gerald Massey requesting their permission to use their poems in an anthology.


These seem to be the only surviving letters relating to this project and I have not come across any other information about it. Judging by the poems mentioned in the letters, it would seem to have been aimed at younger readers.

20 June 1871

Buchanan writes to Tennyson again after receiving his cheque for £200.

Tennyson’s account books for the period contain an entry for the cheque to Buchanan for £200 dated 27th June, 1871 from Coutts Bank. There is no indication in Tennyson’s accounts that Buchanan ever repaid the  loan.

July 1871

‘Tiger Bay: a windy night’s dream’ published in Good Words.


1 August 1871

Letter to Roden Noel mentioning ‘The Session of the Poets’, Matthew Arnold and Ruskin (“a foolish gibbering person”). Buchanan goes on to say:
“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. ... 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 ...”

Buchanan also mentions an imminent visit from Aleaxander Strahan.


18 August 1871

Robert Buchanan is 30 years old.


September 1871

In his libel action against The Examiner in 1876, Buchanan gave the following evidence:
“In September, 1871, I wrote an article upon the “Fleshly School,” and sent it from Oban, in Scotland, to the Contemporary Review. I believe that there was no name appended to it; I gave directions that it should be published anonymously. It appeared with the name of “Thomas Maitland” appended to it. Mr. Strahan wrote that the editor objected to the article appearing anonymously, and I telegraphed to him to suppress it.”


16 September 1871

In The Oban Times under ‘Yachting’, one of “the yachts visiting the bay this week” is “the schooner Ariel, Mr Robert Buchanan, Soroba”. And under ‘Visitors’ both “Mr. Buchanan, Soroba, and Professor Blackie” are mentioned as still being visitors.

By an odd coincidence, the yacht mentioned after Buchanan’s is “Caroline, Captain Swinburne of Eilan Shona”.

October 1871

The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti’ published in the Contemporary Review, under the pseudonym ‘Thomas Maitland’.


7 October 1871

A review of the month’s magazines in The Examiner links Buchanan’s name to ‘Thomas Maitland’, perhaps coincidentally:
‘Mr Ruskin says in the new number of his
Fors Clavigera, “There was an article—I believe it got in by mistake, but the editor, of course, won’t say so—in the ‘Contemporary Review,’ two months back, on Mr Morley’s Essays, by a Mr Buchanan, with an incidental page on Carlyle in it, unmatchable (to the length of my poor knowledge) for obliquitous platitude, in the mud-walks of literature.” Many will be disposed to say nearly the same of an article in this month’s ‘Contemporary,’ by a Mr Thomas Maitland, who commences a series of strictures on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” with seventeen pages about Mr Dante Rossetti.’


14 October 1871

Letter to to Professor Blackie, returning a copy of Joaquin Miller’s poems (Buchanan is not impressed) and enclosing a photograph of Walt Whitman. Comparing Whitman to Goethe, Buchanan writes:
“Walt is one of the few men who are born to prove that Goethe’s life was a lie, his literature a sham, and his whole gospel of economy (what Novalis calls das Evangelium de Oeconomie) a weary failure.”

The reference to Joaquin Miller, an American poet who had made quite an impression on London literary society earlier in the year, is interesting, given that Buchanan was about to publish his own ‘American’ poem, Saint Abe and his Seven Wives. His dismissal of Miller in this letter, could be his genuine opinion, jealousy of a poet causing a stir in London, or, perhaps something more. There were plenty of other American poets whose work could have ‘inspired’ Saint Abe, but the coincidence of Joaquin Miller’s arrival on the scene and Buchanan’s decision to pretend to be an American poet is worth noting. Also, Buchanan’s follow-up to Saint Abe, White Rose and Red, does have certain similarities with Miller’s ‘The Tale of the Tall Alcalde’.

15 October 1871

Sidney Colvin inserts paragraph in The Academy denouncing ‘Maitland’ for using “the obsolete vituperative style in criticism.”


30 October 1871

An advert in The Daily News for Strahan & Co. lists both The Drama of Kings by Robert Buchanan (“next week”) and Saint Abe and his Seven Wives (“in a few days”).


November 1871

The Drama of Kings published by Alexander Strahan.
Reviewed in
The Athenæum, November 25, 1871.

The Land of Lorne: including the cruise of the ‘Tern’ to the Outer Hebrides published in New York (in one volume) by Francis B. Felt & Co.
Reviewed in
The New York Times, November 8, 1871.


16 November 1871

Letter to Tennyson (from 4, Bernard Street, Russell Square) asking his opinion of The Drama of Kings. He also writes:
“I fear this book wont put much into my pockets, as it has few elements of popularity; but I am labouring in other ways, and do not forget my obligations.”
The ‘other ways’ presumably refer to
Saint Abe and His Seven Wives and the ‘obligations’ to the £200 loan.

According to letters to Browning and Tennyson, from 4 Bernard St., Russell Square, Buchanan is in London during November and December. The whole family is spotted by Isabella Fyvie Mayo on 27th February, 1872. And Buchanan writes to Browning on 4th March, from a new address in Regent’s Park: “... I have been lingering in London ...”
And then on 2nd May: “I could have wished to see you ere leaving Town.”
Considering the amount of material he was providing for The Saint Pauls Magazine from January onwards it seems possible that Buchanan (at least) was in London from November 1871 until May 1872.

19 November 1871

Tennyson writes to Buchanan inviting him to visit him at his London lodgings.


22 November 1871

Visits Tennyson at 16 Albert Mansions, Victoria St., London.


28 November 1871

Letter to Tennyson asking for another loan of £100.
“The “Drama of Kings” will not give me a penny—it will yield me no cup but critical abuse—but that I should not mind, if I did not need money so much; for even regarding the drama as a failure in every sense, I know well a dozen such failures would not keep me from rising to the summit of modern thought in time. But, strictly in confidence, let me say that I have other work of a more successful kind slowly making its way, and that what that work has already done for me makes it next to certain that I shall have plenty of money in a month or little more. Indeed, I have every hope of being able in in Janry to pay the debt I owe you; and then visiting you in the Isle of Wight. For I cannot summon up heart to be your guest till I have returned you what you so generously lent me.
     You will guess, perhaps from your own reminiscences, that I have no means of getting money apart from work. Moreover, I have no wealthy friends, no connections, no anything.”

The “other work of a more successful kind” is Saint Abe and His Seven Wives, which Buchanan published anonymously, hence the “strictly in confidence”. Buchanan then launches into an attack on James Knowles, a close friend of Tennyson’s and, at the time, the editor of The Contemporary Review. Knowles had rejected an article which Buchanan had written on the subject of Goethe (for which he was expecting to receive 70 guineas). He then goes on to say:
“Mr Knowles has done me more injustice than this. He has broken confidence as to my authorship of the article on Rossetti, & led to the inference that I wilfully took a false name. Strahan can tell you that he (Strahan) coined & affixed the name to the article, without my  knowledge, when I was far from the spot. It was a weak & badly written article, I admit, but I flinch from none of its opinions.”

There is no record in Tennyson’s account books of this second loan and one presumes that he (quite rightly) turned Buchanan down.

2 December 1871

The Athenæum prints a short paragraph in its “Literary Gossip” column stating that Sidney Colvin is shortly to publish an answer to “‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ by Thomas Maitland, a nom de plume assumed by Mr. Robert Buchanan”.


4 December 1871

Letter to Professor Blackie asking him to review The Drama of Kings:
“But you have not only eyes, but you have the subject at your finger ends: so why dont you help the public to understand the opus a little bit?”


6 December 1871

Letter to Browning asking for another loan.
“Several schemes have gone wrong & I am in a fix—not that your loan would clear me, but I am absolutely at a stand for spare cash.
     Along with what seems dispiriting, I've better news to communicate. In the first place, I can repay you with certainty on Janry 1st. In the next, I shall after that date be in a very different position, as I have accepted a definite appointment of no arduous kind. In the third, altho’ the Drama of Kings is not lucrative, other work—which I dare not name—is likely to be so.”

The ‘definite appointment’ is probably connected to The Saint Pauls Magazine, which was published by Strahan & Co. Throughout 1872 Buchanan wrote a number of essays and poems for the magazine under a variety of aliases.

The ‘lucrative, other work—which I dare not name’ is Saint Abe and His Seven Wives.

8 December 1871

Saint Abe and His Seven Wives: a Tale of Salt Lake City published anonymously by Strahan & Co. (London) and George Routledge & Sons (New York).
Reviewed in The Daily News, December 9, 1871.
Reviewed in The Athenæum by Thomas Purnell, December 23, 1871. Reviewed in The New York Times, January 26, 1872.



Jay states that the animosity towards Buchanan over the Fleshly School controversy was the reason Saint Abe and His Seven Wives was published anonymously:
“So cruel indeed and so relentless was this persecution of him, that when, in the year 1872, he published his poem “St. Abe and His Seven Wives,” he found it expedient not only to issue the book anonymously, but to take every precaution to prevent the name of the author from becoming known.”

However, in the Bibliographical Note to the 1896 edition of the book, Buchanan states:
St. Abe and his Seven Wives was written in 1870, at a time when all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with sharpshooters on the look-out for “the d——d Scotchman” who had dared to denounce Logrolling. It was published anonymously, and simultaneously The Drama of Kings appeared with the author’s name. The Drama was torn to shreds in every newspaper; the Satire, because no one suspected who had written it, was at once hailed as a masterpiece.”

9 December 1871

Sidney Colvin writes a letter to The Athenæum denying he is preparing to answer ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’:
“With reference to an announcement made a little incautiously in your last,—and I venture to think it scarcely worth making had it been exact, —allow me to state that it is not the case that I am “preparing an answer” to the strictures on a certain school of poetry, signed “Thomas Maitland,” in the Contemporary Review for last October. So far as I can judge, there was nothing instructive about those strictures, except their   authorship.”


16 December 1871

The Stealthy School of Criticism’, D. G. Rossetti’s response to ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ is published in The Athenæum. The article is followed immediately by two letters responding to the item of 2nd December, one from Alexander Strahan denying Buchanan was the author of ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, and the other from Buchanan, admitting it. Buchanan writes:
“I certainly wrote the article on ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ but I had nothing to do with the signature. Mr. Strahan, publisher of the Contemporary Review, can corroborate me thus far, as he is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.
     Permit me to say further that, although I should have preferred not to resuscitate so slight a thing, I have now requested Mr. Strahan to republish the criticism, with many additions but no material alterations, and with my name in the title-page. The grave responsibility of not agreeing with Mr. Rossetti's friends as to the merits of his poetry, will thus be transferred, with all fitting publicity, to my shoulders.”


23 December 1871

A letter from Alexander Strahan, attempting to explain his earlier denial that Buchanan was Maitland, appears in The Pall Mall Gazette and (on 25th December) the Glasgow Herald.

The Athenæum publishes a review of “Two New American Poems” - The Divine Tragedy by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Saint Abe and His Seven Wives. The review of the latter begins:
“Partly from the subject, but chiefly from its treatment, the tale of Salt Lake City has a freshness and an originality altogether wanting in ‘The Divine Tragedy.’”



According to The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870, the writer of the review was Thomas Purnell, who was a friend of Algernon Charles Swinburne.

30 December 1871

A letter from Buchanan in response to ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’ is printed in The Athenæum:
“Suffer me to contradict your editorial statement that I had, in the article on the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry,’ “praised my own poetry.” The only allusion to that poetry (rendered necessary by Mr. Rossetti’s apparent plagiarism) was the reverse of complimentary. It is in vain, perhaps, to protest against the comments of such a judge as you, but for every one who reads your journal a dozen will read my reprinted criticism, and will be able to see you in your true colours. Mean time, suffer me to direct your attention to Mr. Alexander Strahan’s letter, published in the
Pall Mall Gazette of this day. His vindication of the nom de plume seems to me complete. Nevertheless, so far as I am concerned, no vindication is necessary; for as I have suggested once before, the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland” was affixed to my article when I was far out of reach—cruising on the shores of the Western Hebrides. For the rest, it is absurd to attribute mean motives when honest ones would do quite as well to explain the case. I have written under pseudonyms repeatedly, and so have some of the ablest of my contemporaries. In the present case, I am in no way responsible, but I should certainly not have hesitated to affix “Thomas Maitland” to the article if I had thought it worth my while. I was merely recording the experience, almost novel to the public in this instance, of a person who had not the honour of Mr. Rossetti’s personal acquaintance. I am sorry that this gentleman’s friends, who have done so much for him in other ways, did not dissuade him from publishing so inconsequent a letter.”





January 1872

‘Among the Hebrides’ (Parts 1 - 3) ‘by An Idle Voyager’, and the poem, ‘The Last of the Hangmen’, published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.

The Latest Development of Literary Poetry’ by W. J. Courthope appears in The Quarterly Review attacking Swinburne, Rossetti and Morris. Buchanan later includes an extensive quote from the section on Rossetti’s ‘Jenny’ in the pamphlet version of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’.

Throughout 1872 Buchanan provided regular copy for The Saint Pauls Magazine (published by Alexander Strahan) under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. He also provided several poems for another Strahan title, Good Words.
The travel pieces ‘by An Idle Voyager’ were later incorporated by Buchanan into his second novel, A Child of Nature.

5 January 1872

Item in The Sun & Central Press:
     “Messrs. Strahan are about to issue a selected cheap edition of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s poems. They will be published in two volumes (containing town and country poems) at the moderate price of a shilling each.

This collection never materialised, but perhaps it is an early indication that Buchanan was planning the ‘collected works’ which finally appeared (published by Henry S. King) in 1874.

13 January 1872

The Graphic prints a dismissive review of Buchanan’s The Drama of Kings and follows it with a laudatory review of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives, which begins:
     “St. Abe and his Seven Wives, a Tale of Salt Lake City” (Strahan and Co.) belongs to a very different class of poetry. The author has one advantage over Mr. Buchanan, that his muse deals in realism unmixed, and that nobody need be in any doubt as to what he means.”


February 1872

The February issue of The Saint Pauls Magazine contains three important contributions from Buchanan. His essay on Dickens, ‘The “Good Genie” of Fiction’, and two of his most popular poems. His name appears under the essay, but ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’ is ‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’, and ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ is anonymous.

Tinsleys’ Magazine publishes an article, ‘The “Fleshly School” Scandal’ by “The Author of ‘Our Living Poets’” - Harry Buxton Forman. A straightforward attack on Buchanan and defence of his friend, D. G. Rossetti. It includes the prophetic statement that due to the scandal Buchanan “has now gained for his name an unenviable notoriety that is likely to stick to him for the rest of his career”.

Second edition of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives advertised.

Another poem, ‘Supreme Love’ is by ‘John Banks’, the pseudonym under which Buchanan’s essay, ‘Wintering at Etrétat’, was published in The Argosy in 1866.

24 February 1872

The Saturday Review publishes an article, ‘Coterie Glory’, referring to the articles in The Quarterly Review and Tinsleys’ Magazine, and comparing the Pre-Raphaelite poets to the Della Cruscan school - “a little circle of mutual admiration contrived, by ingenious devices of criticism, to create in the outer world what for awhile looked like real fame.”

Buchanan also quoted from this article in his pamphlet version of the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’.


27 February 1872

Buchanan and family witness the Queen’s procession to St. Paul’s on the Thanksgiving Day for the Prince of Wales’s recovery.

Mentioned in Isabella Fyvie Mayo’s Recollections of Fifty Years.

March 1872

Tennyson’s Charm’ (which included more criticism of Rossetti and the ‘Fleshly School’) published in The Saint Pauls Magazine. This issue also included another poem, ‘Colonel Shark’, ‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’.


4 March 1872

Letter to Browning from a new address in London, 10a Park Road, Regents Park, concerning the ‘Fleshly School’ controversy and enclosing a cutting from the article in Tinsleys’ Magazine which mentions Browning:
“It appears that the friends of Mr Rossetti, not content with every diabolical attempt to blacken my character, are diligently endeavouring to make out that I have tried to injure you ...
     Strahan’s use of a pseudonym was a blunder, tho’ honestly enough meant. The necessity for the flaying these men have recd is shown by their diabolical private conduct. Instead of taking their punishment like men, they are using every effort to blacken their critic.”

Buchanan writes another letter to Browning (dated ‘March’) responding to Browning’s reply to the one above:
“I am delighted to hear you say what you do say, & have only to ask forgiveness for troubling you with a matter so contemptible. Of one thing I was certain: that these men would poison even your mind if they could.
My pamphlet is just ready, & be its literary merit what it may, I am convinced that it will do good— most good of all to the men criticised, perhaps even saving them from going headlong to Hell. You will see the whole matter there put in its perfect form of simple & unspoken truth, & you will moreover see other allusions to yourself. In this matter of the Fleshly School, I know every great-minded & honest man will stand on my side; and, come what may, a Snake is scotched effectually & his entire scheme ruined.
     In the whole
morale of the affair, I will only plead guilty to one instinct of recrimination. When these men, not content with outraging literature, violated the memory of the poor boy who went home from me twelve years ago to die, I made a religious vow to have no mercy; & I have had none. Thus far I have been revengeful. The main cause is nevertheless righteous & good.”













The ‘poor boy’ is, of course, David Gray and Buchanan is alluding to Swinburne’s mentioning him in his essay, ‘Matthew Arnold’s New Poems’, published in The Fortnightly Review in October, 1867. This letter does give some weight to Buchanan’s later claim that this was the fons et origo of the whole affair.

April 1872

The April edition of The Saint Pauls Magazine contains the poems, ‘The Asrai’ (‘by Robert Buchanan’), ‘Seraphina Snowe’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’), ‘Mazzini’ (‘by B.’) and the essay, ‘Criticism as One of the Fine Arts’ (by ‘Walter Hutcheson’).

The pseudonym, ‘Walter Hutcheson’ was known to Sidney Colvin, and thus to D. G. Rossetti, and it does contain a couple of gibes at the ‘Fleshly School’:
“The Mutual Admiration School of Poetry is scarcely read out of  London, and produces no impression whatever on the public; the fact being that sensualists and spooneys are not so common as some critics persist in telling us. Luckily, we say, criticism can only do mischief up to a certain point, and cannot do that mischief long. It may delay a reputation, but it cannot kill it. The public, in the long run, will have its own way, and choose its own favourite, and will choose according to the direct impression made by the favourite in question.”

And the following passage in a paragraph which was omitted when the essay was republished in Buchanan’s 1873 collection, Master-Spirits:
“We have lately had the spectacle of a group of drawing-room poets undertaking to blow the trumpet for each other till the world should ring again. And why not? There was no “editorial” deception. The thing was not criticism, but it was Fine Art, and everybody enjoyed the self- revelation of Mr. Swinburne as a man totally without perception of the meaning of words and the right measure of flattery, and the self-revelation of Mr. Swinburne’s friends as gentlemen gone mad with secret emotion- hatching. The knowledge so acquired is invaluable. We can hardly, in fact, grumble at any nonsense if it be signed, and if the signer shows us the sort of man he is.”


May 1872

The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day (an extended version of the October, 1871 ‘Thomas Maitland’ article) published by Alexander Strahan.
Reviewed in
The Examiner, May 18, 1872.

Faces on the Wall, a sequence of 12 sonnets, published in the The Saint Pauls Magazine. Also, ‘The Capture of Eureka Hart’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’ - an extract from White Rose and Red) and another essay from ‘Walter Hutcheson’, ‘Pity the Poor Drama!



The 1874 edition of The Poetical Works, Vol. 2, included a revised version of ‘Faces on the Wall’. The sonnet to Browning was omitted and the sonnet, ‘To The Della Cruscans’ was renamed ‘To Triflers’. This sonnet, especially in its original form, was obviously aimed at the poets of the ‘Fleshly School’.

2 May 1872

Letter to Browning enclosing a copy of The Saint Pauls Magazine (with ‘Faces on the Wall’ including the sonnet to Browning), and says he is leaving London.


18 May 1872

Fleshing the Fleshly’, a review of Buchanan’s pamphlet, is published in The Echo.


25 May 1872

Sidney Colvin’s review of Buchanan’s pamphlet is published in The Athenæum.


June 1872

Third edition of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives advertised.


2 June 1872

Dante Gabriel Rossetti suffers mental breakdown.


5 June 1872

Letter to Roden Noel (from ‘Yacht “Ariel”, Tobermory’):
“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.”
 The letter also contains the following line about his poor health:
“If I were better I would say more; but I am still very very shaky.”

Presumably the ‘little secret’ refers to Saint Abe and His Seven Wives.

8 June 1872

D. G. Rossetti attempts suicide.

The ‘Fleshly School’ affair is dealt with in its own section on the site and includes a more detailed timeline of events leading up to Rossetti’s suicide attempt. However, I thought it should be stated here that no commentator (either pro- or anti-Buchanan) has ever suggested that Buchanan knew anything about the state of Rossetti’s mental health and the effect which his attack was having on him. Again, according to all the accounts of the affair, it was not Buchanan’s initial article which upset Rossetti, but the reprinting of the charges in Buchanan’s pamphlet. Whether Buchanan would have issued the pamphlet version were it not for the fuss made about his use of the Thomas Maitland pseudonym is open to question. Also, I think it worth noting that the Buchanan who wrote the original article, stuck in the wilds of Scotland, mired in financial problems, was not the Buchanan who wrote the pamphlet, living in London, producing regular copy for The Saint Pauls Magazine, secure financially, and with the secret knowledge that he had fooled the critics and the whole literary establishment with his most popular book to date, Saint Abe and his Seven Wives.

July 1872

Swinburne publishes his attack on Buchanan, Under the Microscope.
Reviewed in The Examiner, July 6, 1872.

The poem, ‘John Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado’ (Part 1) (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’), and the essays, ‘The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol: A Yachting Episode’ - ‘by An Idle Voyager’ and ‘The Laureate of the Nursery’, published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.


August 1872

The Monkey and the Microscope’, Buchanan’s reply to Swinburne’s Under the Microscope, published in The Saint Pauls Magazine. The August edition also includes ‘St. Laurence and the Gnomes: A Northern Legend’ (‘by B.’) and ‘Birds of the Hebrides’.


September 1872

‘John Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado’ (Part 2) (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’), ‘Prose and Verse’ (by ‘Walter Hutcheson’) and ‘The Ballad of the Wayfarer’ (by ‘T. M.’) published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.

After the September issue, Buchanan’s contributions to The Saint Pauls Magazine begin to tail off. ‘John Mardon’ is concluded in the October issue and Buchanan’s poem, ‘The Song of the Shealing’ is his only (anonymous) contribution to the November issue. In December The Contemporary Review publishes his essay on Bjornsterne Bjornson.

Robert Buchanan Timeline - continued

3. 1873 - 1876



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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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