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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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3. 1873 - 1876







1 February 1873

Letter to Alexander Strahan:
‘I enclose “Kitty Kemble” for next month’s St Pauls. It is quite new and very strong. “Poetry & the Drama” by “Walter Hutcheson” in a day or so; and a St “Abe”.
Can you let me have some cash to-day? Answer per Bearer.’

This letter (in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library) has the proof sheets for ‘Kitty Kemble’ attached. However, I’ve not yet found out when the poem was published and in which magazine. It certainly did not appear in The Saint Pauls Magazine in March 1873, or any subsequent editions. The same applies to the ‘Walter Hutcheson’ essay. The other ‘St. Abe’ could be ‘The Ship of Folly’ which was published in the February, 1874 issue of The Saint Pauls Magazine ‘by the author of White Rose and Red’ although by this time Buchanan’s authorship of the ‘American’ poems was widely known.

The final, regular, contribution of Buchanan to The Saint Pauls Magazine was another extract from White Rose and Red, ‘The Great Snow’ which was published in the February, 1873 issue. According to the Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Laurel Brake and Marysa Demor (Academia Press, 2009):
“Henry Samuel King (1817-1878), a successful banker and India agent, began publishing books in 1871. A loan to Alexander Strahan led to King’s financial interest in a number of periodicals originally published by Strahan. These were the Contemporary Review, Good Words for the Young, and Saint Paul’s Magazine. For nearly two years (c. 1872-74), these periodicals were published under King’s imprint and his wholesale network handled their distribution.”

Volume X (January to June 1872) of The Saint Pauls Magazine has the Strahan imprint, Volume XI (July to December 1872) that of Henry S. King. Whatever the arrangement was between Strahan and Buchanan for the latter to provide copy for the magazine, it seems to have ended in February, 1873.

The letter to Strahan was sent from 6, Wells Road, Regent’s Park, possibly indicating that Buchanan had spent the winter in London again.

28 February 1873

After consulting doctors in London, Buchanan goes to Great Malvern for hydropathic treatment at Holyrood House. [Jay.]

Jay includes several entries from her sister’s diary (the only time she does so) about the visit to Malvern. However she only mentions the day and month, not the year, which could cause confusion since there is an entry for 29th February (1872 was a leap year). Despite this, there is enough information about Buchanan’s whereabouts in the spring of 1872, and the mention of White Rose and Red, would confirm that the dates in Mary Buchanan’s diary refer to 1873.

12 March 1873

Buchanan finishes White Rose and Red and posts it to London. [Jay.]


13 March 1873

With no improvement in Buchanan’s health, Mary advises him to leave Malvern, and “a few days later” they return to London. [Jay.]


29 March 1873

Buchanan’s symptoms persist and he decides to return to Malvern to try the hydropathic treatment again. [Jay.]

According to Jay this second visit to Malvern “lasted several weeks”. She also quotes from a letter to Roden Noel:
“It is awfully dull and damnably dear, in fact a perfect catarrh of cash. . . . I got a lighter heart directly I had seen Reynolds and Gulley, and they to some extent dissipated my greatest dread.”

31 March 1873

Item in The Northern Echo:
     “Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, is unwell. He is trying the cold water cure at Great Malvern.”


6 May 1873

Item in The Dundee Courier & Argus:
‘... the author of “St Abe and his Seven Wives” has a second Yankee poem nearly ready for publication, to be entitled “White Rose and Red.” Mr Leicester Warren, a son of Lord de Tabley’s has a book of verses, “Searching the Net,” in the printer’s hands. I regret to hear that Mr Robert Buchanan is again prostrated by over-work, and is suffering from congestion of the brain.’


4 June 1873

Letter to Tennyson from Malvern. The letter mentions Mary Buchanan having written to Tennyson, without her husband’s approval. Buchanan then launches into another attack on James Knowles, accusing him of revealing his authorship of ‘The Fleshly School’ article to Sidney Colvin “& others”. Buchanan ends the letter with the following:
“If you stay long in the Isle of Wight I should like to see you some day. I’m not well enough yet to visit, but I might perhaps see you en passant. My doctor tells me to get sea-air, & I might be in your neighbourhood.”

This seems to be the final surviving letter from Buchanan to Tennyson. Mary Buchanan’s letter to Tennyson is presumed lost..

1 July 1873

Prefatory Note to Master-Spirits dated July 1, 1873, Great Malvern.


August 1873

White Rose and Red: a love story published anonymously (“By The Author of ‘St. Abe.’”) in London by Strahan & Co. and in Boston by J. R. Osgood & Co.
Advertised in
The Times August 11, 1873.
Reviewed in
The Nonconformist, August 13, 1873.
The book is dedicated: “To Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardiner, with all friends in Washington.”
The publisher’s adverts at the end of the book announce the fourth edition (enlarged and revised) of
Saint Abe: A Tale of Salt Lake City.


21 August 1873

A review of White Rose and Red in the New-York Daily Tribune contains the following:
It is written by the “Author of St. Abe,” whoever that anonymous scribe may have been. Rumor has spoken of Robert Buchanan in connection with it, but I do not agree with rumor. The book seems to me the work of an American. No Englishman would have been so familiar with the spirit of the life in the “State of Maine.”’


23 August 1873

Item in The Hastings and St. Leonards Observer:
     “MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN, THE POET.—We understand that this distinguished young poet, so well known as the author of “London   Lyrics,” and many other works of high merit, has during the past week been sojourning at Littlehampton. He has for several months been seriously ill, but is now recovering; and it is to be hoped that his convalescence will be promoted by his stay on the Sussex coast. We understand that he has at present more than one work in the press, including a volume of essays on the great literary worthies of our time, Victor Hugo, Tennyson, Browning, &c.”


30 August 1873

An advert for White Rose and Red (‘published this day’) in the Boston Daily Globe opens with:
This charming story in verse, rumored to be the work of Mr, Robert Buchanan ...”


September 1873

‘Euphrosyne’, the first in a series of poems published each month in Cassell’s Magazine, until August 1874.


1 September 1873

Letter to John Chapman, publisher of The Westminster Review:
“I just send this line to remind you that the copy of “White Rose & Red” was sent to the Editor of the Westminster by mistake; it should have been addressed as what it is, a private copy to you. You will agree with me that it is hardly fair to submit any work of mine to a reviewer who, on your own admission, is personally hostile to me; and I must therefore beg you to suppress any review from his pen, as he is no doubt privately advised by this time of my responsibility for “White Rose & Red.” As a rule, I treat criticism favorable or otherwise with quiet contempt; but a critic who avows a prejudice has, you will agree, no right to be heard at all.”

The tone of this letter suggests that Buchanan had no intention at this point of revealing his authorship of Saint Abe and White Rose and Red. However, the rumours in the American papers in August would suggest that the secret was out.

6 September 1873

A review of White Rose and Red in the Boston Daily Globe, begins: “Whoever may be the author of the poem, White Rose and Red, whether he is Robert Buchanan or another, he must have the credit of having given to the world a picture of an utterly contemptible hero.”


Autumn 1873

Buchanan moves to Ireland.

The actual date of Buchanan’s move from Oban, further into exile on the west coast of Ireland is not known. The Jay biography is not helpful, placing the move in 1874. All one can say is that it occurred some time between August (when Buchanan was in Littlehampton) and November (the date of Roden Noel’s letter below). Jay does go into some detail about their stay in Ireland, including extracts from several letters from Buchanan to William Canton, including the following:
“I came here for economy and just now, calculating up, I find it costs me as much as London, though we only live in a tiny cottage. There are so many Poor who must and will be assisted.”

Jay gives the annual rent of Rossport Lodge as £50 (half Buchanan’s civil list pension).

October 1873

The review of White Rose and Red in The Westminster Review includes the following:
‘And although the author of “St. Abe” is not an American, his poetry has a wonderful likeness to that of the new American school. We the countrymen of Tennyson, Swinburne, Morris, and Rossetti, whose lines are so fastidiously correct, not unnaturally resent the wilder music of the Backwoods.’


14 October 1873

The following appeared in The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald (and presumably other provincial newspapers):
‘When “St. Abe and his Seven Wives” first appeared, it was attributed to Mr. Lowell; others saw the peculiar cleverness of Bret Harte. “Some parts of the poem,” it was thought, “must have been written by George Browning.” Mr. Buchanan, the real author, enjoyed these praises, for some of them came from papers which had been specially hard upon previous productions bearing his name. English authors are getting fond of these tricks, to the annoyance of the critics. ... “Saint Abe” was pronounced “thoroughly American,” but Mr. Buchanan is Scotch of the Scotch. His new poem, “White Rose and Red,” is dedicated to “Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardner, with all friends in Washington.” If the theory just alluded to be correct, the new poem will not be so successful as the old, for Mr. Buchanan’s name has long leaked out, and he is a hard hitter himself. His greatest triumph would have been some words of eulogy for the anonymous author of the Mormon composition, from Mr. Rosetti, but I have not heard that he can boast of as much.’


21 October 1873

The review of White Rose and Red in The Pall Mall Gazette includes the following:
“Making all deductions, however, for these deficiencies in finish, the poem is a very fine piece of work; and its obvious veracity of delineation is the more remarkable because the writer is evidently not an American by birth.


November 1873

Robert Buchanan’ by George Barnett Smith published in the Contemporary Review. An overly effusive article which ‘suggested’ that Buchanan was the author of Saint Abe and White Rose and Red:
The personal chord running through this poem, ‘White Rose and Red,’ we should have considered sufficient to identify it. Besides Tennyson and Browning, there is no other person except Mr. Buchanan whose work we could consider it to be, and there are insuperable aspects which would immediately forbid us associating the authorship with the Poet Laureate, or the writer of ‘Pippa Passes.’ We shall at some future day probably receive confirmation of the views just expressed from the (at present) unknown author of the work.”

This is almost certainly a ‘puff piece’ commissioned by Buchanan to increase his profile prior to the publication of his first collection of ‘Poetical Works’ which appeared three months later.

5 November 1873

Letter to Roden Noel from Rossport, Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland:
“My work this year has been nil, & my pecuniary troubles distracting. Happy man! gifted with plenty & total literary ease!—Money matters are bad enough when one is well, but when one is ill—ah! ... This is a wild place, breeding wild moods. There is nothing but dead waste, squalor, & the Ocean— all one sombre tint of gray. But I am happier here than in England.”

Since this letter does contradict Jay’s version of events, and in case an error on Buchanan’s part is suspected, it should be pointed out that the text of the letter does support the 1873 date. Buchanan mentions having read Roden Noel’s “first paper on ‘Byron’”, which presumably refers to Noel’s “Lord Byron and his Times” published in The Saint Pauls Magazine in two parts in November and December 1873. Buchanan’s comment about his “work this year has been nil” also fits 1873, when he had stopped writing for The Saint Pauls Magazine and only published White Rose and Red, rather than 1874, when his three volume Poetical Works was published, he was writing poems for The Gentleman’s Magazine, and he returned to the theatre with A Madcap Prince. A scan of the first page of the letter is available here.

December 1873

Master-Spirits, a collection of essays, published by Henry S. King.
Reviewed in The Examiner, 6 December, 1873.
The collection includes two essays previously published in
The Saint Pauls Magazine under the pseudonym, Walter Hutcheson. The sentence referring to “The Mutual Admiration School of Poetry” and the paragraph naming Swinburne are omitted from ‘Criticism as one of the Fine Arts’.


Buchanan’s omission of the passages in ‘Criticism as one of the Fine Arts’ could indicate an unwillingness to provoke a resumption of the ‘Fleshly School’ feud.

6 December 1873

The review of Master-Spirits in The Examiner includes the following:
It is to be hoped that he has solaced himself in his retirement at Malvern (the cause whereof we greatly regret) as much by writing these articles as others will be charmed by reading them, provided they do not expect any very strong meat.”

I’ve only found this reference to a visit to Malvern in the winter of 1873 in The Examiner. It is repeated on 10th January, 1874 (below).




January 1874

The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan in 3 volumes, published in London by Henry S. King & Co.
Advertised in The Morning Post, January 23 and The Manchester Courier, January 24, 1874:
‘Robert Buchanan’s Poetical and Prose Works. Collected Edition, in 5 vols, Vol. I. contains “Ballads and Romances;” “Ballads and Poems of Life.” With a Portrait of the Author. Crown 8vo., cloth extra. 6s. Ready.’

Volume I reviewed in The Graphic February 21, 1874.

The 3 volume edition of The Poetical Works was also published in Boston by James R. Osgood and Co.


The two volumes of ‘Prose Works’, which were advertised, were not published.

The 3 volume set of Poetical Works did not include Saint Abe, White Rose and Red, or any of the other poems “by the author of St. Abe” which had been published in 1872 in The Saint Pauls Magazine. However it does include ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ which had been published anonymously. Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian, which was essentially a translation, was also omitted. Napoleon Fallen had been included as the second part of The Drama of Kings, but now it appeared (largely intact) as ‘The Fool of Destiny’ in a heavily revised version of The Drama of Kings, which was renamed ‘Political Mystics’. Other extracts from The Drama of Kings were collected as ‘Songs of the Terrible Year’ with this explanatory note:
“The ‘Drama of Kings’ was written under a false conception, which no one discarded sooner than the author; but portions of it are preserved in the present collection, because, although written during the same feverish and evanescent excitement, they are the distinct lyrical products of the author’s mind, and perfectly complete in themselves.”

7 January 1874

Letter to Browning from a London address, 51 Upper Gloucester Place, Dorset Square. Buchanan writes:
“For myself, I have been under a Shadow, but am beginning to see daylight.”


10 January 1874

Item in The Examiner:
     ““MR ROBERT BUCHANAN, who is submitting himself to hydropathic treatment at Malvern, has, we are informed, another volume of smaller poems in hand, which will include some already printed, amongst a considerable number of original ones.”

A variation on this item is printed in various provincial papers in January, but they only mention the ‘volume of smaller poems’ (which was not forthcoming) and there is no mention of Malvern.

22 January 1874

Buchanan’s attack on Carlyle from ‘Mr. John Morley’s Essays’, which was reprinted in Master-Spirits as ‘A Young English Positivist’ appears in various provincial newspapers, including The Bradford Observer and The Falkirk Herald.


28 February 1874

A lecture is given by the Rev. C. C. Coe on the subject of ‘Robert Buchanan’ at the Leicester Museum. According to the report in The Leicester Chronicle of 7th March:
     “The Lecturer, in the outset of his address, spoke of the great value of poetry, and afterwards, in illustration of his remarks, read a number of extracts from the works of Robert Buchanan with considerable pathos, eliciting repeated rounds of applause.”


18 March 1874

Item in The Aberdeen Journal:
     “I regret to observe that St. Paul’s Magazine is discontinued. It was at first edited by Mr Trollope, but soon passed into the hands of Mr Alexander Strahan, who was assisted in the editorship by Robert Buchanan, the poet. The magazine was conducted with a good deal of spirit, and was eagerly read by some for the sake of the numerous contributions it contained from the pen of a gentleman who conceals himself under such pseudonyms as Matthew Brame, Henry Holbeach, A. Hunter, An Irreconcileable, &c., and who is, under them all, one of the most wise, subtle, and tender teachers of this age. Mr Buchanan, who also affects pseudonyms, was a very extensive contributor under various signatures—the favourite being Walter Hutcheon. Somehow, however, the periodical never throve, and it is now discontinued in favour of Mr Strahan’s new penny weekly, the Saturday Journal, of which much is expected.”


28 March 1874

An advert for the April issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Examiner announces:
     “The number of the GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE for May will contain the first of an important series of poems by Robert Buchanan, each poem occupying four or five pages, the series to appear in the successive numbers of the Magazine for twelve months.


13 April 1874

A Press Association Telegram in The Manchester Evening News:
     “Mr. Robert Buchanan the poet is still very ill, the water treatment at Malvern having been of no avail.”
The item is printed in various provincial papers.

This visit to Malvern in 1874 (which may account for Jay’s confusion over the date of the move to Ireland, following a stay in Malvern) seems to be confirmed by a letter to J. Maclehose, dated March 30, 1874, from the address, Chatsworth House, Great Malvern. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen the letter (which is offered for sale on abebooks) but the date seems to be confirmed in the description since Buchanan “asks for ‘local help’ for an edition of his collected poems just issued by King & Co.”

May 1874

Eros Athanatos’ published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

An advert for The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Examiner of 2nd May, declares:
“‘Eros Athanatos’, a very fine poem of 180 lines (of the ‘White Rose and Red’ Series), by Robert Buchanan will appear in the May Number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, being the first of a set of twelve important works by this Poet, to appear in consecutive numbers of the Magazine.”

1 May 1874

A notice in The Dover Express:
     “The Editor of Cassell’s Magazine has issued a programme of contributions he has arranged to appear in his forthcoming volume, to be commenced next month. Among these we notice ... a series of poems by Robert Buchanan; ...”


15 May 1874

In a review of the May issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine and Buchanan’s poem, ‘Eros Athanatos’, the Nottinghamshire Guardian included the following:
‘Mr. Buchanan, by the way, takes this opportunity of acknowledging the authorship of “White Rose and Red,” and therefore of “St. Abe.”’

Despite the adverts stating that Buchanan had written ‘Eros Athanatos’, it was printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine as ‘by the author of ‘White Rose and Red’. Once the secret had trickled out, Buchanan appears not to have made any statement about his ‘American’ works and for some reason (perhaps commercial) did not draw attention to the way in which he had fooled the critics. It was not until 1896, when he published his own edition (the first to bear his name) of Saint Abe that he added a Bibliographical Note describing the circumstances in which the poem was first published.

3 June 1874

A review of the June edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Nonconformist included the following, referring to ‘Eros Athanatos’:
‘In last month’s Gentleman’s, Mr. Robert Buchanan joined the “fleshly school” of poets. Yes; that terrific denunciator went over to his enemies bodily, and the “fleshly school” must have had a delicious feeling of being avenged.


10 June 1874

An advert in The Morning Post for the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, mentions:
“A new comedy, by Mr. Robert Buchanan, is in preparation, and will be immediately produced.”

The play is A Madcap Prince. Buchanan’s last play to be produced was The Witchfinder in 1864 and although there is evidence that he had continued writing for the theatre in the intervening years, nothing had reached the stage.

13 June 1874

From The Graphic:
     “The theatrical season may now be said to have reached its flattest period, but most of the theatres are open, and some novelties are in preparation, among others a new poetical drama by Mr. Robert Buchanan, on the subject of King Charles the Second’s escape.”


15 June 1874

From The Bradford Observer:
     “Nothing is heard of Mr. Tennyson’s Boadicea, which was to be adapted by Mr. Tom Taylor; but a comedy by another of our poets, Mr. Robert Buchanan, will be produced immediately at the Haymarket Theatre. It is entitled A Madcap Prince, and is said to contain a peculiarly attractive part for Miss Madge Robertson. The comedy, which is in blank verse, is understood to be altogether an ambitious effort at high comedy.”


28 June 1874

From The Era:
     “Few changes have been made in the theatrical arrangements of the past week. At the HAYMARKET The Overland Route has remained in the playbill, and it is now announced that, in consequence of its continued attraction, the comedy will be represented for some evenings longer, Mr Robert Buchanan’s new piece, entitled A Madcap Prince, being indefinitely postponed. The last night of the season, identified, as usual, with the benefit of Mr Buckstone, is fixed for Monday, the 3d of August.”


July 1874

‘The Wedding of Shon Maclean’ published in the Gentleman’s Magazine.


7 July 1874

According to this item in The Ipswich Journal, Buchanan was ill again:
     “I am sorry to report that Robert Buchanan, the poet, is seriously unwell. His preparations for a rambling tour for the restoration of his health have been suspended by an increase of illness, rendering his journey for the time impossible.”


11 July 1874

The same story appeared in The Morpeth Herald, this time specifying “a rambling tour through England.”


22 July 1874

From The Edinburgh Evening News:
     “Mr Robert Buchanan’s blank verse comedy, written for the Haymarket company, will not be produced until next season.”


3 August 1874

A Madcap Prince produced at the Haymarket Theatre, London, starring Mr. and Mrs. Kendal and Mr. Buckstone, for one performance on the final night of the season. It then tours the provinces, including Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Despite Mr. Buckstone’s announcement that it would open the Haymarket’s next season in October, this does not occur.

A Madcap Prince was never given a London run. There were two other single performances, with Harriett Jay playing the role of Elinor Vane, at the Olympic Theatre on June 3, 1881 and at the Gaiety Theatre, November 22, 1882.

8 August 1874

The review of A Madcap Prince in The Examiner concludes with the following:
“We are sorry we cannot speak more favourably of Mr Buchanan’s first attempt at dramatic writing, because he has shown himself wonderfully accommodating in his desire to achieve success. Not only has he relinquished all possibility of his again appearing in the lofty character of a
censor morum, and guardian of public decency; but in showing himself willing to gratify theatrical taste by repeating vulgar ridicule of the Puritans and vulgar glorification of the cavaliers, he has thrown suspicion upon the honesty of his somewhat blatant professions of advanced political views. In his eagerness to succeed as a playwright, he has sacrificed literary and political consistency, and he has not succeeded. He has signified his willingness to prostitute his talents, and has revealed the humiliating fact that in this particular line he has no talents to prostitute.”


October 1874

‘The Character of Goethe’ published in The New Quarterly Magazine.
The God-Like Love
published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

Buchanan’s essay on Goethe was written three years earlier and was originally intended for The Contemporary Review but was rejected by the editor, James Knowles, as revealed in a letter to Tennyson of November 28, 1871.

7 October 1874

A review of the October edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Nonconformist included the following:
‘And will Mr. Buchanan ever write again on the “Fleshly School” after sinning a second time, as he does this month, in “The God- like Love”? Nothing more “fleshly” was ever written than the stanzas on Danae.’


Late 1874

Buchanan writes to William Canton suggesting they collaborate on a novel. Buchanan’s first idea (which will form the basis of A Child of Nature published in 1881) is rejected. [Jay.]

Chapter XVIII of the Jay biography includes several letters from Buchanan to Canton detailing this collaborative approach to novel-writing.

20 December 1874

Writes to William Canton again with a second idea for a novel, which will eventually become The Shadow of the Sword. The working title is Romaine. [Jay.]





January 1875

Chatto & Windus publish ‘The Poems and Minor Translations of George Chapman. With an Introduction by Algernon Charles Swinburne’ and ‘George Chapman. A Critical Essay. By A. C. Swinburne’:

The following passage occurs in Edmund Gosse’s review in The Examiner (20 February, 1875):
“We refer the discreet reader somewhat diffidently to some Landorian passages of invective on pages 54, 55, and 71, entering, as we do, fully into the humour and spirit of them, withoiut being quite sure that in an essay of this kind they are either well-timed or specially effective.”



Swinburne’s veiled references to Buchanan are seen as the start of the second stage of the ‘Fleshly School’ Controversy.

1 January 1875

Item in The Edinburgh Evening News:
     “ROBERT BUCHANAN’S COMEDY.—The new poetical comedy by Mr Robert Buchanan, says a London correspondent, will be in a totally different style from the one dealing with Charles II. produced at the Haymarket. The principal part is intended for Miss Isabel Bateman, who, although she does not exhibit the tragic power of her elder sister, is a most promising and intelligent actress.”


2 January 1875

Letter, from Rossport Lodge, Belmullet, to the American theatre producer Augustin Daly. Buchanan, having read in a newspaper that Daly was planning a production of A Madcap Prince, says he will send Daly a revised copy of the play and offers this explanation as to why the play only received the one performance in London:
     “The reproduction of the piece in London has been delayed thro’ the unexpected return of Mr Sothern and the confinement of Mrs Kendal. As the Kendals have now left the Haymarket, & are out of all engagement, I dont know when it will be done again—I hope soon. Wherever played, it has been entirely successful, as you will doubtless have heard.”
Daly’s production of A Madcap Prince never appeared, although Buchanan (according to surviving letters) continued to try to interest him in the play until 1886.


17 February 1875

Buchanan writes to Canton apologising for the delay in writing and says he is “neck-deep in work”. [Jay.]

An extract from another letter to Canton in Chapter XXI of Jay refers to Buchanan being busy writing Balder The Beautiful at this time.

26 February 1875

Buchanan writes to Canton:
“I have been very busy and much worried: far too much of both to write any of ‘Romaine.’ Nothing has miscarried that you sent. The days flash by like lightning, and I find hardly a moment to spare. ... I don’t know how you stand, but I fear I cannot touch my portion for some little time yet, for I must have everything else off my mind ere I begin. ... Thank God I am not ill, though always shaky more or less, like a man on thin ice.” [Jay.]


28 March 1875

The date of Will Williams’ ‘Our London Letters’ published in Appleton’s Journal (24 April, 1875), which included the following:
     ‘MANY of the English papers have been expressing a doubt as to whether Mr. Swinburne really received, as has been stated, fifty pounds for that little lyric of his, “Love laid his Sleepless Head,” which was introduced into the Society version of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” I have reason to know that the statement is quite correct. Nor is there any thing very remarkable in it. Poets are paid well nowadays—that is, the three or four that have made a name. Tennyson’s price for a lyric is one hundred pounds. Robert Buchanan received the same sum for the few little poems which recently appeared in Cassell’s Mlagazine, and which, I may add, were composed by him in three days. Like Swinburne, Buchanan is a wonderfully facile writer of verse. He produces it quite as quickly as ordinary authors produce prose. He never seems at a loss for rhyme. Just now, by-the-way, he is in Ireland; hence those stirring Irish poems we are having by him in the Gentleman’s Magazine.’

This extract was reprinted in The Staffordshire Daily Sentinel, May 17, 1875.

April 1875

‘Thomas Love Peacock: A Personal Reminiscence’ published in The New Quarterly Magazine.

R. E. Francillon writes to Buchanan asking him to contribute a poem to be inserted in the novel he is writing for the extra Christmas edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine.


Buchanan’s poem is ‘The Changeling’.

14 April 1875

Letter to Canton indicating the collaboration has stalled somewhat: “I have been distraught on various accounts; partly with work. And you, I suppose on your side have been so deep in the folds of that ‘top coat,’ as to have forgotten ‘Romaine.’ If so wake up! The first free week I get I mean to plunge headlong into that work, but it wants thought, silence, and care.” [Jay.]

Letter to Francillon (included in Jay) agreeing to write the poem and stipulating it should be anonymous.

Letter to Augustin Daly enclosing the manuscript of his new play,  Corinne, inviting him to suggest revisions and offering him a co-writing credit. Buchanan also says:
“I have, however, resolved in my future dramatic efforts, to use a pseudonym.”
Buchanan is enthusiastic about the play, expecting it to be produced with Mrs. Vezin in the title role:
“I expect great things of “Corinne,” only you must have a first-class actress, full of passion, fervour, & fire.”
He also offers to sell the American rights to Daly, and mentions that Daly has not yet produced
A Madcap Prince.

Buchanan’s hopes for Corinne were not fulfilled and it was one of his least successful plays. There was no collaboration with Daly and no production with Mrs. Vezin. Instead the play was produced at the Lyceum Theatre by an amateur actress, Mrs. Fairfax, and ran for just two weeks from 26th June to 8th July, 1876.


30 April 1875

In a letter to Canton Buchanan mentions “longing for a run to London ... The worst of this region is its inaccessibility!—the journey to Town being both arduous and costly.” [Jay.]


19 May 1875

Letter to Canton abandoning the collaboration.
“Shall you be very much— awfully—disappointed if I decide that the prose form won’t suit ‘Romaine’ after all, and that I should like to adhere to my original plan of making it a poem?”
He also promises to pay Canton for his trouble. [Jay.]

Buchanan and Canton remained friends despite both the failure of the collaboration and Buchanan’s subsequent publication of the novel.

31 May 1875

Item in The Northern Echo:
     ‘Mr. Robert Buchanan will commence a “Narrative poem of peculiar pathos” in the Gentleman’s Magazine for January, 1876. It will be completed in six monthly parts.’

This ‘narrative poem’ (also mentioned in the Preface to Volume XIV of The Gentleman’s Magazine), did not materialise, but Buchanan’s first novel, The Shadow of the Sword, commenced publication in the magazine in January, 1876.

June 1875

‘The Peepshow: or, The Old Theology and the New’ published in The Gentleman’s Magazine. The title would later be changed to ‘The Devil’s Peepshow’.

Swinburne’s Essays and Studies published by Chatto & Windus. Advertised in The Times, June 14, 1875. The essay, ‘Matthew Arnold’s New Poems’, now has a footnote relating to David Gray.



The insertion of this quite unnecessary (and rather cruel) footnote is another indication that Swinburne had not finished with Buchanan, since the most obvious reason for its inclusion is an attempt to draw Buchanan out to continue the ‘Fleshly School’ battle.

12 June 1875

The Editor’s Preface for Volume XIV (January-June 1875) of The Gentleman’s Magazine is printed as an advert in The Examiner. It includes the following:
‘The fact that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s series of poems, which have appeared in the GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE through the last fourteen months, will be reprinted, I must not attribute to the circumstance of their favourable reception in these pages, because Mr. Buchanan’s work never wants for an audience; but I think I may venture to say that these fourteen poems have added much to the poet’s reputation, and have largely increased the number of his admirers in England, Ireland, and Scotland. One of the earliest of the series, “The Wedding of Shon Maclean,” was quoted full length in many of the journals of Scotland, and it has already become recognised as a characteristic national work, recited at public readings and repeated by the Scottish fireside. Since then several of the poems have occupied whole columns of Irish and Scotch papers in connection with notices of the GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE. The last of this series is the one printed in the present number, but Mr. Buchanan is engaged upon a poem which he has had for some time in contemplation —a single work which will occupy probably about thirty pages of the magazine distributed over six months. The first instalment will appear in the number for January next.’


July 1875

‘The Modern Stage’ published in The New Quarterly Magazine.


August 1875

Harriett Jay’s first novel, The Queen Of Connaught, published (anonymously) by Richard Bentley and Son.
Advertised in
The Pall Mall Gazette, August 16, 1875.
Reviewed in The Standard, August 30, and The Daily News, September 3, 1875 (the reviewer assuming the author was male).


Harriett Jay was 21 when The Queen of Connaught was published.

October 1875

Jonas Fisher by James Carnegie, the Earl of Southesk, published anonymously.
Advertised in
The Examiner October 23, 1875.


27 October 1875

Letter to Browning from the Dorset Square address, says he is in London for a short time and includes the following about Harriett Jay’s novel:
“You will be glad to hear that my sister-in-law, whom you know, and who has lived with us from childhood, has had a great success with her first story – “The Queen of Connaught.” A large first edition has been sold, & the second is out. You may guess how far more this delights me than any success of my own.”
In a postscript he adds this:
“The authorship of the “Queen of Connaught” is mentioned in confidence, but my sister particularly wishes you to tell Miss Browning, to whom she sends kindest regards (in which I join).”


November 1875

Robert Buchanan’s Poetry. By the Hon. Roden Noel’ is published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.


5 November 1875

Item in The Belfast News-Letter:
HARLES READE’S NEW STORY.—It is announced that “The Queen of Connaught,” the novel recently published anonymously by Messrs. Bentley & Son, is by Mr. Charles Reade. It deals trenchantly with the abuses of the Irish priesthood, and has created much sensation in Ireland, having been strongly denounced by the Nation. The novel entered upon its third edition, however, on Wednesday.”

The same item was reprinted in The Aberdeen Journal on 10th November.

There’s no evidence that Buchanan started the rumour that Charles Reade had written The Queen of Connaught, but the suspicion remains. Harriett Jay  mentions the rumour in Chapter XXIV of the biography:
“... in many quarters the book was spoken of as the work of Charles Reade. Fearing the great author’s  anger, I wrote him a letter of apology, telling him that I was only a beginner in the art which I had adopted under circumstances so auspicious, and finally assuring him that I had had no hand whatever in the circulation of the reports which connected the book with his name. The reply which I received was courteous and kindly in the extreme.”

17 November 1875

Letter to Richard Gowing (published in Chapter XX of Jay) agreeing to terms for the serialisation of The Shadow of the Sword in the Gentleman’s Magazine. Buchanan receives 180 guineas (payable in monthly instalments) for the book.


20 November 1875

Swinburne publishes the following poem in The Examiner, obviously aimed at Buchanan:

He whose heart and soul and tongue
Once above-ground stunk and stung,
Now less noisome than before,
Stinks here still, but stings no more.

The final sentence of Swinburne’s Under The Microscope describes Buchanan in similar terms:

“But when once we have seen the fang, though innocuous, protrude from a mouth which would fain distil poison and can only distil froth, we need no revelation to assure us that the doom of the creature is to go upon its belly and eat dust all the days of its life.”

22 November 1875

Item in The Glasgow Herald:
     “Mr Robert Buchanan, who is best known through his poetic works, is about to write a serial story for the Gentleman’s Magazine. The action of the novel lies in Brittany, and deals with Breton life.”


27 November 1875

An advert for The Gentleman’s Magazine in The Examiner includes the following:
“A Prose Romance, by Robert Buchanan, The Poet, will commence in the January number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, and be continued through twelve months.”

A review of Jonas Fisher in The Examiner speculates that Buchanan is the author:
‘This anonymous poem is said by the “London Correspondents” to be the work either of Mr. Robert Buchanan or of the Devil; and delicate as may be the question raised by this double sided supposition, the weight of probability inclines to the first of the alternatives.’


29 November 1875

Item in The Western Times:
     “Mr. R. E. Francillon, author of the Olympia, A Dog and his  Shadow, &c., is the author of “Streaked with Gold,” the Christmas number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, but the section called “Pedlar Solomon’s Pocket Book,” written to harmonise with Mr. Francillon’s plot, is by Mr. W. Senior (“Red Spinner.”) The poem called “The Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight,” which comes in as an episode, and forms no part of the main story, is by Robert Buchanan.”


4 December 1875

Buchanan states in the Athenæum that he is not the author of Jonas Fisher and has not even seen the poem.
Buchanan’s denial is also reported in
The Examiner, and various provincial papers.


11 December 1875

A letter from Swinburne, under the title ‘The Devil’s Due’ and signed “Thomas Maitland - St. Kilda, December 28, 1875” is published in The Examiner. Swinburne refers to Buchanan as “the polypseudonymous lyrist and libeller”, “the ‘multifaced’ idyllist of the gutter”, and repeats the charge that he reviews his own work. The letter ends with a parody of the letters from Strahan and Buchanan printed beneath ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’ in The Athenæum.

According to The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne by Thomas Hake and Arthur Compton- Rickett (London, 1918 - p.120):
“Concurrently with the appearance of Swinburne’s article in Minto’s journal,
The Devil’s Due was printed in pamphlet form, but suppressed immediately, for rumours of legal proceedings against the proprietor of the Examiner soon began to leak out.” The 12 page pamphlet version of the letter is now accepted as a Thomas Wise forgery from 1896.




January 1876

The serialisation of The Shadow of the Sword begins in the January issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Buchanan sues Mr. P. A. Taylor M.P., proprietor of The Examiner, for libel and asks for damages of £5000. Reported in The Dundee Courier, January 22:
     “Mr Robert Buchanan has raised a libel action against the Examiner on account of a letter signed “Thomas Maitland” which recently appeared in that journal, and was meant as a reply to Mr Buchanan’s New Timon-like criticisms of a year or so ago.”


27 January 1876

This report appeared in The Liverpool Mercury (and presumably other papers around this date):
“Lord Southesk is now declared to be the author of that remarkable poem “Jonas Fisher,” which the Spectator said must have been written either by Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil. Lord Southesk is a Liberal peer, who has begun a literary career somewhat late in life. He is 48 years old, and I believe that until his recent book about sporting in America he had not appeared before the public.”

James Carnegie, 9th Earl of Southesk (1827-1905), had a family connection to Buchanan’s friend, Roden Noel, having married his step-sister, Lady Catherine Hamilton Noel (1829–1855), daughter of Charles Noel, 1st Earl of Gainsborough, in 1849. According to his testimony at the trial, Lord Southesk had not met Buchanan until after the publication of Jonas Fisher and the subsequent rumours regarding its authorship.

15 February 1876

In the Common Pleas Division of the High Court an unsuccessful attempt is made by The Examiner’s lawyers to get Buchanan to reveal all of his pseudonymous and anonymous attacks on members of the ‘Fleshly School’ during the past ten years.


19 February 1876

The Examiner scotches the rumour that The Queen of Connaught was written by Charles Reade:
“The authorship of the ‘Queen of Connaught,’ a novel published some little time since, and wrongly ascribed, for no apparent reason, to Mr. Charles Reade, is now believed to be more rightly attributed to a lady a near connection of Mr. Robert Buchanan.”


March 1876

Robert Buchanan’ is the third in a series of articles on ‘Our Modern Poets’ by Thomas Bayne in The St. James’s Magazine.


6 March 1876

Item in The Manchester Courier:
     “Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, has just arrived in London from Connemara, Ireland, in order to prosecute his case against Mr. Taylor,  M.P., and the proprietor of the Examiner, for alleged libels in that publication.


10 March 1876

Writes to Browning (from a Dorset Square address) saying he is ‘in Town on “urgent private affairs”’ and would like to meet.


13 March 1876

Buchanan writes to The Daily News concerning Walt Whitman, who has been reported in The Athenæum as being in dire financial need. Buchanan suggests a subscription scheme be set up in England to acquire copies of Whitman’s new book.


14 March 1876

William Michael Rosetti writes to The Daily News explaining that he wrote the piece about Whitman in the Athenæum and has already instituted a subscription scheme to help the poet.


16 March 1876

Buchanan writes to The Daily News:
“Meantime I take cognisance of the letter from Mr. William Rossetti, published in your columns of to-day, and as that gentleman is, I am glad to see, prepared to undertake the organisation of a fund for the purchase of Whitman’s works, I think all future correspondence, subscriptions,  &c., should be addressed to him. For my own part I shall be glad to co- operate in any scheme for Whitman’s benefit.”


4 April 1876

Walt Whitman writes a letter to Buchanan (included in With Walt Whitman in Camden Vol. 2 (July 16, 1888 - October 31, 1888) by Horace Traubel (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915)):
     “My dear friend—I merely want to say that I have read your letter in the London Daily News—all your three letters—and that I deeply appreciate them, and do not hesitate to accept and respond to them in the same spirit in which they were surely impelled and written.
     May God bless you and yours,
               WALT WHITMAN.”


16 May 1876

Walt Whitman writes a letter to Buchanan (an extract from which is included in With Walt Whitman in Camden Vol. 1 (March 28-July 14, 1888) by Horace Traubel (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906)) which begins:
“Your two letters including the cheque for £25 reached me, for which accept deepest thanks. I have already written you my approval of your three communications in L. D. News and saying that in my opinion (and now with fullest deliberation reaffirming it) all the points assumed as facts on which your letter of March 13 is grounded are substantially true and most of them are true to the minutest particular as far as could be stated in a one column letter.”


20 May 1876

From The Edinburgh Evening News:
                       ‘NOTES FROM THE “ATHENÆUM.”
     Mr Robert Buchanan has in the press a new poem, said to be the most ambitious he has ever written.
     A new play, by Mr Robert Buchanan, will be produced next month at the Lyceum, in which Mrs Fairfax will take the title rôle, Corinne.’

Presumably this is the same poem advertised for The Gentleman’s Magazine in May 1875.

Mrs. Fairfax, an amateur actress, financed the production of Corinne.

June 1876

Visits John Coleman at the Queen’s Theatre. Coleman invites him to dinner at his house in Wigmore Street where Buchanan is first introduced to Charles Reade. Coleman recalls the meeting in his book, Fifty Years of an Actor’s Life, published in 1904:
‘Next, a remarkable-looking man of forty and a girl scarce half that age, neither of whom I had ever seen before. He was clad in an ample Inverness cape of grey frieze, with a white muffler twisted round his huge neck. His fierce blue eyes asserted themselves defiantly through his blue binoculars. His hair was a mass of golden brown, and his beard of burnished gold. His assertant nose (too prononcé for Greek, yet not enough for Roman) and dilated nostrils, his leonine head and chest, combined with a certain “come if you dare” demeanour, suggested the very image of a Viking on the war-path. The girl was tall, slender, dark- eyed, dark-haired, clad in some dark clinging stuff, and there were even then suggestions of statuesque outlines, which indeed afterwards became more amply and superbly developed. He carried a huge, hideous “gamp,” pointed bayonet-wise at my breast, as if about to charge and pin me to the wall behind. The girl, who had evidently never penetrated Stage-land before, gazed curiously at me and the glittering paraphernalia of armour and jewellery scattered around, as who should say, “Where am I, and what manner of man is this player-king?” While they were doubtless summing me up, I took stock of them; hence I recall thus vividly my first impressions of the author of The Shadow of the Sword and London Poems and his pupil and protegée, the authoress of The Queen of Connaught.’


23 June 1876

Writes to Browning, enclosing a ticket for Corinne.


26 June 1876

Corinne produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London.

According to a report (following the trial) in The Ipswich Journal of 4th July:
‘The drama and the trial got to some extent mixed up. I was at the Lyceum on the opening night, and it was clear enough that the author had enemies in the house, the enemies being described by the initiated as “the Swinburne party.” This party were ready to hiss on every possible  chance. They hissed the players, the words of the piece, the scenery and effects, and in the end they so persistently hissed down the call for the author to appear before the curtain, that Mr. Buchanan refrained from coming to the front, and contented himself by bowing quietly from the box in which he had witnessed the performance.’


At some point in 1876 Buchanan ‘published’ Corinne. (“Corinne. A romantic play, by Robert Buchanan, in four acts. Entirely original. Privately printed, not for publication.”) It is available here.

29 June 1876

The case of Buchanan v. Taylor opens in the Common Pleas Division of the High Court before Mr. Justice Archibald and a Special Jury. Buchanan was suing Mr. Peter Taylor, M.P., proprietor of The Examiner, for £5000 damages, in relation to The Examiner’s publication of a review of Jonas Fisher falsely attributed to Buchanan, and Swinburne’s letter of 11 December, 1875, entitled ‘The Devil’s Due’.
Lord Southesk takes the stand and admits he is the author of
Jonas Fisher. Buchanan takes the stand and the court is adjourned before the conclusion of his cross-examination.


30 June 1876

Second day of the trial. Buchanan’s cross-examination continues. No other witnesses are called and the defence counsel (Mr. Hawkins Q.C.) confines himself to an attack on Buchanan, reading extracts from ‘The Session of the Poets’, White Rose and Red and the original ‘Fleshly School’ article, and also referring to Buchanan’s praise of “the infamously indecent poetry of Mr. Walter Whitman”.

The diary of Edmund Gosse, who attended the trial on 30th June, contains this description of Buchanan:
“We could not help remarking his appearance. A pale dissipated-looking man, with reddish-yellow hair, moustache & whiskers, attired in a dirty white waistcoat & loud trowsers, altogether shabby-genteel and anything but gentleman-like.”


1 July 1876

Final day of the trial. According to the report in The Times, “Mr. Justice Archibald summed up the case at considerable length.” The jury retired for twenty minutes and returned with a verdict in favour of Buchanan but only awarding him £150 in damages.

The diary of Edmund Gosse, contains this entry for 1st July:
‘I hear that Buchanan is extremely cock-a-hoop at his gaining £150 and his case. It is said that at a party to-night he turned his back on Mrs. W. Black. Black & he have quarrelled. The party was at Gowing’s, the Editor of the “Gentleman’s Magazine.” Every one avoided B., and Malcolm Lawson sang one of Rossetti’s songs. B. professed to have never heard of it, “Oh! Is that by Rossetti?”

“Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said,
They answered with one voice, “Rossetti.”
Embarassed, shuffling, pale and red,
Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said;
They laughed till they were nearly dead,–
This affectation seemed so petty.
“Who wrote that song?” Buchanan said,
They answered with one voice “Rossetti!”’


3 July 1876

The Pall Mall Gazette publishes a satirical poem about the libel case which concludes with the following lines:
“Yes, my boy, this ought to cure you—reverlations such as these.
You will stick to butter, Dudley—butter, bacon, heggs, and cheese,
Rather than become a poet like them two as lately fought,
Bringin’ out their little wash-tubs, stupid-like, in hopen court;
And—to dab each other’s faces with the soapy froth and foam—
Washed their dirty clothes in public, which they might have washed at ’ome!”


8 July 1876

Final performance of Corinne at the Lyceum Theatre.

Mrs. Fairfax took most of the blame for the failure of the play, rather than Buchanan. Jay quotes a letter from Buchanan to William Canton in Chapter XXIV:
“The lady’s acting” (wrote Mr. Buchanan) “was simply awful, and a strong acting piece was lost through her incompetence. So far as the literary merits of the play went, the critics were right perhaps—it was merely meant to be a theatrical success. Fortunately, I had secured my full money beforehand, or I should have been a heavy loser. As it is, though I have gained nothing in reputation, this very failure has brought me two heavy offers or commissions from London managers, all of whom saw why the piece could not run.”’

10 August 1876

A fire at the printing firm of Grant & Co. in Clerkenwell destroys the September issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine. Buchanan has to rewrite the chapters for the next instalment The Shadow of the Sword from memory.


16 September 1876

An ‘Inaugural Address” written by Buchanan is performed by Miss Leighton (as Clio, the Muse of History) in John Coleman’s production of Henry V at the Queen’s Theatre.


November 1876

The Shadow of the Sword published by Richard Bentley and Son.
Advertised in The Morning Post, November 18. Reviewed in The Daily News December 27.


December 1876

Final instalment of The Shadow of the Sword published in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

The second volume of The Poets and Poetry of Scotland, edited by James Grant Wilson is published. It includes a portrait of Buchanan and the following poems:
‘Willie Baird’, ‘The Dead Mother’, ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’, ‘The Battle of Drumliemoor’ and ‘The Starling’.


23 December 1876

Item in The Examiner:
     “Mr. Robert Buchanan is understood to have in preparation a long poem, of a somewhat more ambitious character than any he has hitherto attempted.”


Robert Buchanan Timeline - continued

4. 1877 - 1881



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


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Harriett Jay


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