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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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4. 1877 - 1881







January 1877

The Dark Colleen, Harriett Jay’s second novel, published (anonymously) by Richard Bentley and Son.
Advertised in The Times, January 8, 1877.
Reviewed in the Daily News, January 30, 1877.


8 January 1877

Buchanan writes a letter to Walt Whitman (included in With Walt Whitman in Camden Vol. 1 (March 28-July 14, 1888) by Horace Traubel (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906)) which begins:
Pray forgive my long silence. I have been deep in troubles of my own. All the books have arrived and been safely transmitted. Many thanks.
     You have doubtless heard about affairs in England. The tone adopted by certain of your friends here became so unpleasant that I requested all subscriptions etc. to be paid over to Rossetti, and received no more myself. During a certain lawsuit against the Examiner, your admirers—notably Mr. Swinburne—pleaded against me that I had praised you, cited your words against me in court etc. I never was so shocked and astonished, for I would not have believed human beings capable of such iniquity.”

Buchanan goes on to repeat his objections to “certain passages in your books (Children of Adam etc). I do not believe them necessary or defensible.”


10 January 1877

Second edition of The Shadow of the Sword advertised in The  Standard.


13 January 1877

A review in The Times of ‘The Theatres in 1876’ dismisses Corinne as follows:
“The year has closed as it began, with the performance of Macbeth; but during the temporary absence of Mrs. Bateman a play written by Mr. Buchanan was given, Corinne, though dealing with a dramatic, albeit well- worn subject, the French Revolution, was in itself so weak, both in construction and in writing, and, with one single exception, so worse than indifferently acted, that its life was brief indeed, nor is there much probability of its ever being revived from the limbo to which it was hastily consigned.”


15 January 1877

The Queen of Connaught, an adaptation of Harriett Jay’s novel by Buchanan and Jay, is produced at the Olympic Theatre, London, starring Ada Cavendish. According to Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper of 21st January:
“The authorship of the play is not acknowledged; but rumour asserts that Mr. Robert Buchanan has had a hand in it.”


The decision not to attach his name to the play could suggest that Buchanan feared the same problems which attended the first night of Corinne.

According to a report in a New York paper, The Spirit of the Times, the ‘authors’ of The Queen of Connaught wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph objecting to its review of the play. Unfortunately I’ve not seen this letter but I thought I should mention it.

16 January 1877

Item in The Times:
     ‘THE “CONTEMPORARY REVIEW.”—Mr. Alexander Strahan writes to us from 34, Paternoster-row:—“You say you understand that the Contemporary Review has passed into the hands of a limited company. This is incorrect. It is only my share that has passed into the hands of a limited company. The other shares remain in the hands of their former proprietors. You also say that there has been a separation between the Review and its late editor. This is the opposite of fact. The Contemporary Review is now edited and will continue to be edited by the present writer, who projected the Review, established it, and has been its conductor from the beginning. With regard to the gentleman who is about, as you say, to start a new Review, and whom you erroneously call the late editor of the Contemporary, I may in a single word explain that he in reality occupied the position on the Review of ‘consulting editor with light duties.’ This is how he styles himself in a recent letter to me. And whatever Reviews he or others may be about to start, the Contemporary will keep on its own course, representing the best thought of the best minds of the time on all contemporary questions—free from narrowness, bigotry, and sectarianism. My original prospectus stated that the object of the Review would be to ‘represent those who are not afraid of modern thought in its varied aspects and demands, and scorn to defend their faith by mere reticence, or by the artifices too commonly acquiesced in.’ Eleven years’ experience have not shown me the desirableness of making any change in the conduct of the Review, least of all of narrowing its platform, or of in any way restricting liberty of discussion in its pages.”’

There is an undated letter from Buchanan to Nicholas Trübner undoubtedly from some time during 1877 in which he says:
‘I suppose you have heard of all the changes on the “Contemporary Review”—If I can be of any service to you there, I shall be glad.’

James Knowles had left The Contemporary Review in order to start his own journal, the Nineteenth Century, and with Strahan back in charge this would seem to explain Buchanan’s contributions to the Contemporary during 1877 - Balder the Beautiful in the editions from March to May and the ‘Signs of the Times’ articles in September and October.

Strahan was in court on two occasions during the year. He tried to stop the publication of Knowles’ Nineteenth Century on February 22nd, but lost. On July 23rd he took the publishers H. S. King to court to reclaim his copyrights of The Contemporary Review and other titles. These cases are not relevant to Buchanan, but they do furnish additional information about Strahan and his business dealings, so I thought it worthwhile adding the reports: the first case from The Standard (23 February, 1877 - p.6), the second from The Pall Mall Gazette (24 July, 1877 - p.6).

6 February 1877

Third edition of The Shadow of the Sword advertised in The Morning Post.


23 February 1877

Item from the Shields Gazette and Daily Telegraph:
     “Mr. Swinburne is on a visit to Captain Burton at Trieste. If the poet can enjoy physical recreation as well as the captain, we shall expect to see him return to London in robust health. Another poet is also on the wing. Mr Robert Buchanan meditates a stay in North Wales for some months. What has become of his new poem that was shortly to be issued?”

I have found no other reference to a visit to Wales. Harriett Jay did set her novel, Two Men and a Maid there, but it was published in December 1881, so the link is tenuous.

March 1877

Balder the Beautiful published in The Contemporary Review in three parts (concluding in the May edition).


17 March 1877

Final (53rd) performance of The Queen of Connaught at the Olympic Theatre.


June 1877

Balder the Beautiful: a song of divine death published by William Mullan and Son.
Noted in ‘Books Received’ in
The Graphic, 30 June, 1877. Reviewed in The Graphic, 21 July, 1877.


September 1877

The Newest Thing In Journalism’ published (anonymously) in The Contemporary Review.

Buchanan’s attack on the new ‘society journals’ created almost as much publicity as his ‘Fleshly School’ article. Speculation was rife as to the authorship of the anonymous article and among the names suggested alongside Buchanan were Swinburne, Ruskin, Arthur A’Beckett, Edward Jenkins, M.P. and Mrs. Lynn Linton.

26 September 1877

Edmund Yates publishes his reply to ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism” in his paper, The World, under the heading ‘A Scofulous Scotch Poet’. He accuses Buchanan of ingratitude since yates had helped him when he first came to London and he describes the first time he met him, ‘a mere youth of two or three-and-twenty, very shabby, very dirty, very “creepy” altogether. Mr. Buchanan is in the frequent habit of quoting Mr. Browning’s phrase about a “scrofulous French novel;” but I am of opinion, having tried both, that a scrofulous Scotch poet is a far more unpleasant object in a room. He told me of his woes, of his poverty (which was positively appalling), of the kindness which had been shown to him and to a friend of his, another Scotch genius, then no more, by a well-known nobleman who is never tired of doing similar kindnesses; he made a most piteous appeal to me to give him work; and all the time he was talking he kept rubbing the fingers of one hand into the interstices of the fingers of the other in a manner which made me shudder. He talked glibly; he showed me scraps of his poems. As I listened to him, I tried to think of Burns and Chatterton; but as I looked at him, I could not help also thinking of the practical benevolence of the Duke of Argyll, and of the vaunted virtues of Keating’s insect powder.’ The following paragraph ends the article:
     ‘For ten years at least I have seen nothing of Mr. Buchanan. I knew, in common with the rest of the world, that he had failed as a poet, as a novelist, as a playwright; I knew that, shielded by the mask and cloak of pseudonimity, he had stabbed some great reputations in the back, and had had his moral ulcers laid bare by the scalpel of judicial cross-examination. Further than this I know nothing. I have had no dispute with Mr. Buchanan; no word of anger has passed between us. When last I saw him I was his friend; when last he addressed me I was his benefactor. But  now, without word or deed on my part, all is changed. I, who stepped out of my way to do this man a kindness, and out of my own small means lent him money to buy bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back, am “a retailer of gossip, with whom no society of respectable men, not to say gentlemen, would associate for ten minutes;” while Mr. Robert William Buchanan, who stings the hand that succoured him, and anonymously stabs those who saved his tainted life, is a Contemporary Reviewer, the soi-disant guide, philosopher, and friend of “all cleanly people who respect honest literature and live earnest lives.”’

The general opinion in the Press was that Yates had gone too far in his article and that Buchanan had grounds for another libel case. There was still some confusion whether Buchanan had actually written ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism” and he did not admit to it until several years later.

I would point out one comment (published on 6th October) about the affair by the London Correspondent of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent who claims to know both parties and writes: “Mr. Yates was a bold man to put that letter in type on the strength of the fact that no answer to a letter addressed to Mr. Buchanan had reached him in twelve days. For this Scotch poet is a most difficult man to find through the post. He is usually staying in a wild and remote country in the far west of Ireland, but he is habitually sparing of the revelation of his address, and letters forwarded to his London address, I have reason to know, do not overtake him as a rule.”

25 October 1877

Letter to Browning mentioning Yates’ article in The World. Buchanan also writes:
I have just returned to Town after a long spell in Ireland.”

Jay places the leaving of Rossport Lodge and Ireland soon after the publication of Balder the Beautiful. The letter to Browning mentions no imminent return, so one could assume that by October 1877, Buchanan and family had settled back in London. According to Jay:
“He took a furnished house in the neighbourhood of the Swiss Cottage, and for several years he continued to live in furnished houses in or near London.”
In a note to ‘O’Connor’s Wake’ in Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour (1882) Buchanan mentions spending ‘four happy years’ in Ireland, which would correspond to autumn 1873 to autumn 1877.

November 1877

The second article in the series, ‘Signs of the Times’ is published in The Contemporary Review. The subject of this is ‘Fashionable Farces’, which doesn’t create any controversy. However, attached to the article is an Editor’s Note referring to the previous article and Yates’ response, which includes a letter from Buchanan in which he writes:
“At the time of its publication, I was many hundreds of miles from London, and I have not yet determined what course of procedure will best vindicate my own reputation and be of most public benefit.”

The ‘Editor’ then launches into another attack on The World, the style of which suggests that the whole note has been written by Buchanan.

Buchanan did own up to his authorship of ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism’ in a letter to The Era in October, 1883 and in an interview with the New York Daily Tribune in September, 1884. However, at the height of the controversy, Buchanan admitted nothing and there was much discussion in the Press about his expected response to Edmund Yates’ article in The World. Some expected a libel action in the courts, others suggested that Buchanan was writing an article in which he intended to expose the fact that Yates was not the real author of his novels. Which is interesting, considering Buchanan’s later problems with Chatto & Windus about the newspaper serialisations of his own novels (particularly Lady Kilpatrick). In the end there was no response from Buchanan, no libel action, no article, no letter to the Press.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I do wonder whether Buchanan reached some kind of private  financial arrangement with Yates. I’ve always assumed that the move back to London from Ireland, and the launch of his own magazine, Light, were both financed by the success of The Shadow of the Sword and Harriett Jay’s first novels. However, it does seem strange that Buchanan did not admit to the authorship of ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism’, and refused the chance of a potentially lucrative libel action. But, as I say, this is speculation. Buchanan could have felt that Yates’s response was fair, he could also have considered a libel action too risky, since he would have had to admit writing the article and striking the first blow, and the memory of the ‘Fleshly School’ court case and his cross-examination by Mr. Hawkins, Q.C. would still have been fresh in his mind.




5 February 1878

Letter to Browning asking him to contribute to a new journal which Buchanan intends to publish, starting around March 1st.


9 February 1878

An item in the The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post announces that Herman Vezin will shortly be appearing in the title role of Robert Buchanan’s play, The Flying Dutchman at the Queen’s Theatre, London.

The play never reached the stage. Buchanan, according to an item in The Examiner (22/6/1878), blamed the production of Henry Irving’s Vanderdecken (by W. G. Wills and Percy Fitzgerald) at the Lyceum on June 8th, 1878 for pre-empting his own version. More information about the play is available here.

2 March 1878

The following footnote appears on page 759 of The Letters of Anthony Trollope, Volume 2, edited by N. John Hall (Stanford University Press, 1983):
‘On 2 March Buchanan had written that he would pay £100 for a story of 20,000 words, but asked, “Will you however strain a point for me so far as to add an additional 4000 words for £10?” He added, “I don’t presume to dictate, but we strongly desire a tale with great sexual interest.” (MS Bodleian.) Trollope’s story, “The Lady of Launay,” was the lead item in the first issue of Buchanan’s short-lived periodical Light; it appeared from 6 April to 11 May 1878, and was later reprinted in Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices (1882).’

In 1861, Trollope had provided the London Review (in its first year) with two stories which had caused a bit of a public outcry on the basis of their low moral tone and Buchanan presumably was after something similar to help publicise his new journal.

3 March 1878

Trollope replies to Buchanan:
“Dear Mr. B
You shall have the 24000 words for £110. A portion, probably the whole of the story shall be in your hands by the 18th. Inst. It shall be divided as you wish into 6 parts. You will, however, understand that when so written it must be published in 6 parts; i e not 5 or 7 or more. Will you please say on what day you will make payment. Each part shall contain 4000 words or not less.
A. T.”
(MS (Trollope’s copy) Bodleian.) The Letters of Anthony Trollope, Volume 2, page 759.


28 March 1878

Trollope writes to the Countess Von Bothmer:
“My dear Countess Von Bothmer,
     Robert Buchanan, whose name as that of a latter day poet you may know, asked me to write a story for a new periodical he was planning, and as he agreed to my terms, I have written it. That is all I know of the new periodical, which, as I have learned since, is to be called “Light.” If you wish, I will write a line to him saying that you may probably communicate with him.
     There is much in Literature which is just unintelligible. I do not know your other books, but it is to me very strange indeed that the author of German Home Life, should have any difficulty in finding a vehicle for her productions.
     I return the letters and will write to Mr Buchanan if you wish it.
               very faithfully yours
                         Anthony Trollope”
(MS Parrish Collection) The Letters of Anthony Trollope, Volume 2, page 766.


30 March 1878

From the Diary of Edmund Gosse:
Buchanan has written to ask Dobson to write for “Light”, a new social paper he is editing. Dobson refused.”

An advert for the first issue of Light: A Weekly Journal of Criticism and Belles Lettres in The Examiner lists the contents as:
‘Mr. Gladstone’s First Election.
Death of a Czar, by R. D. Blackmore.
A Ballad, by the author of “St. Abe.”
The First Chapters of a New Story, by Anthony Trollope, entitled “The Lady of Launay.”
Criticism, Reviews, Social Essays, &c.”

Future contributors include:
Charles Reade, Anthony Trollope, R. D. Blackmore, Thomas Hardy, ‘The Author of “Ginx’s Baby,” &c., Mrs. Riddell, Mrs. MacQuoid, ‘The Author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c., John Dennis, Mrs. Oliphant, Hon. Roden Noel, Davenport Adams, G. Barnett Smith, ‘The Author of “St. Abe.”

The advert concludes:
     ‘“LIGHT” will be issued every Saturday, price 6d., and on the first of every month, in Coloured Wrapper (under the title of “L
IGHT MAGAZINE,”) price 6d. The Monthly issue will consist of the Feuilletons, or Supplements, alone.’

The offices of Light are located at 157, Strand, London.

An advert for the first issue in The Graphic has a slightly different list of contents:

‘Mr. Gladstone’s First Election.
Representative Women.
Death of a Czar. By R. D. Blackmore.
A Ballad. By the author of “St. Abe.”
The Impulsive Lady of Croome Castle. By Thomas Hardy.
Criticisms, Reviews, Social Essays, Open Council.

Also the First Chapter of a New Story, entitled
By A

There is a letter from Buchanan to Austin Dobson, dated ‘1878’ in the University of London Library, which could be the one mentioned by Gosse.

I find it interesting that the adverts for Light have no mention of Robert Buchanan, either as editor or contributor (although his identity as the ‘author of “St. Abe”’ had been revealed five years before).

In a piece in his magazine, M.A.P. (‘Mainly About People’) written shortly after Buchanan’s death, Mr. T. P. O’Connor wrote:
I have not seen much of Buchanan in recent years; our paths lay too much apart. But at one time I knew him fairly well, and all my relations with him have left pleasant memories behind. He sent for me just after I had published my biography of Disraeli, and when he himself was about to start a short-lived but brilliant little newspaper called Light, and I contributed a pretty large part to that journal during its existence. At that time Buchanan used to live in furnished houses, at one time in one part, at another in another part of London; often in the West of Ireland, which he greatly loved. On the first occasion I visited him—if I remember rightly—he lived in Belsize Park; then I saw him in some country house down Richmond way; and the last time it was in one of those wondrous places in St. John’s Wood—the one spot left in London with big gardens and numerous trees, and windows flat with the lawn; true country in the midst of bustling, dusty, and choked London.”

6 April 1878

First issue of Buchanan’s new weekly journal, Light, is published.

More information about Light is available here.

13 April 1878

An advert for the second issue of Light in The Pall Mall Gazette lists the contents as:

‘The Tale of a Telegram.
The Rival Secretaries.
The Vestals of St. Jingo.
Twelve Months’ Imprisonment with Hard Labour. By One who has just left Prison.
Public Gossip and Open Council.
Reviews, Essays, Dramatic Criticism.
“Match-Making in Ireland,” by the Author of “The Queen of Connaught;”
The continuation of “The Impulsive Lady of Croome Castle,” by Thomas Hardy; and
Chapters 3 and 4 of “The Lady of Launay,” by Anthony Trollope.’


May 1878

The contents for the first monthly issue of Light (according to an advert in The Standard of 3rd May) are as follows:

The Lady of Launay. By Anthony Trollope. Chaps. 1 to 6.
A Czar’s Death. By R. D. Blackmore.
The Impulsive Lady, Croome Castle. By Thomas Hardy.
The Last Look. By Robert Buchanan.
Rita; or a Ride with Arrieros.
Matchmaking in Ireland/ By the Author of “The Queen of Connaught.”
The “Little Mother.” By Mrs. Macquoid.
Modern Love. By G. Barnett Smith.


July 1878

The contents for the third monthly issue of Light are as follows:

The Night Before The Bridal: A Tale. By the Author of “Mrs. Jerningham’s Journal.”
The Latter May: A Poem.
Jean Paul In Bayreuth.
Breton Legends. By K. S. Macquoid:
     Loik Guern: A Breton beggars’ Story.
     Catherine Cloäs and the Poulpican.
The Ghost of Ferndale Manor: A Tale.
A Day With A French Sportsman.
Miss Mitford’s Home Life.
The Poor Barrister: A Sketch from Life.
A Terrible Night’s Journey: A Story of Baby-farming.

The contents of the monthly issues of Light seem to indicate a decline in the status of contributors to the magazine, which could indicate the gradual failure of the enterprise.

August 1878

The contents for the fourth monthly issue of Light are as follows:

 A Fortnight: A Tale.
The Potheen-Makers Of Nephin.
Devon Fisher Folk.
The Planting Of The Vine: A Poem.
A Visit To Clevelly.
The Mystery Of The Quartier Latin.
A July Day At Selworthy.
Off To The Hartz.
Stronger Than Death: A Tale.
The Inner Life Of Brighton.
Literary Gossip.


September 1878

‘Julia Cytherea’ published in the Contemporary Review.

The contents for the fifth monthly issue of Light are as follows:

The Bishop’s Sefton Disaster: A Story. By William Canton—conclusion.
On The Downs. By Richard Rowe.
The Women Of Turkey. By Mrs. Blumgrund.
A Simple Maiden: A Tale.
Pretty Poets.
An Adventure With Brigands In Northern Spain.
Country Cousins.
Execombe: A Love Story. Chs. I. to IV.
Night In The Balkans: A Poem. By J. V.
With The Red Grouse In Ireland; The First Day On The Mountain.
A Night Of Terror.

Buchanan’s decision to publish ‘Julia Cytherea’ in the Contemporary Review rather than his own magazine, could be another indication that Light was in financial difficulties at this point.

26 September 1878

Item in The Western Daily Press:
     ‘There is a great attraction in store for tourists who are about to visit Oban. A contemporary kindly makes the announcement that Mr William Black, the novelist, and Mr Robert Buchanan, the poet, are staying at Oban, and that the former “can be seen any evening dashing about in his tiny yacht.” There is no extra charge. What Mr Buchanan does while his friend is dashing about is not stated, but it is hard on the tourists if they can only see the author of the “Daughter of Heth,” and not the subject of Mr Yates’ famous article.’


27 September 1878

An item in The Evening Telegraph (Angus, Scotland) confirms Buchanan’s holiday:
     “Mr Robert Buchanan is spending the autumn in Scotland, whither his friend, Mr Black, the novelist, has gone for a long holiday. Mr Blcak is in Oban, a favourite resort of Mr Buchanan, and can be seen any evening dashing about the bay in his tiny yacht.”


30 September 1878

Writes to N. Howe asking if there might be an opening at the Haymarket Theatre for his new comedy. Buchanan refers in the letter to a previous acquaintance during the rehearsal of his play, A Madcap Prince.

This letter is listed in the Theatre History Collection in the library of Pennsylvania State University. Not having seen it, I am a bit dubious about the date. As Light was obviously failing at this time and Buchanan seems to have retreated to Scotland, it would be natural for him to turn to other ventures, but there is no evidence that he pursued these inquiries about a ‘new comedy’ until the autumn of the following year.

2 November 1878

Failure of Light.

According to The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (8 November, 1878):
     “Light, the literary and political weekly paper which has been carried on for some time under the editorship of Robert Buchanan, the poet, came to a stop, I believe, last Saturday. It was an interesting, well-written and ably-conducted paper, but there was not room for it, and times are very bad.”

And The York Herald (13 November, 1878):
     “I hear that Mr. Buchanan has lost a lot of money on Light which appeared for the last time as a weekly newspaper on Saturday.”

The 26th October issue of Light (No. 30) is available here.

5 November 1878

Harriett Jay writes to Blackwood’s Magazine asking if they would be interested in publishing her latest novel (presumably Madge Dunraven). The address on the letter is Croft Villa, 88 Belsize Road, St Johns Wood, (London).

As well as the MS. of the novel, Harriett Jay also encloses a letter of introduction from Charles Reade and reviews of her previous works.

The address of this letter confirms T. P. O’Connor’s recollection in his obituary article about Buchanan in M.A.P., mentioned above.

9 December 1878

Writes a letter to George Eliot expressing his sympathy on the death of G. H. Lewes. He encloses a piece from The Examiner which is presumably this anonymous ‘In Memoriam’ article which was published in that paper on 7th December.

Buchanan also wrote about G. H. Lewes in his ‘Latter-Day Leaves’ column in The Echo on 9th July, 1891.





According to an article about Harriett Jay published in April, 1888, in The Theatre, “it was in 1879 that Miss Jay first trod the boards with a touring company to get a little insight into theatrical life.”
Harriett Jay’s entry in
The Dramatic Peerage: Personal Notes and Professional Sketches of the Actors and Actresses of the London Stage, 1892 adds a few more details:
“Although in receipt of a good income from her pen, she decided to take to the stage. Knowing the manager of a country company, she prevailed upon him to let her join it, and her first part was the Player Queen in
Hamlet. She then studied for some time under Mrs. Stirling, and prepared herself to undertake the character of Kathleen in the dramatised version of her own novel, “The Queen of Connaught.”

For the whole of 1879 and much of 1880 information about Buchanan is scarce. Following the demise of Light, which presumably left him with financial problems, one would expect an increase in Buchanan’s literary activity, especially in the magazines, but this does not happen. Perhaps this was a period of retrenchment while Buchanan worked on the novels and plays which would appear at the end of 1880, and a letter to Nicholas Trübner early in 1880 reveals that he was also writing The City of Dream at this time. However, one still wonders where, apart from his £100 pension, the money was coming from.

3 January 1879

Harriett Jay writes to Blackwood’s Magazine again (from the St Johns Wood address), asking for their decision on publishing her novel and complaining about the long delay.


April 1879

‘The Battle of Isandula’, a poem inspired by the defeat of the British by the Zulus at Isandlwana on 22nd January 1879, published in the Contemporary Review.

An Irish Idyll’ by Harriett Jay is published in Belgravia.

Presumably the scale of this defeat, a British force of 1,800 troops overwhelmed by 20,000 Zulus, caused Buchanan to adopt a decidedly jingoistic tone in his poem. It was not included in his later collected works.

May 1879

Buchanan’s reminiscence of Sydney Dobell is published in Temple Bar.


5 May 1879

Buchanan writes a letter (from 14, Balham Grove, Balham, S.W.) to the entertainer, Stephen Massett, complimenting him on his recitations.

This is the only letter with the Balham address. Presumably Buchanan (and family) moved to Balham from St Johns Wood

3 June 1879

Buchanan writes to Browning asking if he would like to call on him at 97 Burton Road, Brixton:
“The place is very convenient either by cab, bus, or train from Westminster. Cab fare from Charing Cross, 2/- I mention this to show you that, though Brixton sounds a long way off, it isn’t! And it is really very pretty just now.”

From Balham to Brixton. Buchanan remained there for several months - there is a letter to Nicholas Trübner dated 27th February, 1880, from the same address.

17 June 1879

Buchanan’s final (surviving) letter to Browning repeating the invitation to call.


September 1879

Madge Dunraven, Harriett Jay’s third novel, published by Richard Bentley and Son.
Advertised in
The Times 17 September, 1879.
Reviewed in
The Examiner 4 October, 1879.


30 September 1879

Buchanan (and family) visit Ireland again. They arrive in Mulranny, near Westport, County Mayo, on the day when Mr. John Sydney Smith, the Marquis of Sligo’s land-agent, had been attacked by an armed gang. The incident was reported in The Freeman’s Journal on 2nd October, 1879.

Jay recounts the incident in Chapter XXI, but places it immediately after the failure of Light (which would have been October 1878.) Buchanan’s version of events appeared in his article for the New-York Daily Tribune (1/2/1885) under the heading ‘The Landlord-Shooters’. Buchanan also gets the year wrong (1880) but goes into some detail about the attack. There is also an interesting coda when he is invited to take a shot at a landlord while he is out in a boat shooting seals (that’s Buchanan on the boat, several years before he wrote ‘Man of the Red Right Hand’ and ‘Song of the Fur-Seal’).
Buchanan would later include a similar incident in The English Rose (1890).

9 October 1879

Item in The York Herald:
     “The dramatic critics will have something to criticise shortly. Mr. Hare has accepted a new play from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan, for production at the St. James’s Theatre. It is the theory of Mr. Buchanan that dramatic critics and reviewers are not so impartial as they might be, and that he is a special object of their aversion. If his new play is pronounced a success, will he begin to alter his opinion, or will he say that admiration was compulsory?”

This item was repeated in various provincial newspapers but the play did not materialise.

23 October 1879

Item in The Dundee Courier and Argus:
     “Since the extinction of his short-lived Light, little or nothing has been heard of Mr Robert Buchanan. We now learn that he has written a new play, and that it is to be produced at the St James’s Theatre.”


November 1879

Buchanan and family leave Ireland and return to London. (Jay.)





January 1880

‘Justinian’ published in The Contemporary Review.


27 February 1880

Writes to Nicholas Trübner (from the Brixton address) about publishing The City of Dream. In the letter Buchanan suggests that the poem should be published anonymously in three volumes and he intends to dedicate it to Herbert Spencer.

The City of Dream was not published until April, 1888 by Chatto & Windus. It appeared as one volume, under Buchanan’s name, and was dedicated to John Bunyan.

August 1880

In Chapter 22 of Jay there is a letter to William Canton from the Isle of Man. Buchanan is there on business and says that they are currently living at Hampton Wick. He writes:
“The details of your letter are very painful to read, and I deeply sympathise with you: the more so, as my own wife is just now dangerously ill with cancer.”


Autumn 1880

Mary Buchanan’s health improves slightly and they move to a furnished house at 5 Larkhall Rise, Clapham.


4 September 1880

The Tryst of Arranmore (later republished in book form as A Child of Nature) commences serialisation in The Sheffield Daily Telegraph and The Leicester Chronicle & Mercury.

The book is also serialised in The People’s Friend and The Darlington and Stockton Times.

5 November 1880

The Guardian prints the following announcement:
“Miss Harriett Jay, the novelist, is about to make her
début as an actress in the Olympic version of her own novel, “The Queen of Connaught.” She will appear for the first time in London at the Crystal Palace Matinée on November 17, and will play the part originally sustained by Miss Ada Cavendish.”


18 November 1880

Harriett Jay’s London début as an actress in The Queen of Connaught, at a Crystal Palace matinée.
‘Cherubino’ in the The London Figaro reviewed her performance as follows:
“Much curiosity, was awakened by the novelty of an authoress appearing as an actress—an event scarcely paralleled in the present generation. The result, on the whole, warranted the very hazardous attempt, chiefly on account of the young lady’s very unusual personal advantages. Miss Jay is very young, tall, and graceful, with a good voice and expressive face, and her acting, though far from perfect, showed careful study and preparation. At the conclusion, in answer to a boisterous call, Mr Neville led Miss Jay forward, and warmly shook hands with her before the audience. There is no doubt that the lady will be an acquisition to the stage.”


5 December 1880

Writes to George R. Sims (from the Clapham address) for the first time, expressing his appreciation of Sims’ Ballads of Babylon.

The letter is included in G. R Sims’ Among My Autographs (1904).

8 December 1880

Writes to the actor, George Canninge, asking if he can “play at a Gaiety matinée on Dec. 22, in a new play of mine?”
The play (not named) is The Nine Days’ Queen.


9 December 1880

According to the letter to Canninge, rehearsals for The Nine Days’ Queen begin at 2 p.m. at the Gaiety Theatre.


13 December 1880

According to a preview piece about The Nine Days’ Queen in The Daily News, the play “was originally written for Miss Neilson, who had studied the part of the heroine and intended to produce the piece in the United States.”

The piece mentions two other plays about Lady Jane Grey, one by Nicholas Rowe (the model for Buchanan’s version) and an earlier one, Innocent Usurper by John Banks - which, coincidentally, was one of the pseudonyms Buchanan used early in his career.

22 December 1880

The Nine Days’ Queen, starring Harriett Jay in the role of Lady Jane Grey, has a matinée performance at the Gaiety Theatre.
The review in The Scotsman is favourable towards the play and Harriett Jay:
“The principal character, Lady Jane Grey, was played by Miss Harriet Jay, a lady who, as the authoress of “The Dark Colleen” and “The Queen of Connaught,” has won a high reputation as a novelist. Miss Jay has only once before made her appearance on the stage, and her performance was indubitably one of high promise. She has, as was only to be expected, much to learn, but still her acting is sympathetic and intelligent, and she evidently spares no pains to embody the author’s ideas. With more experience and confidence, and a more entire abandonment of herself to the situation, she will one day be an acquisition to the stage.”

Whereas the critic of Reynolds’s Newspaper is less so:
“Although lavish applause, floral tributes, and numerous calls marked Wednesday morning’s introduction of a new play and a new actress to the London public, it is very doubtful if a “Nine Days’ Queen” will become the proverbial nine days’ wonder, or if Miss Harriett Jay will ever attain that position on the stage which she has done as a writer of fiction. Judging by a single performance, the old saw of a cobbler sticking to his last is in this talented lady’s case singularly applicable. ... Miss Harriett Jay, in the trying part of Lady Jane Grey, if she never quite attained excellence, at least did not fall below mediocrity. Her most successful effort was in the last act, where the short-lived Queen sees her husband being led to the scaffold. Her agony, though somewhat hysterical, bore the stamp of truthfulness to nature. A word of praise is due to the prompter, but for whose distinct delivery a goodly portion of the dialogue would have been unheard.”

And the critic in The Daily News had this to say of Miss Jay:
Unfortunately Miss Harriet Jay brings to her performance of the heroine little more than the advantage of a handsome, intellectual countenance, a tall and graceful figure, and a good though not well-managed voice. Her monotone of plaintive sorrow is wearisome to the ear; her lack of command over inflexions of the voice in passionate outbursts is destructive of the effect of her words; her gestures are limited to one or two little actions often repeated, and of no real significance or value; and, in brief, her style is at present crude in the extreme.”


George Canninge was not in the cast, but it did include another actor who would subsequently become important in Buchanan’s dramatic career - Herbert Beerbohm-Tree.




January 1881

God and the Man commences serialisation in Alexander Strahan’s The Day of Rest (concluding in the December edition).


15 January 1881

The Tryst of Arranmore is concluded in The Sheffield Daily Telegraph.


30 January 1881

Letter to Andrew Chatto (from the Clapham address) arranging to meet the next day to sign the agreement for The Martyrdom of Madeline. Buchanan writes:
I am very glad you like the story; I believe it will be my best.”

This is the first letter in the collection of Buchanan’s correspondence with Chatto & Windus. According to a later letter (23rd April, 1882) Chatto & WIndus paid Buchanan a £300 advance for The Martyrdom of Madeline and £250 for God and the Man.

14 February 1881

The Nine Days’ Queen, starring Harriett Jay, opens at the Royal Connaught Theatre.
Buchanan also provides the one-act curtain-raiser,
Only A Vagabond, based upon his poem, ‘Attorney Sneak’.


February 1881

A Child of Nature published by Richard Bentley and Son.
Advertised in
The Morning Post 18 February, 1881.
Reviewed in
The Academy 19 March, 1881.

A Child of Nature was intended to be Buchanan’s first novel, but was rejected in favour of The Shadow of the Sword when he embarked on the collaboration with William Canton. ‘The Fair Pilot of Loch Uribol: A Yachting Episode’ published in The Saint Pauls Magazine, July 1872, forms part of the novel.

12 March 1881

Final performance of The Nine Days’ Queen at the Royal Connaught Theatre.
According to a report in The Daily News of 14th March, this was not due to the failure of the play but to a health and safety issue, the Lord Chamberlain ordering “that a wall shall be erected on each side of the stage in the place of the mere partition set up when this house was suddenly converted from a circus into a theatre. The need of such an erection as a matter of precaution against the rapid spread of fire is generally acknowledged; and we believe the necessity for this improvement has in this instance been urged without any unreasonable precipitancy on the part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.” According to another report in the Glasgow Herald of the same day, another reason (apart from the wall) for ending the play’s run was that “Mr Charles Bernard was unwilling longer to postpone Miss Harriet Jay’s appearance at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow.”


21 March 1881

The Nine Days Queen, starring Harriett Jay, is performed for a week at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow.


29 March 1881

Second edition of A Child of Nature advertised in The Morning Post.


3 April 1881

The date of the 1881 census. Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay are listed as boarders at the lodging house of George Remnant at 3 Guildford Place, St Pancras, London. Buchanan (39) now lists himself as ‘Author and Dramatist’. Harriett Jay (Authoress & Actress) gives her age as 24 (rather than 27) and her birthplace as Kent. Meanwhile, Mary Buchanan (36) is staying with her elder sister, Eliza Dear, in East Ham, and Margaret Buchanan (64) is living at the Westward Ho Boarding House, Cliftonville Terrace, Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea.

1881 census returns:

Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay

Mary Buchanan

Margaret Buchanan

8 April 1881

Writes to Augustin Daly suggesting he produce The Nine Days Queen, starring Harriett Jay, in America in the autumn.
“Miss Jay’s books are well known in America, & her power & personal beauty would carry all before her in America. The play has won golden opinions here, & for the actress, she will soon be recognised as at the very top of the tree.
     If you think of it, let me know at once, as other arrangements are pending. I would bring over play & leading actress, & myself superintend production in New York.”

Although there is no year on the letter, the fact that Buchanan is trying to get an American production of The Nine Days Queen off the ground (and also the fact that the address on the letter is ‘Care of Messrs Strahan’) would indicate 1881. As such, it reveals that Buchanan was considering going to America three years before he actually managed the trip.

May 1881

Buchanan reviews ‘Mr. Wylie’s Life of Thomas Carlyle’ for The Contemporary Review.


7 May 1881

The Exiles of Erin: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives (based loosely on Buchanan’s poem), starring Harriett Jay, produced at the Olympic Theatre.
The review in
The Graphic (14th May) concludes:
“... the cast received fair recognition from the audience, which, comprising a number of the class who delight in sensational scenes, were at times prodigal of applause, and were laughingly joined in their demonstrations by playgoers who manifestly treated the whole performance as a joke.”


9 May 1881

The Shadow of the Sword produced at the Theatre Royal, Brighton by John Coleman.
The Stage gives it a rave review, whereas The New York Times calls it “a most complete failure”, although it acknowledges that the novel is “quite a modern classic.”
After Brighton, Coleman takes the play on a provincial tour.


13 May 1881

The title of The Exiles of Erin: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives, is changed to The Mormons: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives.


26 May 1881

Item in The Morning Post:
     ‘It is reported that Mr. Robert Buchanan’s historical play “A Nine Days’ Queen,” will be translated into French for Madlle. Sarah Bernhardt, who intends to play the heroine.’

I’ve found no evidence of a French production of The Nine Days Queen.

2 June 1881

Final performance of The Mormons: or St. Abe and his Seven Wives at the Olympic Theatre.


3 June 1881

There is a benefit performance for Harriett Jay at the Olympic Theatre, the programme consisting of A Madcap Prince (in which she appears as the heroine, Elinor Vane) and the final act of The Nine Days’ Queen.


July 1881

The Priest’s Blessing, or Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better by Harriett Jay, published by F. V. White and Co.
Advertised in
The Times 29 July, 1881.
Reviewed in
The Era 30 July, 1881.


6 August 1881

Letter to Andrew Chatto enclosing the first volume of God and the Man. Buchanan says he will send the second volume (“corrected for press”) tomorrow, with A Child of Nature.

The letter is sent from 2 Devereux Terrace, Southend. According to Jay, the family moved from Hampton Wick to a furnished house in Clapham, then, in the summer of 1881 to Southend.

As well as publishing the first edition of God and the Man, Chatto & Windus would also publish a new edition of A Child of Nature, originally published by Richard Bentley.

18 August 1881

Robert Buchanan is 40 years old.


September 1881

Harriett Jay tours the provinces with George Rignold’s company in Tom Taylor’s play, Clancarty, appearing in Birmingham and Glasgow.


22 September 1881

Letter to Andrew Chatto enclosing the first half of Volume 3 of God and the Man and the dedication to Rossetti. Buchanan also suggests changing the title of the novel:
“If you agree with me that the title is a forbidding one, might it not yet be altered? The heading of pages would not matter. I should not like the popularity of the book to be affected by so simple a matter.”
Buchanan also asks if A Child of Nature is ready.

The letter is sent from “Southend” but Buchanan asks that the proofs of God and the Man be sent to an address in Glasgow where he will “be after to-morrow until the end of next week.” As part of her Clancarty tour, Harriett Jay appeared at the Grand Theatre, Glasgow from 26th September to 1st October.


3 October 1881

The Martyrdom of Madeline commences serialisation in The People’s Friend.
An advert for The People’s Friend in The Edinburgh Evening News of 1st October also lists the serialisation of ‘The Dead Man’s Bride’ by Miss Harriet Jay.


This is an alternate title for Harriett Jay’s novel, Two Men and a Maid. which was published in November, 1881.

7 October 1881

Writes to Chatto & Windus requesting all further correspondence to be sent to a new address: 38 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, London. Buchanan’s family remain in Southend at Devereux Terrace.

Presumably, with his wife going through the final stages of her battle with cancer in Southend, Buchanan felt the need to take furnished rooms in London in order to deal with business.

Harriett Jay deals with the illness and death of her sister in Chapter 22 of her biography of Buchanan. Going by the surviving letters, Buchanan seems to have been commuting between London and Southend during the final days of Mary’s life.

15 October 1881

Another letter to Chatto & Windus from Cavendish Square concerning the imminent publication of God and the Man.


20 October 1881

Letter to Andrew Chatto  from Southend complaining about the proposed illustrations for God and the Man. He also writes:
I return you the list of newspapers, adding one or two. Please oblige me by not sending to the Athenæum—a journal which has for many years been malignant towards me—I mean, specially & personally malignant.”


November 1881

God and the Man published by Chatto & Windus.
Advertised in
The Times 7 November, 1881.
Reviewed in
The Academy 3 December, 1881.
The novel includes a dedicatory verse ‘To an Old Enemy’ - an apology to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Two Men and a Maid by Harriett Jay, published by F. V. White and Co.
Advertised in
The Times 19 November, 1881.
Reviewed in
The Graphic 17 December, 1881.





6 November 1881

Letter to F.J. Furnivall (founder of the Browning Society), from Cavendish Square, enclosing a copy of God and the Man. Buchanan writes:
“Like Browning himself, I have suffered for years from the persecution of a literary Inquisition; and as it is such men as you that scatter light & fight on the side of minorities, I would gladly secure your sympathy in more or less measure.” He goes on to criticise the
Athenaeum “a journal which, to my mind, is a synonym for nepotism & cowardly malignity.”


7 November 1881

Death of Mary Buchanan, aged 36.

The notice from The Standard of Mary Buchanan’s death, and a brief obituary from a Scottish newspaper are available here.

10 November 1881

A second letter to F.J. Furnivall from 2 Devereux Terrace, Southend, contains the following:
“I thought to be in Queen Anne St temporarily this week, but on Monday night my beloved wife died here. While this great darkness is upon me, I cannot respond to your kindness as I could wish; but I look forward to seeing you some day soon.”


13 November 1881

Funeral of Mary Buchanan. She is buried in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist in Southend-on-Sea. In a letter to Roden Noel concerning the funeral arrangements (quoted in Jay) Buchanan writes:
“God bless you for your kind words. I see it all as you see it, but ah! so darkly. If this parting is only for a time, I see its blessedness—but if, as I dread and fear, it is a parting forever, what then? Ah, God, what then? ... She looks so beautiful in her coffin. I feel as if she were my child too, child and wife; for she had a child’s angelic disposition.”


29 November 1881

Writes to Andrew Chatto, from the Cavendish Square address, concerning the publication of his poetry:
In our hasty talk to day I quite omitted to suggest the form in which I should like the poems issued—ie—in a popular edition at a popular price, with some of the illustrations which have from time to time appeared to them (in books & magazines &c.) but which would be quite new. ... My aim is to reach the great general public, to which my poems specially appeal, but have hitherto, no doubt, found the price rather high.”


3 December 1881

Chatto & Windus acquire the copyrights of Buchanan’s poetry for the sum of £300. The deal includes a new selection, Ballads of Life, Love, & Humour as well as St. Abe and White Rose & Red, “Mr. Buchanan’s complete Poems” (including London Poems, Idyls of Inverburn and The Book of Orm), plus A Poet’s Sketchbook and The Land of Lorne.
The arrangement to be that Messrs. C & W. advance the above sum on the security of these works, to be issued at their pleasure on the half profit system—with this corollary, that in the event of any loss on these publications, it is to be recouped out of the price of a new book on America, to be published by Messrs Chatto & Windus next summer, & to be similar in idea to Heine’s “Germany”—taking cogniscence of the homelife, politics, literature &c. of the American people.”

The book about America never materialised, but is another indication that Buchanan was contemplating a visit to the States at this time.



Robert Buchanan Timeline - continued

5. 1882 - 1884



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