ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

Home
Biography
Bibliography

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

Essays
Reviews
Letters

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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

Links
Site Diary
Site Search

ROBERT BUCHANAN’S LETTERS TO WILLIAM HEPWORTH DIXON

 

Twenty-two letters from Robert Buchanan to William Hepworth Dixon (editor of The Athenæum) have been preserved in the collection of William Hepworth Dixon Papers in the Charles E. Young Research Library of UCLA in the United States. These are transcribed below and I would like to thank Molly Haigh for her help in acquiring copies. At the moment there are two other letters to Dixon on this site, both of which predate the ones from UCLA, so I thought it appropriate to add them here.

From the National Library of Scotland. Letter to Hepworth Dixon [1860].

London
Tuesday

Dear Sir

                   Circumstances, which I shall explain, have compelled me to leave Scotland and come to London, of whose labyrinths I am utterly ignorant, hunting the swift golden-horn’d stag Fortune. I came with exactly eighteenpence in my pocket, my sole resources—a miserable adventurer, whose only fortune was his great hope. My fate at present comprehends either work or salvation.
         I believe your former kindnesses have been noble and disinterested—God grant that your conduct may prove so still. I cannot mince the matter—I want help, not gratuitous, for I will work bone brain and sinew for any man who will employ in any way—as a writer or as a laborious proof-correcting drudge.
         I shall take the liberty of calling at your Office to-morrow (Wednesday) at 12. If you can do anything for me, I fully trust you will. A young man of nineteen, I have only myself to rely on, & in this great ocean of London must either sink or swim. For God’s sake, give me a chance of swimming.
         I have in contemplation a series of short sketches of a peculiar character, anent obscure Scotch poets whose songs are sung in every barn & byre, while the singers are ignorant whose songs they sing. If this carefully and powerfully done, it might prove valuable as well as interesting.

                   Yours very gratefully
                   Robt. W. Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
The year, 1860, has been added to the letter in pencil, in another hand, but is correct. Buchanan left Glasgow for London in May 1860 and this letter was presumably written shortly after his arrival.
According to Chapter V of Jay’s biography:
“He had made no plans to guide him on entering the great city, nor had he any personal acquaintances there who might give him a helping hand. Shortly before his father’s misfortune he had sent some verses to Hepworth Dixon, who had printed them in the Athenæum, then under his editorship, and he had some faint hope that Mr. Dixon might give him a little work.”]

___

 

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. Letter to William Hepworth Dixon [1862].

66 U. Stamford St
Lambeth
         S

Dear Sir,

                   Hazlitt says that literary experience means simply the relation by individuals of the truths they have read or learnt before twenty. This is only partly true, but I would ask you to let its part-truth apply to my case. I am now twenty, getting on for twenty one, and in spite of the necessary inexperience you have once or twice mentioned, am—I think— able from my range of reading to deal with some provinces of English poetry. This may be egoism; but may I beg you, in your goodness, to test me? You see, I am doing all I can to elbow my way in the world, and I feel very miserable when you tell me my youth is an obstacle to my eating bread and butter—or, which is the same thing, getting it.—Wont you give me one trial with a tolerably good book of poems, and show me an opportunity of uttering part of the little I know, in your columns? Macaulay had an article in the Edinburgh Review when he was twenty; and I myself am doing responsible work for responsible journals.—I wish you would try me with Miss Procter’s forthcoming volume of lyrics. I liked her former book much.
         I will thank you, here, for your candour. You did not attempt to deceive me by the cruel falsehood about “no vacancy.” You said to me—“You are young, consequently inexperienced. I do not like to place very responsible work in your hands.” This was true kindness, I think. But do you in your heart believe that judgement is simply the result of continual contact with the materials for judgement; that the man who criticises poetry can criticise it without being in some respects a born poet? Poetry differs materially from science, exactly so called; it is the recognition of the significance of things visible by the aid of the imagination, the colouring and beautifying of things visible by aid of the fancy. Could not John Keats at twenty (in his letters) criticise poetry better than Gifford at fifty? Could not Shelley at twenty write truer things of poetry than the Edinburgh Reviewer who slaughtered “Christabel” or the burly Doctor who thought Shakspere an irregular spasmodist:—But I bore you. Take my excuses for troubling you, and do give me a trial. I have thoughts to utter, my own thoughts—give me a chance of uttering them, and do not measure my experience by that of the generality of individuals. Large experience is often condensed into a short life, by hard blows & incessant moral responsibility.—If ought but strict justice & pure truth should appear in what I write, never trust me again.

                   Gratefully yours
                   R. W. Buchanan

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
If Buchanan is telling the truth about his age then this letter would have been written some time in 1862 prior to his 21st birthday on August 18th. I have no accurate dates for when Buchanan was living at 66 Upper Stamford Street, but going by surviving letters, he was there in December 1861 and had moved to Haverstock Hill by June of 1862. Another possible clue as to the date is Buchanan’s mention of reviewing “Miss Procter’s forthcoming volume of lyrics.” Adelaide Procter’s A Chaplet of Verses was reviewed (not by Buchanan) in The Athenæum on June 14th, 1862. So I would suggest that this letter dates from 1862, prior to June.]

___

 

Letters from the William Hepworth Dixon Papers (Collection 762).
Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

 

Letter 1: 30th June 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Road
Haverstock Hill
         N. W.
30. 6. 63

My dear Sir,

                   Many thanks. The chief use that will be served by the appearance of a few extracts in the Athenaeum will be to give readers an idea of the style of the proposed book.
         The nom de plume has been suggested for several reasons: chiefly because it may screen me from those people who know me as a mere contributor to magazines. In writing for bread, two things have troubled me: a necessity of humbling myself to a very popular level, and a restless sense of wearing unnatural harness. It is down Chertsey-wards, or among the Scottish hills, that I breathe freely & write—as in “Undertones”—with an intelligible aspiration.
         I was going to publish quite anonymously, but my publisher recommended a pseudonym.
         Nothing so strongly convinces me that I was born to do something noble than the persistent manner in which the love of poetry has clung to me thro’ circumstances which, in ninety nine cases out of a hundred, destroy the afflatus. My pure feeling of ambition & fiercer & stronger now than ever it was. But you can guess my feelings. You too have struggled & suffered; and it is that fact that makes me think of you most tenderly—even when I think that you doubt the strength of my impulse upward. Well, the love of poetry & the personal struggle have dwelt apart so long; let them dwell apart for a little time longer.
         Another very strong reason for taking a pseudonym is the fact that my father is well known in some quarters as a writer on political & Church topics, & a thorough Radical; and that I sympathise with none of the views of himself or of his party.

                   Very faithfully yours
                   W Buchanan.

W. Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Originally Letter No. 2 in the collection.
A word is crossed out before ‘give readers’.
A correction before ‘among the Scottish hills’, is most likely ‘or’ but could be ‘&’.
‘My pure feeling of ambition & fiercer’ - ‘&’ is presumably a mistake and should read ‘is’.

Buchanan had been using ‘Williams Buchanan’ since 1861, including for his two collaborations with Charles Gibbon in 1862, The Rathboys and Stormbeaten: or Christmas Eve at the “Old Anchor” Inn, hence the ‘W. Buchanan’ signature. As well as his father, there were three other ‘Robert Buchanans’ in Scotland, writing and publishing in various fields, so Buchanan’s dropping of the ‘Robert’ at this point in his career is understandable. This wouldn’t, of course, constitute a pseudonym, so we can only speculate on which name he wanted to use for Undertones. ‘Newton Neville’ was a pseudonym which Buchanan had been using since 1859 when he was editor, for a short time, of The West of Scotland Magazine. The name crops up in The Welcome Guest in March, 1861 and The St. James’s Magazine in August and October, 1863, and then fairly regularly in the latter until March, 1866. However, in the issue of The Athenæum of 11th July, 1863, a poem entitled ‘Marc Antony’ by ‘Adam Caverswall’ was published. ‘Caverswall’ is the name of the small village in Staffordshire where Robert Buchanan was born, and the poem was included in Undertones under the title, ‘Antony in Arms’. Given that in the following letter Buchanan describes his proposed pseudonym as a ‘fancy-name’, it is more than likely that ‘Adam Caverswall’ was what he had in mind.
‘Chertsey-wards’ relates to Thomas Love Peacock:
“He was living at Lower Halliford, on the Thames, and in order to be near him I took lodgings at Chertsey, only sleeping occasionally under his hospitable roof. It was rest and inspiration indeed to pass from the roar of Grub Street and the strident Sixties into the peaceful atmosphere of the brave old pagan’s dwelling, to drink May Rosewell’s cowslip wine, and to boat on the quiet river with Clara Leigh Hunt, a bright-eyed little maid of fifteen and Peacock’s special pet. It was under Peacock’s influence that I wrote many of my pseudo-classic poems, afterwards gathered together in my first volume, ‘Undertones.’” (Chapter IX, Jay).]

_____

 

Letter 2: 13th July 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Rd
Haverstock Hill
         N. W.
13. 7. 63

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   The objection you took to the fancy-name caused me more bother then you may think. I knew your great experience both of men & books, and I did not like you to think that I lacked moral pluck. So I have thought long & earnestly over the matter, and (without seeking other advice) have come to the conclusion that you are right & that I am wrong. I have no right to be ashamed of my name, and I have no right to look with contempt on my struggle here. A brave front will best display the spirit in which I am determined to meet all foes.

                   Yours always
                   R W. Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 3 in the collection.]

_____

 

Letter 3: 14th July 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Road
Haverstock Hill
         N. W.
14. 7. 63

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   Thanks for your offer to announce Undertones. It will be better however not to do so for about a month. Any interest that the announcement might awaken would get flat between this date & September.
         I am glad to hear that you are hopeful of the book It has at least been conceived & written in no mean spirit & I have hopes that it may even do good.

                   Always yours
                   R. W. Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

         To guide you in your announcement I affix a portion of the title page and contents.

 

Undertones:

Voices of the Soul to Her Ideal.

A Poem Composed of Poems.

By

Robert Buchanan.

 

Part First,

With an Apologue & an Epilogue.

_____

                               “(A sound of waves is heard.)
Ocean. It is the unpastured sea, hungering for calm.
         Peace, monster.”

                                       Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.

                                                                                                                                               (over)

Some of the Contents

         1. The Still Small Voice Within:
                   To David in Heaven (Apologue)
             The Voice of Ades
                   ——— Pan
                   ——— Selené
                   ——— Orpheus
                   ——— the Satyr
                   ——— Polypheme
                   ——— Pygmalion
                   ——— of Horace:
                                     With a Letter from Virgil
                   ——— Penelope
                   ——— Cytherea
                   ——— Iris
                   ——— Dr Faustus
                   ——— The Human Voice Impotent
                                       &c. &c. &c.

         Epilogue.

         One or Two Short pieces from the Athenaeum.

[Notes:
Letter No. 4 in the collection.
Full stop missing after ‘hopeful of the book’, which ends first page.
‘Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound’ double-underlined.

Comparing this list of Contents with the published version of Undertones, ‘Dr Faustus’ and ‘The Human Voice Impotent’ are the only obvious omissions, and the latter may have been an alternative title for one of the poems in the first edition, published in 1863 by Edward Moxon & Co. I’ve not come across any other poem of Buchanan’s with these titles.]

_____

 

Letter 4: 13th August 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Road
Haverstock Hill
         N. W.
13. 8. 63

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   I think your kindly promised announcement would be most apropos if inserted in your issue for the first week in September – Saturday; Oct: 6., I think. Shortly after that date we shall begin to advertise. Might I suggest that, in the same number, you would insert one of the other poems—“Cytherea,” for instance?
         I have been (as you may guess) sadly puzzled about my title. I want to express the vague yearning towards the particular Ideal by which a soul shapes itself, & yet I want to be simple & terse. After much bothering I have reduced my title page to ————

Under-tones

Of the Soul to the Ideal.

By

Robert Williams Buchanan.

_____

Part First:

With a Prologue & an Epilogue.

__________

         I should perhaps explain to you that the Volume now to be published is called Part First because it deals only with ancient aspirations. In Part Second, I reduce my theme to its modern meaning & give a contemporaneous interpretation of the whole poem.

                   Always yours faithfully
                   W Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 5 in the collection.
The new version of the title page of Undertones is written on the page adjacent to the second page of the letter, with a connecting line, rather than inserted directly in the text.

There was never a ‘Part Second’ of Undertones. Buchanan’s next book was Idyls and Legends of Inverburn.]

_____

 

Letter 5: 21st August 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Road
Haverstock Hill
         N. W.
21. 8. 63

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   I do think that the sub-title is wanting in simplicity, and that it will be better to drop it altogether. I was only afraid lest my volume should be mistaken for a collection of detached pieces, not of pieces harmonising (as I hope) into an intelligible whole. – You may guess that the title of my book has cost me more absolute trouble than the contents in their entirety. – “Part First”, I will also drop;  though there will certainly be a Part Second—of Modern Undertones.
         The piece called “Venus” stands “Venus Cytherea” in my draft; hence my mistake in putting Cytherea alone in my last letter. As it is much liked by some people whose judgement I respect, I should like it used contemporaneously with the announcement. “Cyclops” & “Penelope” – as sent to you – are fragments of longer poems.
         With many many hearty thanks for the interest you take in my experimentum believe me

                   Dear Mr Dixon
                   Yours always faithfully
                   R Buchanan

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 6 in the collection.
A word is crossed out after ‘I was only afraid’.

‘Venus’ by W. Buchanan was published in the issue of The Athenæum of 12th September, 1863.]

_____

 

Letter 6: 8th December 1863.

102 Prince of Wales Rd
         N. W.
8. 12. 63

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   Besides the usual copy for review, which my publisher has I believe forwarded, I shall gratify myself by sending you a private copy of Undertones—which I hope you will read lovingly for my sake. I expect nothing but fair treatment, however severe, at the hands of your critics, but I’m sure, if the review be favorable, you will aid me by giving it insertion as early as possible.
         I trust you have enjoyed your travels in other lands. What stores of reflection the sight of Syria must have awakened in a man like you!

                   Always yours
                   R Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 7 in the collection.
The word ‘you’ll’ is crossed out before ‘if the review’.

Undertones was reviewed by William Hepworth Dixon in The Athenæum of 19th December, 1863.]

_____

 

Letter 7: 31st August 1864.

3 Avenue Road
New Road
Hammersmith
         W.
31st Aug. 1864

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   I leave for Norway next week, and shall take Copenhagen on the way—to be there during the Princes Visit. Would it be any good to send you a picturesque gossip on the subject—spiced with such salt as a knowledge of the language can give?
         You will be glad to hear that I have got a handsome sum for my “Idyls of Inverglen” (a very handsome sum for poetry)  and that the book is confidently expected to be no ordinary hit.
         With kindest regards believe me

                   Always yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 8 in the collection.

Buchanan visited Scandinavia with his father in 1864, ostensibly to report on the Second Schleswig-Holstein War (which lasted from February to October 1864) for the Morning Star. This letter fixes the date of the start of their journey to the week commencing 5th September.
Presumably “Idyls of Inverglen” was an earlier title of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn.]

_____

 

Letter 8: 17th October 1864.

3 Avenue Road
New Road
Hammersmith
         W.
Oct: 17. 1864

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   I have not quite finished the ‘Ballads’ paper—thinking it unfair to all concerned to do it too hurriedly, and being much pushed for time thro’ the Play. You did not name any specific time when you would like to insert it—so I concluded there was no hurry for a week. I hope I was not wrong?
         I shall send the paper to the Office on Saturday, & at the same time forward the books to your House.
         I have ordered Björnson’s last book, but it has to come all the way from Copenhagen. I expect it next week.

                   Always yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 9 in the collection.
‘I suppose’ crossed out and ‘You did’ written above, before ‘not name’.

The ‘Ballads’ paper is presumably the review of The Ballad-Book by William Allingham, which was published in The Athenæum of 21st January, 1865. Information regarding contributions by Buchanan and others to The Athenæum is taken from The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830- 1870.
‘The Play’ is presumably The Witchfinder which was being produced at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre at this time (it ran from 8th to 22nd of October).]

_____

 

Letter 9: 14th February 1865.

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
         Bucks
Feb: 14th 1865

Dear Mr Dixon,

                   I was most unfortunately compelled to hurry home yesterday without seeing your Printer. The cold struck my feet, & put me to such agony that I didn’t know what to do. But I have written for the M.S. & will cut it down at once to 5 cols.
         I forgot yesterday to tell you that the first of my Idyls (Willie Baird) will appear in the next Cornhill—a second in the number after—and the whole book will I believe be published by April at latest. I stake much on this work, for it has in it I believe the elements of popularity. Lewes believes in it most ardently, & his opinion is worth much; I look for yours.
         I have not forgotten that, five years ago, when I wrote to you from Glasgow, you gave me encouragement—then when, God knows, I needed encouragement much. Very shortly I shall with your permission publicly allude to that fact—one not to be forgotten by me; the doing so will involve the communication of a secret—to be known only by yourself & Lewes. The secret consists only of the authorship of a certain Poem.
         All this I meant to say verbally but I was too hurried.

                   Always yours
                   R. Buchanan.

H. Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 10 in the collection.

The M.S. Buchanan refers to is presumably the review of Ballads and Songs of Brittany by Tom Taylor published in The Athenæum of 18th February, 1865 (and it is 5 columns long).]

_____

 

Letter 10: 20th February [1865].

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
Feb. 20th

Dear Mr Dixon,

                   I send you a line or two for the Gossip, in reply to Allingham, whose letter by the way is only a confession of guilt. – I see your last No. contains a Notice of the Book you requested should be sent to me—“Evenings in Arcadia.” There is a book announced by Strahan—“Henry Holbeach”—containing (I guess) a kind of Philosophy which would be in my way.
         I am better—indeed, feel quite myself, tho’ I am advised to work very little.
         The “Pastorals” have been ready some time, and I am finishing up the Poem of which I spoke in my last. In a week or so I will see & explain the whole thing fully. Meantime, the mere fact that I have another Poem ready is a secret shared between yourself and Lewes. Twill be published at first anonymously.

                   Yours always
                   Robt Buchanan.

H. Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 1 in the collection.
A word is crossed out before ‘letter by the way’.

William Allingham replied to Buchanan’s review in The Athenæum of 18th February, 1865.
The only relevant item in the Gossip section of the next issue (25 February) of The Athenæum is the following:
     “Mr. William Allingham has a new work in the press, entitled ‘Fifty Modern Poems.’
     A volume of Idylls from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan may be expected in April.”]

_____

 

Letter 11: 14th March 1865.

Woodlands Cottage
Iver
         Bucks
14th March 1865

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   Will you insert in your gossip something to this effect?—
         “Mr Alex: Strahan announces for immediate publication: “Poems of Ploverdale”, by Mr Robert Buchanan, and “Judas Iscariot: a Drama.”
         Both these are mine, & will appear at a very short interval from each other—perhaps together; but the first edition of “Judas” will, I think, be anonymous. You’ll notice that I’ve withdrawn the Idyls from Smith & Elder. They were spoiling the book by repeated delays & publication in Cornhill; so I paid them back their money, & went over to Strahan—emphatically the rising light of the Paternoster firmament.
         It was my intention to dedicate my “Judas” to you, & the “Pastorals” to Lewes; but I shall now do neither. My testimony to your worth will come more strongly after I have gained the position wh: I believe these books will give me; and just now, the dedications—both yours & L’s—might be misconstrued. As I am not one of those who sing themselves hoarse at the outset, you will be more honoured by & by than now. In private & in public, I hold by one who held by me when I was down; and I can tell you, that leads me not seldom into warfare.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

         Kind regards to Mrs Dixon.

[Notes:
Letter No. 11 in the collection.
A word is crossed out before ‘Iver’ in the address.

This is the first mention of “Judas Iscariot: a Drama”, which is presumably a book-length verse drama along the lines of Buchanan’s later works, Napoleon Fallen and The Drama of Kings. In December 1865 he published ‘Verner Ravn: A Drama’ in the first edition of The Argosy, which perhaps offers some clue to the style of the longer work, but there’s nothing else to go on. Whether it followed the plot of his later poem, ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’, or whether it was a more realistic or historical version of the story of Judas, is open to speculation, and nothing more. I have searched for the work, or extracts from the work, under Buchanan’s own name as well as his known pseudonyms, but all that came up was this quotation from “Judas Iscariot: a Drama”, which Buchanan used as the epigraph for Chapter 20 of The New Abelard.

judasquoteabelard

Buchanan later reworked these lines for The City of Dream:

“The Mighty and the Merciful are one:
The morning dew that scarcely bends the flowers
Inhaled to heaven becomes the lightning flash
That lights all heaven ere noon.”

So, again, we can only speculate whether there are other remnants of Judas Iscariot: a Drama scattered throughout Buchanan’s works.

In The Athenæum of 18th March, 1865 is the following:

athjudasbit

Perhaps the comment about Judas Iscariot having “a strange attraction to young poets” may have put Buchanan off publishing Judas Iscariot: a Drama for fear of being thought unoriginal. Although the only similar dramatic treatment of the story of Judas I’ve come across is from almost twenty years earlier, Judas Iscariot: A Miracle Play: In Two Acts; With Other Poems by R. H. Horne (London: C. Mitchell, 1848). Buchanan’s ‘Judas’ remained on Strahan’s list of forthcoming titles from March to May, 1865 and this advert in The Publishers’ Circular from 1st May seems to be its final appearance:

judasiscariotdramasmall

‘Poems of Ploverdale’, mentioned in the item from The Athenæum above, was another early incarnation of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn.]

_____

 

Letter 12: 12th April 1865.

7 Avenue Terrace
New Road
Hammersmith
         W.
12th April. 1865

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   I find that I shall not be able to see you before going to Hastings. I regret this, for I should enjoyed a chat amazingly.
         I wished to “see you” abt two things—my “Judas Iscariot” & the Athenaeum.
         There are several things in Judas abt wh: I would consult you; but I now think it will be better to send you the proof-sheets when the Book is fully printed. If you will kindly look these over, you will lay me under a great obligation—more especially as your recent tour in Syria may enable you to correct me by more than one local observation.
         In regard to the Athenaeum, I wished to see if there was any chance of your allowing me to select my own topics during the summer & writing special articles. The subjects I should choose wd: be out of the ‘ordinary’ range—e.g. the Old Ballads of Denmark, Oehlenschläger, &c. &c. Occasionally, too, I should like a new book. – I wished to explain in talk that there was no necessity for you to trouble yourself, as you have done, to give me work; but that there were subjects on wh: I like to write; above all, that my chief reason in broaching the matter was my wish to keep in friendly connexion with you, by proxy as it were, since our engagements permit us to meet so seldom.
         With kindest regards to Mrs Dixon believe me

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

         My address in Sussex will be:
                   Bexhill
                   near Hastings.

[Notes:
Letter No. 12 in the collection.

Buchanan’s essay on ‘The Old Ballads of Denmark’ was published in August, but in The Fortnightly Review (edited by George Henry Lewes), not The Athenæum.
Since Buchanan mentions sending Dixon the ‘proof-sheets when the Book is fully printed” in regard to Judas Iscariot: a Drama, this does suggest that the work is either finished or nearing completion. I mention this only because there are several books announced by Buchanan (such as his autobiography and the second volume of The Earthquake) which never materialised and which one suspects were only in the planning stage and awaiting the interest of the public, or the money of a publisher.]

_____

 

Letter 13: 17th April [1865].

7 Avenue Terrace
New Road
Hammersmith
         W.
17th April.

My dear Mr Dixon,

                   Many many thanks! I will send you the proofs of “Judas” as soon as they are sufficiently advanced.
         The Idyls should be out this week.

                   Ever faithfully
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 20 in the collection.]

_____

 

Letter 14: 17th May 1865.

Belle Hill
Bexhill
near Hastings
17th May 1865

My dear Dixon,

                   I am very glad indeed to hear that you are pleased with “Inverburn.” The “Athenaeum” notice was somewhat curious; but it was evidently not written by you.
         Yes; this is a very delightful place, and thanks to its advantages I am rapidly picking up fibre. It will be a great pleasure to see you here.
         With kindest regards believe me

                   Yours always
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

                                                                                                                       (over)

I see your “Holy Land” is out. If you have a copy to spare, & will send it to me, I shall be much obliged—& it will not be thrown away.

[Notes:
Letter No. 13 in the collection.

Idyls and Legends of Inverburn was reviewed in The Athenæum on 13th May by John Westland Marston.]

_____

 

Letter 15: 8th July 1866.

Bexhill
July 8th 1866

My dear Dixon,

                   Herewith you have the first copy of “London Poems.” I am glad, very glad, the dedication pleased you. May the Contents do likewise!
         With kindest regards

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 18 in the collection.
The notepaper has a black border - Buchanan’s father died on 4th March, 1866 at Bexhill.

This must be the ‘postdated note’ referred to in the next letter.]

_____

 

Letter 16: 16th July 1866.

Bexhill
July 16th 1866

My dear Dixon,

                   I went off to Normandy abt a fortnight ago, leaving a postdated note to be posted to you by my wife on the arrival of the first copies of my book. Returning yesterday, I found that the first copies sent were unbound, but that she thought she might blunder if she omitted sending one on. Pardon us, therefore, for the blunder. The unbound copy will at any rate enable you to look at the work five days earlier than anybody else. Proper copies will of course be sent in the usual way, & a presentation one privately.
         With kindest regards believe me

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 14 in the collection.
The notepaper has a black border.
The date is a little obscure - the ‘1’ has been overwritten and could be mistaken for a ‘2’. However, if that was the case then Buchanan would surely have made some remark about the Athenæum review which was published on 21st July and was written by William Hepworth Dixon.
A word is crossed out after ‘sending one’.

Buchanan had spent the winter of 1865 in Normandy at Etrétat and two articles about his stay were published in The Argosy under the pseudonym, John Banks - the first in January, 1866 and the second in March. A third article, presumably written after Buchanan’s summer trip, referred to in this letter, was published in the August edition of The Argosy.]

_____

 

Letter 17: 19th November 1866.

Bexhill
near Hastings
Nov. 19th 1866

Dear Dixon,

                   Many welcomes back to England! I trust you bring both health, & wealth—of thought. But I shall say more soon.
         Meantime, I send you this reply to the “Saturday Reviewer”. Of course, it is merely correspondence, & affects you in no way; so that you wont grudge me the space for its insertion. The matter concerns me very materially, & this is only my first blow, tho’ it is my last in newspapers. I am armed to the teeth for a contest on this question.
         As for the Reviewer, he is my foe, & I have him by the throat.

                   Ever yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq,

         The letter is only abt 4 columns,—which is not much, seeing to how much discussion the first letter has given rise. – Will you sent me a proof?  R. B.

[Notes:
Letter No. 15 in the collection.
The notepaper has a black border.
‘much’ is inserted above and between ‘how’ and ‘discussion’.
‘sent’ before ‘me a proof’ should obviously be ‘send’.

Buchanan had dedicated London Poems to William Hepworth Dixon, and a rather dismissive review in The Westminster Review had opened with the following sentence:

‘Mr. Buchanan’s “London Poems” are defaced by one of the most sycophantic prefaces we ever read.’

This led Buchanan to write a letter to The Athenæum which was published on 10th November, 1866 under the title ‘Genus Irritabile’. Which in turn led to an article published in The Saturday Review of 17th November, under the title ‘The Woes of Poetic Genius’, which gave rise to Buchanan’s response as outlined in the letter above.]

_____

 

Letter 18: 26th November [1866].

Bexhill
Nov. 26th

Dear Dixon,

                   You were quite right, & I suspect I should not have written the letter; however, it carried off a bit of phlegm & there’s no harm done. Please send me back the letter. — Have you seen W. M. Rossetti’s awful book? —
         I would write more, but am unwell.

                   Yours ever
                   Robt Buchanan.

H. Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 19 in the collection.
The notepaper has a black border.

Buchanan also wrote the following to Robert Browning on the same date:

“More & more thanks!—Yes; silence is golden, & shall not answer Mister Gigadibs – & his brothers.— God bless you!”

Which seems to imply that Buchanan sent a copy of his intended reply to the ‘Saturday Reviewer’, or at least told Browning what he was going to write, and received the same advice from Browning as he had from Dixon.

‘W. M. Rossetti’s awful book’ is Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads: A Criticism, which opens with:

“The advent of a new great poet is sure to cause a commotion of one kind or another; and it would be hard were this otherwise in times like ours, when the advent of even so poor and pretentious a poetaster as a Robert Buchanan stirs storms in teapots.”

In ‘D. G. Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne and R. W. Buchanan: The Fleshly School Revisited’ by Christopher D. Murray (From Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester Vol. 65, No. 1 (Autumn 1982) (p.220), there is the following passage referring to W. M. Rossetti’s swipe at Buchanan:

‘He evidently told Robert Browning of William Michael’s gibe and its antecedents and received the best advice possible, which did not, for once, go unheeded. On 26 November while mourning the death of his father, Buchanan wrote to Browning, “More and more thanks! Yes; silence is golden, and shall not answer [sic] Mister Gigadibs and his brothers.—God bless you!” Thus Robert Browning was aware very early of the skirmishes between Buchanan and the Pre-Raphaelites, but he was, apparently, trying to restrain Buchanan, and almost certainly not giving him clandestine encouragement.’

I think the letter to Dixon of 26th November clarifies Buchanan’s intention in the Browning letter and I don’t believe it has anything to do with W. M. Rossetti or the later problems with his brother.]

_____

 

Letter 19: 13th October 1867.

Sligachan
Skye
         N. B.
Oct 13th 1867

Dear Dixon,

                   Your two letters have just reached me here, & the books await me at Oban. – I had better not attempt the Percy paper at this distance, more especially as I am not very occult in that affair. But many thanks for the offer. I have far more to thank you for that intercession wh: doubtless procured for my cousin the secretaryship to young Dilke.
         Of course I have been shaken again—this time my head being very bad. The hills are doing me good, praise God!
         You will soon see my two books—the volume of essays & the volume of poems. They should be nearly ready now. The latter contains my best & maturest work, & the former is a comment & a declaration.
         With kindest remembrances

                   Yours ever
                   Robt Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 16 in the collection.

The ‘Percy paper’ presumably refers to Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances edited by John W. Hales, M.A. and Frederick J. Furnivall, M.A. (London N. Trübner & Co., 1867) which was reviewed in The Athenæum by Rev. Walter William Skeat in the edition of 27th June, 1868. In this context I think ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’ and perhaps refers back to Buchanan’s criticism of Allingham’s Ballads book in which he praised Percy.

The 1861 census return for Robert Buchanan Snr. includes a ‘William Williams’, nephew of Buchanan Snr. and thus a cousin of Robert Buchanan Jnr. Since I’ve not come across any other relatives, I’m assuming that this is the one referred to in this letter. In the census his age is given as 15, so he’d be around 21 at this time. ‘Young Dilke’, I am just guessing, is Sir Charles Dilke, who became a Liberal M.P. in 1868.

Buchanan’s books are David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry and North Coast and Other Poems. William Hepworth Dixon reviewed the latter in The Athenæum of 19th October, 1867.]

_____

 

Letter 20: no date [January or February 1868].

Buckingham Cottage
New Rd
Hammersmith
         W.
Thursday eveng

Dear Dixon,

                   I enclose you a first copy of the essays, which will be out to the press abt Monday or Tuesday. I regard it as very important that this book should find its public, & I hope that it will awaken your interest & sympathy.
         If you dont review it yourself, I hope you will give it to some earnest man, capable of grasping its significance as a complete (tho’ concentrated) “confession of faith.” Apart from pure literary confession & reflection, let me ask you to read (& correct) the passages marked on p. 180 – 197 – 277 – 281 – 315. But the book is meant to be whole & thorough, & as wide in application as possible.
         I ask nothing, of course, but an early record—if with “brains” in it, all the better.

                   Yours ever
                   Robert Buchanan.

Apart from the Fidei Confessio, was ever sweeter sadder tale than this of Gray, or stranger episode than the love of that son & that father? —
         N. B. Ive written asking to “do” Spiritual Wives for a good quarter,—two indeed. You may look out for the heavy physiological from Dr Chapman in the “Westminster.” For my part, the theocratic & physiological seem so intermixed & confused,—that I would as soon explain thought by wine as spiritual fornication by cerebellic action alone. It is an awful question, referable to no known law with total certainty.

[Notes:
Letter No. 22 in the collection.
‘poetic’ is crossed out before ‘confession & reflection’ and ‘literary’ written above.
‘or’ before ‘stranger episode’ could be ‘&’ (difficult to tell which is the correction).

Buchanan’s David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry was reviewed by John Westland Marston in The Athenæum on 15th February, 1868.
William Hepworth Dixon’s book, Spiritual Wives, was published in January, 1868. Chapter 8 concerns itself with the Mormon church and polygamy which, one could speculate, was at least one of the sources for St. Abe and his Seven Wives.
The Dr. Chapman item is a review of The Physiology and Pathology of the Mind by Henry Maudsley, M.D. in The Westminster Review of January 1868, pp. 18-30.]

_____

 

Letter 21: 21st March 1868.

Gourock
         N. B.
March 21st 1868

Dear Dixon,

                   I suppose Black’s story is put in other hands. – Will you let me have Nettleship’s “Essays on Robert Browning’s Poetry,”—wh: will afford a pretty good opportunity of a fairly exhaustive survey of B’s wondrous genius? There is also a little book appearing on Tennyson;—& the two might be pieced together in one review. Of course I love B. best, but I should be fair to the other.
         I want, too, the Rev. Mr Barnes “Rural Poems in Common English” & (if you dont mind a strong condemnatory paper) Arnold’s new Essays on Education. After A’s sneer at yourself you can have no pity; and further, I doubt whether you are right to trust so implicitly to special-subject men. De Morgan’s opening review this week is unworthy of a leading journal, & ’tis  pitiable so wild a thinker & writer should have free scope. You know I admire De Morgan for his true qualities; so you’ll pardon my candour.

                   Yours faithfully
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

[Notes:
Letter No. 17 in the collection.

‘Black’s story’ is presumably Love or Marriage? by William Black, which was reviewed by Sir Robert Romer in The Athenæum of 11th April, 1868. Black had lived with the Buchanans when he first moved to London from Glasgow in 1863, but for some unknown reason the friendship did not last.
Buchanan’s review Essays on Robert Browning’s Poetry by John T. Nettleship and A Study of the Works of Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet-Laureate by Edward Campbell Tainsh appeared in The Athenæum of 27th June, 1868.
Poems of Rural Life in Common English By William Barnes was reviewed by John Westland Marston in The Athenæum of 11th April, 1868. The Matthew Arnold essay is presumably Schools and Universities on the Continent which was reviewed by Edward Wilberforce in The Athenæum of 4th April, 1868. I’ve not traced the ‘sneer’ referred to in the letter but Arnold did refer to Dixon’s Spiritual Wives in Culture and Anarchy, published the following year, so perhaps the ‘sneer’ was related to Dixon’s book (Culture and Anarchy - pp. 114-117, 223,225).
De Morgan is Augustus De Morgan, and his combined review of several works in The Athenæum of 21st March, 1868 is available below.]

demorganthmbp1 demorganthmbp2

Letter 22: 15th February [1869].

23 Bernard St
         W.
Feb. 15th

My dear Dixon,

                   I shall make one article of Story & Noel—more or less complimentary to both;—one book curiously illustrates the other, tho’ they are strong in contrast. I am busy on the article now, & it will not be delayed beyond this week.
         If I have been a little remiss lately, think of my anxieties, & forgive me—as I would forgive much worse in you—very much more. I should have much valued a kindly word from you abt my Readings, as they are of great practical importance to me & mine,—but I do not wish to obtrude them upon you. I feel a great delicacy in these things, when I fancy a friend is uninterested or preoccupied; but “delicacy” does mean “pain,” & I am perhaps wrong to feel it from so good a friend as you.
         You will serve my next Reading very much by inserting enclosed par. in this week’s “Gossip.” I hope you wont cut out the programme of pieces to be read, as it is very important.

                   Sincerely yours
                   Robert Buchanan.

Hepworth Dixon Esq.

par

     Mr Robert Buchanan will again read selections from his own poetical works, in the Hanover Square Rooms, on Wednesday evening, March 3. The Programme consists of Marc Antony in Egypt, The Little Milliner, Poet Andrew, The Battle of Drumliemoor,” “Liz,” “The Saint’s Story,” and “The Wake of Tim O’Hara.”

[Notes:
Letter No. 21 in the collection.
‘I hope’ originally ‘I hoped’ - the ‘d’ is crossed out.
The paragraph for inclusion in The Athenæum shows signs of much correction. After ‘March 3’ ‘rd’ is crossed out. A capital P is overwritten and underlined  in ‘Programme’. ‘of’ is written above and between ‘consists’ and ‘Marc Antony’. The titles of the poems are in inverted commas which have then been crossed out up to the one following ‘Drumliemoor’.

Buchanan’s review of Graffiti d’Italia by W. W. Story and Beatrice, and other Poems by the Hon. Roden Noel appeared in The Athenæum of 13th March, 1869.
Buchanan’s first London Reading took place at the Hanover Square Rooms on 25th January 1869. His second Reading occurred on 3rd March. This was a very difficult time for Buchanan, who had hoped his Poetry Reading scheme would raise some much-needed funds. Instead, on his return to London from his home in Scotland, he was beset by a number of creditors.
Buchanan’s first London Reading was reviewed in The Athenæum on 30th January, and Buchanan’s paragraph about the second Reading was printed on 20th February.]

_____

 

Back to Letters

 

Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

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

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
Site Diary
Site Search