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North Coast and Other Poems (1867) - continued


The Art-Journal (1 December, 1867 - p.270)


[Click the picture for larger image.]


The Argosy (1 December, 1867 - p.80)

     Writing in view of Christmas, we may, perhaps, shortly mention some Christmas Books. There is, first, “North Coast Poems,” by Robert Buchanan—a beautiful drawing-room volume, on which much care and pains have been spent, and with good result. Here and there we regret to see that the artists have followed and exaggerated a hard and wholly false realism into which Mr. Buchanan has recently fallen headlong, and which the men of the pencil might well have studied to relieve. One specimen of the hard and ungrateful work we may indicate—the illustration to the “Scottish Eclogue,” which, perhaps, faithfully enough reflects the artist’s conception, but which overcomes one with a feeling of disgust. Here the ideal medium, through which alone any form of life can be seen truly, has escaped the poet’s clasp, leaving only the rough garment behind it; and the artist has followed suit, with due result—a repulsive picture. But a few of the poems are fine, and, generally, the illustrations are equal to them—the landscapes and sea-pieces being exceedingly beautiful.



Pall Mall Gazette (3 December, 1867 - p.12)


THIS volume contains two or three poems well suited to maintain the reputation of the author, among many that are comparatively prolix and uninteresting, and several remarkable only for the most wild and morbid fancies. The  illustrations, with the exception of Mr. Wolf’s studies of wild deer and water-fowl, are mostly very dismal things to behold or criticise. They are composed, as a rule, of a few scratchy figures,—

Pinnacled dim in an intense inane

of nocturnal moors or surges without any fine lights and shades, or any distinct details introduced by way of contrasts. The one accompanying a picturesque couplet (p. 203)—

Then sunrise glistening faintly o’er the peaks
Fell moist and slant into the lake beneath,

is more than half composed of a mere patch of ink bounded by five straight lines. The group illustrating the Scottish Eclogue (already some time published) may perhaps be taken to present a humorous coup d’œil, inasmuch as the figure of the minister, who is delivering a tea-table discourse on predestination, is brought into curious relations with the frame of a chair adjacent to his own, and seems to end in a personal appendage characteristic of the Evil One. Some sea-pictures by Mr. T. Dalziel are absolutely preposterous. Altogether the book, in spite of a tolerably handsome binding, contains much that it too good, and much that is too bad, to suit a modest Christmas present; which is what it seems to have been intended for.
     The versatility shown in Mr. Buchanan’s compositions is striking and promising, but he is most successful when he stoops to a quiet rural idyl, namely in the “Northern Wooing,” and next in the keen though homely pathos of Meg Blane’s story. The former is a tale of “Hallow Night,” and of the momentous pranks and divinations which accompany that festivity in Scotland; it would make a kind of low life counterpart to Keats’s “Eve of St. Agnes.” The latter is a history of a seduced and deserted woman, who, in struggling by masculine toils to procure her livelihood and support her idiot though “bearded” son, is sustained by the single hope that her sailor will at length come back to her from she knows not what long wanderings; she then rescues him from a wreck by her own exertions, and has to bid him farewell with a sinking heart on finding that he has long been married. It is at this point the author reflects in his most perfect and moving style:—

     Lord, with how small a thing
Thou canst prop up the heart against the grave!
         A little glimmering
               Is all we crave—
         The coming of a love
               That hath no being;
     The thin point of a little star above,
               Flashing and fleeing,
               Contents our seeing—
The house that never will be built, the gold
     That never will be told,
The task we leave undone when we are cold:
The dear face that returns not, but is lying,
     Licked by the leopard, in an Indian cave—
The coming rest that cometh not, till, sighing
     We turn our weary eyes upon the grave.
         And, Lord, how should we dare
               Thither in peace to fall
But for a feeble glimmering even there?

The deeply human inspiration of this poem makes it almost appear an incongruous effort to read in the same volume the wild strain entitled “Celtic Mysteries,” where we are called upon to realize how death would affect us if God were to initiate a totally new dispensation, so that the bodies of our friends should suddenly vanish into thin air, and that we might have no relics over which to indulge our griefs. We meet with a yet rasher flight of fancy in the proem, where the Angel of Death, identified with Cain, is supposed to get a long-desired dismissal from his unpleasant duties, the Lord having accosted him with “Thy wanderings, dear Cain, are ended,” &c. The whole vision seems like one that has been produced by the influence of opium. It may certainly suit some minds in which a strong craving has been generated for a novel stimulant; but, at all events, the author’s efforts to connect these lucubrations with a string of serious reasonings and of expostulations with the Deity concerning our human destinies have proved abortive. On the other hand, the “Saint’s Story” is a kind of Ingoldsby Legend, very entertaining, very bold, and very whimsical; but the satire is spiteful and irreverent, and the scenes into which it leads adapted slyly to tickle coarsest appetites. But it is chiefly in the “Poem to David” (an elegy on the author of the “Luggie,” &c.) that Mr. Buchanan has overlaid a fine natural sentiment with an utterly repulsive covering of morbid conceits and fulsome images. It is dismal, he shows us, to think what death seems likely to be when we “lie and rot in cold obstruction,” without power to escape some dim conception of the past and the present, yet even thus we might be content to lie down by the side of a lost friend. No doubt this is a conception which a man of fine feeling might touch upon lightly and tremulously, as where we read in the old ballad—

Is there any room at your head, Willy?
     Is there any room at your feet?
Is there any room at your side, Willy?
     Wherein that I may creep.

     But all is spoiled in the present poem by an extravagant, even shocking excess of detail, and by the effeminate fondness of such verses as—

Were thy lips to mine, beloved,
     And thine arms around me too;
I think I could lie in silence,
     And dream as we used to do.
     *     *     *     *     *
And our brains upon one another,
Would gleam till the Judgment Day.

     In reading the “Ballad-maker” we are struck, as we have often been heretofore, by the too obvious narrowness of Mr. Buchanan’s notions concerning low life in London. While in Burns’s poems we see beggars or tailors as merry as princes could be, our present author would have us imagine than an exterior of squalor and rudeness is inevitably and incessantly accompanied by an abject and querulous frame of mind. Hence he exaggerates the effects of social position where his countryman has justly reduced their magnitude in our eyes, by showing how the same appetites and affections are constantly at work in all grades of society, since Fortune, as has been said, “gives too much to many, but to none enough.” He is unwilling even to believe that a Londoner can for a moment forget or cease to be sick of the smoke and the strange faces which surround him; by which view he acquires no better a command of his subject than a nautical poet might gain through the phenomena of sea-sickness. His imaginary sufferers, moreover, have a childish and literally lackadaisy longing to meet with the simplest country objects. Then they have never any friends living near them, and no notion, we suppose, of indulging in any convivial intercourse with chance acquaintances. The chief amusement and resource of these heaven-abandoned beings is running to the Old Bailey to see a woman hanged. We could scarcely pick up from any French traveller a queerer notion of metropolitan life than Mr. Buchanan’s books might give if circulated on the Continent, but he has unluckily tried to build elegiac and sentimental poems on a basis only sufficient for the humour of a caricaturist. To such strains, however, we often find a refreshing contrast in his descriptions of natural scenery, which although somewhat too exuberant and circuitous in point of diction are often coloured with peculiar warmth and delicacy. We may instance the description of a marine sunset in the “Exiles of Oona,” and that of the summer’s haunts in “Meg Blane,” to which might be added a number of more rapid sketches.

     * “North Coast and other Poems.” By Robert Buchanan. With illustrations. (London: Routledge and Sons. 1867.)



Illustrated Times (7 December, 1867)


North Coast and other Poems. By ROBERT BUCHANAN. With Illustrations by eminent Artists, engraved by the Brothers Dalziel. London and New York: Routledge and Sons.

Anything like an adequate review—not to say a criticism—of this volume would occupy so much of the space which near Christmas time is heavily bespoken, that we shall best serve the interests of author and publisher, as well as most certainly please out own readers, by devoting every inch we can spare, after a word or two of comment, to extracts from the best parts of the book. The artists we regret to be compelled to dismiss in very short space indeed. Where there is so much to praise, it is almost harsh to select a single point for notice; but nobody will miss the extraordinary force with which the countenance of the idiot is rendered on page 51; the beauty of the sea-lights on pages 7 and 186; or the natural charm of the scenes on pages 189 and 213. The last is particularly beautiful. The Scotch elder on page 151 is also capital. We praise these “points” in the artists’ share of the general effect, not because there is not more to praise, but because it is well to be specific here and there, even where one’s space is limited. By-the-by, too, the monk and the lady on page 175 are splendidly done.
     Of course, the poetry is of unequal rank; but, in order to estimate the true bearing of that remark, we invite the critical reader to compare (say) Mr. Tennyson’s “Enoch Arden” with “Meg Blane,” the opening poem in the present volume. Mr. Tennyson can well afford to submit to the comparison, whatever the result. And the result is this—In “Enoch Arden” there is, of course, much more of the perfect craftsman; but, in depth of conception, pathetic interpretation of nature, fulness of thought, and that subtle reading between the lines which seems so involuntary as to suggest the kind of genius which is next of kin to madness, the higher place—and by many stairs of the temple, too—belongs to “Meg Blane.” A similar result follows, in our opinion, upon a comparison of Mr. Tennyson’s “Brook” with the poem of that title in the volume before us. Of the “Celtic Mystics” it is difficult to speak truly and yet keep within bounds, so perfect is the “assimilation,” and so wonderful the “eerie” beauty and exaltation of the poetry. We can only quote the last of the series. Some readers will understand it at a glance; others, after a little study; the majority, perhaps, never; but every lover of poetry will be able to taste it, and catch the bouquet of a strange wine—if the image may be pardoned—though the name and origin may be obscure to him:—


In the time of my tribulation
Melt me, Master, like snow;
Melt me, dissolve me, exhale me,
Into Thy wool-white cloud;
With a warm wind blow me upward
Over the hills and the seas,
And upon a summer morning
Poise me over the valley
Of Thy mellow yellow realm;
Then, for a wondrous moment,
Watch me from infinite space
With Thy round red eyeball of sunlight,
And melt and dissolve me downward
In the beautiful silver rain
That drippeth musically,
With a gleam like starlight and moonlight,
On the footstool of Thy throne.

A short extract from “The Ballad-maker.” This is


He thought he was in heaven, and it seemed
Pleasant and bright and green like Primrose-hill;
And there was no one there, but all was still;
And he was clean and naked, and the light
Shone on his body, and made it golden bright;
And though a little hungry, through his breast
He felt a tired and pleasant peace and rest.
Then, seeing no one nigh, and tired, he crept
Into a corner full of flowers, and slept.
But all at once, while lying on the sod,
He heard a deep gruff voice, and knew ’t was God,
And felt rough fingers seize him by the ears,
While he was thick with sleep, and full of fears;
And heard God say, “What boy lies here apart?”
And some one said it was the thief, Jem Hart;
And though he sobbed and cried, they would not hark,
But took him to a gateway, cold and dark,
And thrust him out—and full of pain he woke.

And, lastly, at full length,


Oh, sweet and still around the hill
     Thy silver waters, Brook, are creeping;
Beneath the hill as sweet and still
     Thy weary friend lies sleeping:
A laurel leaf is in his hair,
     His eyes are closed to human seeming,
And surely he has dreams most fair,
     If he indeed be dreaming.

O Brook, he smiled, a happy child,
     Upon thy banks, and loved thy crying,
And, as time flew, thy murmur grew
     A trouble purifying;
Till, last, thy laurel leaf he took,
     Dream-eyed and tearful, like a woman,
And turned thy haunting cry, O Brook,
     To speech divine and human.

O Brook! in song full sweet and strong
     He sang of thee he loved so dearly;
Then softly creep around his sleep,
     And murmur to him cheerly;
For though he knows nor fret nor fear,
     Though life no more slips strangely through him,
Yet he may sleep more sound to hear
     His friend so close unto him.

And when at last the sleepers cast
     Their swathes aside, and, wondering, waken,
Let thy friend be full tenderlie
     In silver arms uptaken.
Him be it then thy task to bear
     Up to the Footstool, softly flowing,—
Smiles on his eyes, and in his hair
     Thy leaf of laurel blowing!

     Our readers know that we consider it of small use to point out faults in work of a certain rank; for the simple reason that the author is sure to know them as well as the keenest critic, to find them out, and to correct them. For the terms in which we have spoken of Mr. Buchanan’s volume no apology is necessary. If in the hierarchy of the agents of human progress the poet ranks highest—for the obvious reason that he has the vision of all that makes life worth while, and the power to put what he sees into “marching music”— no welcome can be too warm for real song; certainly not in a case like that of Mr. Buchanan, where the ordinary functions of a littérateur must hang like panniers on the flanks of the horse of the skies. Our readers will not, we trust, attribute to us any “sentimental” or “maudlin,” views upon this question. But if we reflect upon the long periods of absorption, with nothing to show for them, and the dangerous excitements of sudden accesses of the poetic passion, we shall hardly escape being driven to treat poetry which meets us in this way in a very different spirit from that of those who think they have made a great point by saying (as was recently said so often apropos of this very subject) that Shakspeare muddled and puddled in play-houses and Johnson slaved like a nigger. The answer is obvious—So much the worse for Shakspeare and Shakspeare’s work and Johnson and Johnson’s work.



The Times (12 December, 1867 - p.5)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan has every reason to be well pleased with the manner in which his latest collection of poems has been put before the public. (North Coast and other Poems. Routledge and Sons.) The illustrations are by the Brothers Dalziel, J. Wolf, A. B. Houghton, and other artists, and they are all of great merit. The sea sketches to “Meg Blane” are vivid and powerful, and two drawings, of first-rate excellence, among others, accompany the poems called the “Exiles of Oona”—one on page 211, by Mr. W. Small, and the other on page 213, by Mr. J. Wolf. The poems are fully worthy of the care which has been expended upon them.



The Illustrated London News (21 December, 1867 - p.11-12)


     North Coast and Other Poems. By Robert Buchanan. With Illustrations by Eminent Artists. Engraved by the Brothers Dalziel. (G. Routledge and Sons.) The strength and sweetness of Mr. Buchanan’s poetical genius, to which we have borne our testimony on former occasions, are yet more effectually manifested in some pieces of this collection. Three of them—namely, “The Northern Muse,” “An English Eclogue,” and “A Scottish Eclogue”—have appeared in print before; the others are quite new. The series entitled “North Coast Poems” are not, as one might have guessed, another batch of those Scandinavian ballads which he brought together for a Christmas book last year, but are narratives, chiefly of humble life—that of peasants and fishermen, with their families or women, on the shores of Scotland. The principal of these, “Meg Blane,” is one of considerable length, in four parts or acts, varying in their forms of versification. The opening canto, and likewise the last, are composed in very melodious irregular stanzas, with a frequent interjection of short lines and with changing intervals or periods of rhyme, probably intended to mark a change in the emotions which are expressed; while the second canto is in blank verse, and the third in regular heroic couplets. This practice of variable verse-structure, which Miss Ingelow and other poets of the day have adopted, is quite an innovation, and is not in general to be commended. It may be pleaded in excuse that the ear is apt to be wearied by the continuance of the same form of stanza or couplet over fifty pages. We certainly prefer the maintenance of one type of outward structure corresponding with the inward epic unity throughout the whole poem. This rule, which is supported by the precedents of Homer, Dante, Milton, and Byron, in their longest as well as greatest works, has been observed till recently by all writers of narrative poetry. But we shall not quarrel with Mr. Buchanan on that account. “Meg Blane” is a true and noble poem, in which the author has had, like Wordsworth, the courage to seek the sources of imaginative interest in the life-sorrows and soul-struggles of a poor lone woman, the mother of an idiot son; a woman deserted and shamed in her youth, now dwelling in a mean cottage on the shore, and labouring with more than a man’s energy and boldness to win their daily food out of the dangerous sea. The man who has left her so many years alone, the father of her dearly-loved but burdensome child, is cast at her feet by a wreck; she saves his life, and she hopes that he will now be her husband; but he cannot, or will not. So her spirit is broken, her strength perishes, and she can no longer buffet the waves.

Then only in still weather did she dare
To seek her bread on ocean, as of old,
And in the stormy time her shelf was bare,
And her hearth black and cold;
Then very bitterly, with heart gone wild,
She clung about her child,
And hated all the earth beneath the skies,
Because she saw the hunger in his eyes.

Infirmity, poverty, and old age come all at once upon her, in the day of her grief, and she soon feels herself dying:—

“O bairn, when I am dead,
How shall ye keep frae harm?
What hand will gie ye bread?
What fire will keep ye warm?
How shall ye dwell on earth awa’ fra me?”
“O mither, dinna dee;”

And so on, till presently she dies; but she is consoled in her last moments by an unspoken divine message, the traces of which are seen in “The fearless sweetness” of her face. The whole story, though as sad as “Enoch Arden,” which it equals in truthfulness of effect, but not in artistic finish, is deeply interesting, and pleases us as much as anything else in this volume. “The Battle of Drumliemoor,” an historical sketch of one of the Covenanters’ most disastrous struggles, is rather deficient in martial fire. “The Exiles of Oona” is a very melancholy poem on the departure of a band of emigrants from a Highland valley, the occasion having a similar interest to that of “The Deserted Village;” but it is comparatively languid and diffuse, and its metrical structure, in triplets of blank lines, seems to lack both freedom and precision. Another of these “North Coast” or Scottish pieces is “The Northern Wooing,” in which an old grandmother tells the children how she went out of the house in the dark night, on Halloween, to see the mystic image of her future lover. This is the subject of the design, by Mr. A. B. Houghton, which we have borrowed. The passage is highly effective:—

Dark, dark was all, as, shivering and alone,
I set my foot upon the threshold-stone,
And, trembling close, with twitching fingers caught
The great horn lanthorn from the stables brought,
And leant against the door to keep it wide,
And peered into the dreadful gloom, and sighed.
Black was the lift, and faintly fell the rain;
The wind was screeching like a ghaist in pain;
And, while I paused, and pinched my e’en to mark,
The wind swung to the door, and left me in the dark.

Could the incident be more plaintly and forcibly described? Mr. Buchanan excels in this power of assembling the attendant circumstances of an action, with a fine sense of their congruity and of their tendency to deepen its impression on the mind. He does not, as even Miss Ingelow and Mrs. browning have sometimes done, bring in particulars which are needless for that purpose, and which may appear trivial or grotesque. In this respect he is guided by an instinct of æsthetic fitness, which seldom fails. The most perfect, we think, of his poems, and one of the most beautiful of its class, is “Sigurd of Saxony,” a kind of allegory of the spiritual state of one waiting and watching at the verge of our mortal life, who has there parted company with the sainted mistress of his heart, and who has devoted the remainder of his days to the sacred task of purifying himself from evil,

That with a stainless spirit I may take
That solemn barge across the enchanted lake.

He is a knight of mediæval chivalry, as devoutly constant as the Sir Galahad of Tennyson in quest of the “Holy Graal;” but all his hope is to be fetched away to rejoin the heavenly object of his affections:—

Long have I waited here, alone, alone,
Hearing the melancholy waves make moan
     Upon the pebbly beach;
With eyes upon the pitiless stars above,
Here have I waited in my homeless love,
     Pale, patient, deaf to speech,
With the salt rheum upon me, pale and bent,
And breathless as a marble monument.

In explanation of this, be it understood that he is frozen into a statue, and fixed to the earth as he stands, until the appointed hour for his departure. Twice has the ghostly barge returned, once for an aged man and once for a child, when Sigurd was unable to move. But now he is patient, and he waits, with quiet heart and brain, until the due moment of his reprieve. This is a very striking conception, and wrought out with a masterly hand. Another quasi-mediæval subject, that of “The Saint’s Story,” is, on the contrary, one essentially disgusting. Mr. Buchanan should have let it alone. We would rather say nothing more about it. “The Ballad-maker” is a homely idyll of London life, as plain as a piece of Crabbe’s, but with touches of higher imagination and of deeper poetic feeling. It tells of a poor crippled boy whom the ballad-maker, in his charity, nursed while dying, and cheered with the best songs in his stock, chanting to him of the green fields and the great sea, as he lay in a squalid garret of this city. “The Ballad of the Stork” is a good story, very well told. We have by no means exhausted all the contents of this noble volume. The series of weird elegies and prophecies, called the “Celtic Mystics,” open a separate field of criticism; but Mr. Buchanan is apt to become uncouth and obscure in his mystical vein. The view of an Arctic landscape, with a reindeer, designed by Mr. Zwecker, which illustrates one of these pieces, is worthy of notice. So are many of the drawings by Messrs. T. and E. Dalziel, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Small, and others, which are engraved by the brothers Dalziel in their usual style. The very binding of the volume deserves remark, being adorned with a decorative pattern and lettering of a most graceful artistic design.


The Nation (26 December, 1867 - Vol 5, No. 130, pp. 524-25)

     North Coast, and Other Poems. By Robert Buchanan. With Illustrations. (New York and London: George Routledge & Sons. 1867)—

Mr. Buchanan’s strength as a writer seems to lie almost wholly in the fulness and tenderness of his sympathy with the poor, the unfortunate and the criminal, the lowly and the low. He says in the prelude to his miscellaneous poems:

“My full heart hungers out unto the stainèd.”

So it does. We may add that this hunger is not often expressed with much more of force or beauty than in the verse above quoted. We should not send any one to his poetry for anything more than the pathos of the facts of daily life in “the cottages where poor men lie;” the huts and cells where men and women lie whom poverty has driven into crime or error. And we should beforehand advise the reader not to expect that Mr. Buchanan either greatly heightens the pathos of the facts or beautifies it by the charm of his imagination. He does not, to our apprehension. There is the narrative; he invented it or he discovered it—to do the one is as easy as to do the other—and besides this there is not much. Yet there is something besides this. He is not destitute of humor or of imagination, and his pitying sympathy has given him insight into the motives and feelings of the class of people which he has most studied. There is something more than sympathetic presentation of facts in the “Scottish Eclogue,” in “The Ballad-Maker,” and in parts of “Meg Blane.” Imagination had a finger, if not a hand, in the production of them. We copy a passage from the last-named poem. Meg Blane has been seduced, twenty years since, by a lover who deserted her, promising to return. She, meantime, lives as a fisherwoman, rearing her son, an idiot, to man’s years. “Bearded,” Mr. Buchanan very often calls him, for he has a way of repeating favorite words which would seem to prove his vocabulary limited. He, meantime, forgets her and marries another. He is cast ashore, by shipwreck, near Meg’s hut, and she speedily finds that the hope she has been so long cherishing is a vain one. The dying out of her love for him is thus told:

“Over this agony I linger not,
Nor shall I picture how upon that shore
They met and spoke and parted yet once more,
So calmly that the woman understood
Her hope indeed had gone away for good.
But ere the man departed from the place,
It seemed to Meg, contemplating his face,
Her love for him had ne’er been so intense
As it had seemed when he was far from thence;
And many a thing in him seemed little-hearted
And mean and loveless; so that ere they parted
She seemed unto her sorrow reconciled.
And when he went away, she almost smiled,
But bitterlie, and turned to toil again,
And felt most hard to all the world of men.”

     This seems true to nature everywhere, among high and low, and it would not be fair to the author to say that he found it in the story. Meg sickens, losing all her courage; her life died with her love, and she pines away. Her witless son waits on her in her illness; and the poet has well imagined the effect on his behavior of his mother’s woes. Or, as one may say—seeing how in other things, when facts cannot help him, his imagination mostly fails him—he has closely studied and sympathetically reproduced all the features of a case which actually fell under his observation. In the other case the sympathetic imagination seems to have been at work, and in this one sympathetic observation. We may as well say here that in the “Battle of Drumliemoor,” “The Saint’s Story,” the very disagreeable “Poem to David,” and certain other pieces where Mr. Buchanan escapes wholly from facts and trusts himself to his unaided powers, he makes a bad failure. This is the description of the idiot son’s imitative sadness:

“And now there was a change in his sole friend
     He could not comprehend.
But, lo! unto the shade of her distress
His nature shaped itself in gentleness;
And when he found her weeping, he too wept;
     And if she laughed, laughed out in company.
And often to the fisher-huts he crept,
     And begged her bread, and brought it tenderly,
And held it to her mouth, and, till she ate,
     Would touch no piece, although he hungered sore.
And these things were a solace to her fate,
     But wrung her heart the more.
     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
Something had made the world more sad and strange,
But easily he changèd with the change.
For in the very trick of woe he clad
His features, and was sad since she was sad,
And leant his chin upon his hands like her,
     And looked at vacancy: and when the deep
     Was troublous, and she started up from sleep,
He too awoke, with fearful heart astir;
And aye the more her bitter tears she shed
     Upon his neck, in woe to mark his woe,
The more in blind, deep love he fashionèd
     His grief to hers, and was contented so.”

     Giving to the best pieces of the book the praise we have given it, and adding to that the further praise that it has passages of natural reflection well enough expressed, and some not excellent but good descriptions of natural scenery, we will say, on the other hand, that frequently the poet is heard speaking through the personages of his story instead of letting them speak for themselves, and that he too exclusively gives himself up to the harrowing. Both are artistic faults, and both have the same origin. Close adherence to his original, accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the life he tries to paint, would have saved him from the one and the other; then his farmers would never talk Buchanan, nor would all his low life be low life made—to the sacrifice of truth—on the single theory which the poet has chosen as most effective on the reader’s feelings. Of his usual matter and manner the passages we have quoted above afford a specimen rather favorable than otherwise. But we have already sufficiently described the book. Mr. Buchanan is, so far as he is at all valuable, a poetical preacher of love and charity, enforcing his text by moving examples. Thus he does a noble work; and he does it more than tolerably well, but is hardly a poet, or he would not have chosen themes that might better have been treated in prose; at the utmost, would have treated them less prosily. The binding of the volume, a heavy octavo, is elaborately fine, red and green and gilt cloth, with bevelled edges; the paper is tinted and heavy; the type is large ad clear; the illustrations are many——most being ugly—and altogether the book, as regards inside and outside, is good enough to constitute a pretty and valuable holiday gift.



The Round Table (28 December, 1867 -  No. 153, p.434)

     North Coast, and Other Poems. By Robert Buchanan. With Illustrations. London and New York: George Routledge & Sons. 1868.—Mr. Buchanan has indulged in the innovation of first putting forth his new poems, some, no doubt, of which he is (justly) proud, in a volume gorgeous with crimson and blue and gilding, so that they will present themselves to many as they do to us now, in the capacity of a gift book and not of poems to be enjoyed for themselves. This is a pity, for Meg Blane, the first of the poems of the North Coast, and others which follow it are very true and touching fulfilments of the poet’s purpose as expressed in his Prelude, printed, oddly enough, in the middle of the book:

“I have a word to leave upon my tombstone;
I have a token for the men who follow:—
This man’s heart hungered out unto the stainéd.”

In its success as real poetry we are inclined to believe, for reasons that we must reserve until we are better able to give them; as a very beautiful specimen of holiday-bookmaking there can be no doubt about it. Such workmanship as only comes to us from abroad, with over fifty engravings by the Dalziel Brothers from designs by half-a-dozen skilful artists and the splendors of binding to which we have alluded—the whole is a most brilliant table ornament, one of the prime essentials of a gift book.



The Morning Post (30 December, 1867 - p.3)



     Similar to his “Wayside Posies” last year, this volume of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s “North Coast and other Poems” takes a high place among the illustrated books of the present season. It may almost be said to outrival its predecessor in the number and beauty of the engravings with which it is embellished by the Brothers Dalziel and other eminent artists. Unlike, however, the collection in his former work, all the poems are from Mr. Buchanan’s own pen, although they are still of varied character. Only three of them have appeared before—“The Northern Muse,” “An English Eclogue,” and “A Scottish Eclogue;” the others are now published for the first time. The first and longest, “Meg Blane,” is of the narrative order, as may be inferred from its title. It is written in changeful metre, and contains some fine passages, especially in describing the effects of deep passion or suffering on the human mind. The intense yearning of Meg Blane through long years to behold once more the faithless lover of her youth, and her feelings when this desire is unexpectedly gratified, give full scope for some striking word-painting. The change which comes over her afterwards is also finely portrayed, and the closing lines of the description may be quoted as giving a true picture of a woman’s hardening heart:—

“But ere the man departed from the place,
It seemed to Meg, contemplating his face,
Her love for him had ne’er been so intense
As it had seemed when he was far from thence.
And many a thing in him seemed little-hearted
And mean and loveless; so that ere they parted
She seemed unto her sorrow reconciled.
And when he went away, she almost smiled,
But bitterlie, and turned to toil again,
And felt most hard to all the world of men.”

     There is the same truthfulness to nature and deeper pathos in the stanza which tells how her witless son unconsciously showed his sympathy with her sorrow; thus—

“But, lo! unto the shade of her distress
His nature shaped itself in gentleness;
And when he found her weeping, he too wept;
     And if she laughed, laughed out in company;
And often to the fisher-huts he crept,
     And begged her bread, and brought it tenderly,
And held it to her mouth, and till she ate
     Would touch no piece, although he hungered sore;
And these things were a solace to her fate,
     But wrung her heart the more.”

     One other extract may be given from the last lines of “The Battle of Drumliemoor,” as affording a vivid, though brief, description of that sad scene, a snow-clad battle-field:—

“And while the widow groans, lo! God’s hand around their bones
     His thin ice windeth softly as a shroud.
Ay, on mountain and in vale our women will look pale,
     And palest where the ocean surges boom;
Buried ’neath snow-drift white, with no holy prayer or rite,
     Lie the loved ones they look for in the gloom;
And deeper, deeper still, drops the snow on vale and hill,
     And deeper and yet deeper is their tomb!”

Still the poems are certainly rendered less attractive by many of the ideas they present being clothed in vague, fantastic language and fitful metre, perfectly consonant, no doubt, with the tone of North Coast songs and legends, though little adapted to the prevailing taste of the age. The “Celtic Mystics” indeed, with which the volume concludes, are altogether too mystic and shadowy to be either generally intelligible or appreciable. The imaginative is carried to too high a pitch; and occasional instances are also observable throughout the poems where Mr. Buchanan commits that too prevalent error among modern writers of using expressions which stretch poetic license to the verge of sacrificing sense to sound. The style in which the volume is brought out and the illustrations deserve the highest commendation. Not only are the engravings admirable as presenting vivid pictures of the scenes described in the poems, but worthy to be estimated as rare works of art. They display in an eminent degree, both as regards design and execution, marks of that genius for which the Brothers Dalziel, Pinwell, Small, and the other noted artists who produced them, are so justly celebrated.

     * North Coast and other Poems. By Robert Buchanan. With Illustrations by eminent artists. Engraved by the Brothers Dalziel. London: George Routledge and Sons.



Putnam’s Magazine (January, 1868 - Vol. 1, p.129)

     IT is somewhat difficult to settle down to a critical estimate of an author’s poems, when the verses come to us in such fine holiday trim as the poems Lucile, by OWEN MEREDITH (Ticknor & Fields), and “North Coast, and Other Poems,” by Robert Buchanan (Routledge & Sons). The eye is first attracted by the brilliant decorations, the thick, glossy paper, the gold-leaf, and the manifold artistic graces of the Brothers Dalziel; and it is not till, as it were, we have divested the beauty of her ball-room finery and extravagance of dress, that we are able to see her in her simple personal attractions. It is Ball and Black with their diamonds, or the laces and silks of Stewart, or the skilful manipulations of Dieden that we are for the time admiring. The lady’s turn comes at last, and we forget them all. We may, however be doing injustice to the brilliance of the attire in which their publishers have invested two of the favorite authors of the day, since, though rich, it is in exceedingly good taste, and the merit of the productions is proof against any application of the old saying of the workmanship surpassing the material. Besides, the realistic character of the illustrations has its subduing effect, bringing the gazer down to a sober appreciation of the text. The reputation of “Lucile,” indeed, is sufficiently established; for, has it not been in “blue and gold,” and consequently in the hands of all fair readers of poetry in America, a familiar companion, since its first publication?—a charming novel, with its society airs and more private sensibilities and heart adventures, tickling the fancy with its seemingly careless but more artistical rhyming. Now, with its portrait of the author, Robert Lytton, as a frontispiece, a countenance marked with the impress of thought and feeling, and the finely-drawn, earnest, and, at times, passionate illustrations of Du Maurier, the work may fairly be said to renew its existence.
     The volume of Robert Buchanan, with the exception of three of its numerous separate poems, is entirely new to the public. It is too little to say of it that it well sustains the reputation of the author. “Meg Blane,” the opening poem, is the story of a heroine of the northern seas, a simple, stout-hearted woman of the “north coast,” schooled in adversity, braving the ocean in deeds of daring and humanity, sustained in a great private sorrow by the strength of a sorrow yet deeper, her love for her half-witted son. These are the elements of a pathetic poem of great power and moral beauty. The treatment of the theme, with the cool breath of the ocean and its sublimities tempering the scene, is worthy of the old ballad age. An “English” and another “Scottish Eclogue,” exhibit a fine spirit of characterization of certain religious phenomena of the two countries. “A Saint’s Story” is in an original vein, with a peculiar fascination in its wild humors. “A Poem to David” is a tribute to the memory of the Scottish poet, David Gray, in which a complaint of death is turned to minister to the expression of tenderness and affection. We might particularize others, for the lyre of the author has many strings, but must be content with a general commendation of the work, and of the thoughtful and frequently forcible character of the illustrations, especially in the views of the sea-shore of the opening poem, by T. Dalziel, and the fantasies of the “Saint’s Story,” by Houghton. The animal subjects, by J. Wolf, “The Moor Hen” and “Highland Deer,” are full of spirit.



The Contemporary Review (February, 1868 - Vol. VII, p.303-304)


The North Coast, and other Poems. By ROBERT BUCHANAN. With Illustrations
           engraved by the Brothers DALZIEL. London: Routledge. 1868.

     WE own to not being easy in mind about these gorgeous scarabæan books, which are making the temples of the Sosii flare with gold, and green, and crimson in our days. It may be morose and ill-boding to feel as if our lighter literature were passing away in a December sunset; or it might be invidious to compare it to a nymph who, for want of charms certain to tell, is obliged to flaunt in loud colours, and challenge us with, “Look at me!”
     But, whatever we may feel about all this iridescence for books in general, of one thing we are quite certain: that it is not a happy idea to send out a new work (at least if that work be anything above a fairy tale) in such a garb. A young child in crimson, satin, and diamonds is not more absurd nor unbecoming. At least, let us keep up the fiction of a shrinking modesty on the part of an author on the day of his debut. The deprecating tone in which men used to address their “gentle readers” was, if somewhat of a farce, yet not out of place on such an occasion. At all events, it was better than this blazing out upon us, as George Herbert says, in hues “angry and brave.” Such garb ought to be won before it is worn.
     With this somewhat offended feeling we look inside. We find poems,—of those anon. But we find something else. Now, here we have an à priori remark to make. We hold the mind’s poetic pictures to be very sacred things. They arise unbidden the moment sweet words are heard or read. Most pertinaciously is the fancy wedded to them. Hector and Andromache part. The warrior stands on the left side; the wife holds the babe to him from the right. So, in an instant, springs up the group to my mind’s eye; to another man’s, it may be vice versá. But, be it which it may, from the first moment when the schoolboy conned the passage all through life, there the group remains, indelible, unchangeable: he who interferes with it is an enemy to my liberty of thought. I would fight for the position of the persons, for their background, for their surroundings. What right have these dealers in printers’ ink to forestall my mental images, and to forestall them in this particularly gloomy and odious manner? Some of these illustrations really puzzle the eye to discover, through the crossed and crossed black lines, what the artist intended to embody as his idea. Some, we own, are freer from blame; but the new and undesirable practice of decking new poems with them has put us out of humour, we suppose, with the whole thing. If we must specify, Mr. T. Dalziel’s illustrations are to us far among the best of their kind, as Mr. Wolf’s are of theirs (witness the beautiful bit of reedy water on p. 189, and the rocks and deer, p. 213). Mr. Pinwell’s perspective is as marvellous as ever. In both the engravings on pp. 91, 99, the floor of the room is as nearly as possible vertical.
     Robert Buchanan has not, by this volume’s poems, added to his deservedly high reputation. “Meg Blane” is, on the whole, the best thing in the book; and “Sigurd of Saxony” has several passages of real beauty. Some of the poems we are sorry Mr. Buchanan has printed. “The Saint’s Story” is simply odious.
     There are some affectations which surely one of Mr. Buchanan’s powers can do without; such are “the curious-eye’d man,” p. 60; “tenderlie,” p. 84; “quietlie,” p. 53; “certainlie,” p. 30; and “bitterlie,” p. 37; the description of a maiden as “kiss-worthy to the finger-tips,” p. 86.
     On the whole, we are disappointed with this new volume;—with the framing, and with that which is framed in it.



The Globe (18 June, 1868 - p.1)



     Odd as it may appear, there are evidently two Robert Buchanans, both of whom set up to be poets. One of them is the irrepressible gentleman who appears in all manner of monthly periodicals, who dedicates to Mr. Hepworth Dixon, and who is occasionally almost poetical. The other was sometime Professor of Logic and Rhetoric in the University of Glasgow. We hardly know which we like least.
     The professor goes in for the old-fashioned five-act drama. Need we say that “Wallace” is his first subject? As the Scotch have just done England out of seven charming little boroughs, we may be excused for feeling rather savage and for maintaining most resolutely that William Wallace was a mere highwayman and freebooter, thoroughly meriting the fate he met from the greatest of England’s kings. It is, therefore, quite right that in a tragedy whereof he is the hero the English language should be maltreated: so let no one groan when Professor Buchanan makes a gentleman called Bonkill exclaim—

                                       “O injured Wallace!
Would Heaven but lend me one day’s life to do
Atone to thee, and on that traitor justice?”

There are five dramas in professor Buchanan’s two volumes, and they are wonderfully supplied with notes of exclamation. But Mr. Constable has ample founts of type.
     As we cannot afford space to analyse the professor’s tragedies, we pass to his minor poems, which usually afford a pretty good test of a man’s quality. Here be the first two stanzas of a lyric, “To a Village Beauty”:—

“O fairest of the village train!
     That show’st a blooming waste of charms:
Did fate the russet robe ordain,
     Thou, only thou, shouldst bless mine arms.

“But must that form—and form so rare
     What sculptor shaped, what poet feigned?
In sordid hut, on sordid fare,
     In some rank boor’s embrace be strained?”

This is queer enough, but the Professor can do queerer things, as the following quatrain shows:—

“Ah, fatal thirst! ah, fond aspire!
     Forbidden things to know!
Dis-Edener thou of our first sire,
     Well-spring of all our woe!”

What’s an “aspire?” And what, oh, what, is a “Dis-Edener?”
     In North Coast the other and better known Robert Buchanan—more poetical, though not a poet—has condescended to adapt himself to illustrations, some whereof are really very good. Indeed, the volume is nice enough, but illustrated poetry in these times is so much a mere publisher’s speculation, with hackwork on one side or the other, author’s or artist’s, that we care little about it. A painter may feel impelled to illustrate a poet’s work—a poet to sing to a painter’s. These are rare occasions. In a mere business partnership, one partner is pretty sure to fail—very often both.
     Still, there is some undeniable success in this volume; witness the “Scottish Eclogue” (p. 150) with Mr. Houghton’s admirable sketch on the dry pious elder of the kirk. Indeed, all the illustrations of the volume are good, and many of them most admirable. The strongest poem in the book is “The Saint’s Story,” wherein Mr. Buchanan has deliberately endeavoured to outdo Mr. Swinburne. Thus talks the “Saint”:—

     “First, by the cinders rescued from the flame
That roasted sweet St. Lawrence, by the blest
     Toenails of Blois, by clippings from the same,
By the red nipples of St. Jonquil’s breast,
By rags of St. Augustine’s chemisette,
     Still odorous with her sweat,
By relics down below, by saints above,
I swear that I had loved as few men love!”

Saintly talking, doubtless. The story is, as a whole, more disgusting than this extract—but it has some power.

     * “North Coast” and other poems, by Robert Buchanan. London: Routledge. “Tragic Drama from History,” by Robert Buchanan. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.

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