EXTRACTS FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE OF A. C. SWINBURNE,
W. M. ROSSETTI AND D. G. ROSSETTI, RELATING TO R. W. BUCHANAN
“You seem to think that such things are likely to be restricted to the circle of their recipients. Why, my dear fellow, every line you have ever written will one day be religiously raked up by greedy & often doubtless malevolent exploiteurs, and it is very hard for those who recover these wonderfully funny things of yours to resolve on taking the only safe course with them for your sake – that is, to destroy them after they have been abundantly laughed over by a circle of friends who know what mere fun they are.”
(D. G. Rossetti to Algernon Swinburne in a letter of 7th November, 1871.)
In January 2017 Professor Terry Meyers kindly sent me copies of the pages in his book, The Uncollected Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, which mentioned Robert Buchanan. At first, I was not sure how these could be incorporated into the site, apart from quoting them in the Fleshly School Timeline. I then thought it might be useful to try and combine them with ‘Buchanan’ extracts from Swinburne’s other letters, and then, those of the Rossetti brothers. This is not a complete record of the correspondence between the various characters involved in the ‘Fleshly School’ controversy but I think there’s enough to warrant me adding it to this section of the site at this time. The extracts are taken from the following collections:
The Swinburne Letters edited by Cecil Y. Lang (Volumes 1-6) (Yale University Press, 1959-1962).
The Uncollected Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne edited by Terry L. Meyers (Routledge, 2004).
The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti edited by William E. Fredeman (Volumes 3-5) (D. S. Brewer, 2003-2005).
Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti edited by Roger W. Peattie (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990).
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 95, pp. 144-147.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 4 January, 1866
Now I am going to ask your help and advice in a matter of business regarding only my own interest. I have made for this Miniature series of Moxon’s a book of selections from Byron, with a critical essay prefixed which has cost me some time and trouble. It will appear on the first of next month; and today Payne writes to ask what he is to pay into my banker’s hands on this account. What do you think I ought to say? An illustrious Scotch person by the name of Buchanan 5 has done, it seems, a like office for Keats, and received £10 in return. This sum the publisher is willing to lose, and to cancel the poor devil’s work, if I will do Keats instead on those terms; and won’t I? and wouldn’t I gratis? This forthcoming Scotch edition of Keats, who hated the Scotch as much as I do (Scotus 6 I consider Northumbrian by adoption and Scotch no longer) has long been a thorn in my side: and apart from the delight of trampling on a Scotch Poetaster, I shall greatly enjoy bringing out a perfect edition of Keats with all his good verses and none of his bad. But all this does not help me to see what under the circumstances I ought in justice to demand for the Byron, a work less delightful and more laborious. ...
5. Robert W. Buchanan (1841-1901), a poet and novelist remembered now only for the mud-slinging article “The Fleshly School of Poetry” in 1871, which he recanted long before his (and shortly after Gabriel Rossetti’s) death.
6. William Bell Scott.]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 96, pp. 148-149.]
Swinburne to J. B. Payne, 5 January 
With regard to the Keats I shall enjoy doing it of all things as you propose; but in throwing overboard your Scotch Jonah, you must make him understand that I have nothing to do with his part of the business. Not being by profession a man of letters, the matter is nothing to me except as a labour of love. I should not edit what I did not like for any money; and of course the same amount of original work would be worth to me, if anything, somewhat more than £10. He is not therefore to imagine himself aggrieved by me, because you, unasked and without suggestion, propose to me of your own accord to edit the selections from Keats. With any previous arrangements now cancelled I naturally have no concern. I regard your proposal as a compliment and hope to shew as much. Let me know when you propose to have the book out. As I know Keats by heart I could write down my proposed selections in order without reference to his works. There is only the essay to write, which will be an easier and more wholly pleasant labour than that on Byron has been. ...
[Peattie, Letter 95, pp. 140-142]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 7 January 
About the Byron, the money-question would no doubt depend in some degree upon how much you have done by way of preface — notes I presume there are none. Assuming there are from 10 to 15 pages of preface, or more, I should not see anything extravagant in your asking — considering that it is you — £50. The proposed £10 for the Keats seems to suggest however that Moxon has laid out a different scale of payment for these editorial performances; but the very least I can imagine your consistently asking, even if your prefatory work is short, is £25 for the Byron. I confess to a peculiar abhorrence of Buchanan, and satisfaction that his Caledonian faeces are not to bedaub the corpse of Keats. About the Blake book I feel totally unable to say what you ought to ask for a first edition of 1000. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 3, Letter 66.3, pp. 373-374]
D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne, 7 January 
I am glad to hear that Shelley is in such hands as Browning’s, but the puddling of Keats with Buchanan is a fearful thought. In fact it is very seriously to be regretted as a good selection of Keats was needed.
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 122, p. 170.]
Swinburne to Lord Lytton, 6 August 
22a Dorset Street, Portman Square, W.,
August 6 
Dear Lord Lytton
Your letter was doubly acceptable to me, coming as it did on the same day with the abusive reviews 1 of my book which appeared on Saturday. While I have the approval of those from whom alone praise can give pleasure, I can dispense with the favour of journalists. ...
1. PBI was reviewed on Saturday, Aug. 4, 1866, in the London Review pp. 130-131; by Robert Buchanan in the Athenaeum, pp. 137-38; and by John Morley in the Saturday Review, pp. 145-47. (See C. K. Hyder, Swinburne’s Literary Career and Fame, pp. 37-45.)]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 137, pp. 179-181.]
Swinburne to J. C. Hotten [Early September 1866]
As long as the attacks on my book—I have seen a few, I am told there are many—were confined within the limits of the anonymous press, I let them pass without the notice to which they appeared to aspire. Sincere or insincere, scurrilous or respectful, I let them say out their say unheeded. I have never lusted after the praise of journalists, I have never feared their abuse. Sint ut sunt, aut non sint. 2 But you, who are now about to reissue my book, are now involved in the matter; and you inform me that you are on this account distinctly threatened with prosecution by persons responsible for the menace, having names of their own and faces not muffled under masks. In recognition of your honourable dealing with me in this matter, I am bound by my own sense of right to accede to your wish that on your account if not on mine I should make some reply to the charges brought against me—as far as I understand them. The work is not fruitful of pleasure, of honour, or of profit; but like other such tasks it may be none the less useful and necessary. ...
2. “Let them be as they are, or not at all”—words attributed sometimes to P. Ricci, General of the Jesuits, and sometimes to Pope Clement XIII.]
[Peattie, Letter 106, pp. 155-156]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 30 September 
Scotus turned up within an hour or so of my writing this. The old boy is flourishing, and we have been taking sweet counsel together — very mainly about you and your belongings. I showed him (I hope blamelessly) the pamphlet, which he pronounces to be very capital, and, if one didn’t know you, very convincing. I have been advising him to reissue his own poems in a combined and carefully revised form, and show the discerning public that even the colossal fame of a Buchanan is not absolutely the only poetic glory of contemporary Caledonia. I really think he should do this, and hope you will support the same cause on any fitting opportunity. ...
[Peattie, Letter 108, pp. 157-161]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 7 October 
Page 16. Spectator. Did you see in the Spectator of 15 (or perhaps 8) September, a contemptible rhymed attack upon you 6 by some verse-emitter whom I should suppose to be probably either Pennell 7 or Locker? 8 I should not permit myself to allude to such vomit in writing to you, but that I think you may perhaps not have seen it, and might prefer to see it before finally committing to press what you have to say of the Spectator. It is not (as you may guess) penes me. ...
6. “The Session of the Poets” (15 September 1866, p. 1028), by Robert Buchanan.
7. Henry Cholmondeley Pennell (1837-1915), poet and writer on angling, published Puck on Pegasus (1861) and Crescent, and other Lyrics (1864).
8. Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821-95; Lampson was appended in 1885), poet of London Lyrics (1837 and many subsequent editions), anthologist, collector of the Rowland Library. ...]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 149, pp. 192-198.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 9 October 
I must write to Hotten and ask him to send me the number of the Examiner from which your extract comes, and that of the Spectator of which you tell me a metrical assault is indeed ‘nuts’ 11 —one must use either schoolboyish or Sadique terms on such occasions. It was cruel, unfriendly, not to buy up and send one copy at least of an effusion which I feel must be delicious. It was I think the R. Père Silvestre 12 who observed—‘L’opprobre, ma chère Justine—l’infamie—a un attrait très piquant, et qui ressemble énormément au fouet. Accable-moi de sottises, d’injures, de mots affreux; tu me feras plaisir. Entasse sur ma tête toutes les horreurs imaginables; ô putain! cette infamie, ces reproches, ces horreurs ne me feront que plus sûrement bander? Hélas! il n’est que trop vrai; le vit nerveux de cette anthropophage le démontre assez; et notre orpheline, en voyant dresser son engin, fond en larmes; elle reconnait que la vertu elle-même peut devenir maquerelle, at que par ses paroles chastes et religieuses elle vient effectivement de branler moralement le plus infâme libertin du monde.’ such, or nearly such, I fear and hope, will be the effect of a poetic castigation on me. Excuse my repeated citations; there are (witness my works passim) two writers whom I cannot refrain from quoting, God, and de Sade. I am aware that they are both obscene and blasphemous.
11. “The Session of the Poets,” by “Caliban” (a pseudonym of Robert Buchanan), in the Spectator (Sep.15).
12. In Justine.]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 153, p. 201.]
Swinburne to George Powell [13 October, 1866]
I send you what I got yesterday from London. The ‘last thing out in blackguardism.’ 1 I hope, before you put it to its natural use, it will make you laugh for a moment at the poor hound who wrote it, as heartily as I did. ...
1. Buchanan’s “The Session of the Poets” (see above, Letter 149).]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 154, pp. 201-202.]
Swinburne to F. G. Waugh [ca. 27 October, 1866]
I see you have seen the last newspaper follies and ‘literary’ impertinences connected with my inoffensive name. There is a quiet little pamphlet of mine on the verge of birth, sarcastic and elucidative as I hope in some small degree; but the exquisite title which MM. the penny pressmen have invented I leave wholly to their use when they may want it. It is strange what small fictions people will invent. I am not given to ‘parley’ with the swine of journalism; but to court their displeasure and chastise (if I choose) their insolence. I call my pamphlet simply ‘Notes on certain Poems and Reviews.’
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 163, pp. 211-212.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 12 November 
Conway, Ruskin, Forster and others have written about my Notes in the strongest terms of praise. I am glad you think they have told. I saw R.B. the second in the Asinaeum; 4 he seems to have attempted a combination of Charles Reade’s style with mine, to no great purpose. ...
4. Buchanan’s review of Notes on Poems and Reviews in the Athenaeum (Nov. 3), pp. 564-65.]
[Note: The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 assigns the authorship to Dr. John Doran.]
[Peattie, Letter 114, pp. 164-165]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 19 November 
Les Prospérités du - - -! Such is Urizen!
The name Laus Veneris must evidently be used by the writer as an ingenious designation of the complete Poems and Ballads.
This same Star very abusive to me; 1 Saturday Review complimentary to me (quite contrary to my expectation), and with some degree of returning reason, still mingled with much vituperation, towards you. ...
1. His Swinburne pamphlet was called an “ill-advised defence ... a long-winded puff.” The reviewer took exception to Buchanan being “sneered at, in a quite gratuitous way, as a poor and pretentious poetaster. What has Mr. Buchanan to do with the question of Mr. Swinburne’s genius or his alleged nastiness?” (Morning Star, 19 November 1866, p. 3).]
[Lang, Vol. 1, Letter 224, pp. 270-271.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 11 October 
... Henry Kingsley has just been here: I never met him before and I like him—especially as in a minute’s talk on Italy I found him of one mind with me. (My poem on Rome is in type for next Fortnightly.) He is also excited about the very gross insolence and scurrility of the Spectator and we both think the polecat’s nest wants smoking out. For Urizen’s sake—or rather Orc’s—hasten the Whitman work if you can—for I see advertised in a thing called the ‘Broadway’—this! ‘Walt Whitman: by Robert Buchanan:’ the word ‘polecat’ reminded me.
[Peattie, Letter 129, pp. 181-182]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 29 October 
I read Buchanan on Whitman: 4 not adequate, but calculated to do more good than harm. My Selection will progress to publication in due course.
4. Broadway, November 1867, pp. 188-95, a review of Leaves of Grass 1867.]
[Lang, Vol. 6, Letter 286A, p. 264]
Swinburne to Robert Buchanan, 26 January 
Arts Club, Hanover Square,
January 26 
I am sorry that your note did not reach me in time to enable me to avail myself of the ticket enclosed. I only got it last night, too late for the reading—but am none the less obliged to you for the attention, though I have missed the pleasure of hearing you read. 1
A. C. Swinburne
Robert Buchanan, Esq.
1. According to Harriet Jay, the reading took place on Jan. 25.]
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.13, p. 360]
D. G. Rossetti to John Skelton, 3 February, 1870
16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea
3 February 1870
My dear Skelton,
I am going to publish some poems, as you have, I think, heard from McLennan, and have been meaning to write you thereanent. After your public premura about them, I daresay I may reckon, without too much conceit, on an intention on your part to review them fully in Fraser. I am anxious that some influential article or articles by the well-affected should appear at once when the book comes out, for certain good reasons. If you thought you could secure the appearance of a notice all the sooner by my sending you proofs of the things as far as printed, and had time to think about it, I could do so very soon. If you then let me know how early you could secure the appearance in Fraser I would take this into consideration as to precise date of publishing. I suppose I cannot get out till April. I want to add a thing or two yet, if possible, but am much taken up with painting. Did you see some sonnets of mine in the Fortnightly nearly a year ago? I had tried to make them as perfect as in me lay, and have a good number in the volume.
Swinburne wishes to “do” my book in the Fortnightly, and Morris elsewhere; and if these and yours, with perhaps another or so, could appear at once, certain spite which I judge to be brewing in at least one quarter might find itself at fault. 2 . . . A model just come in. Farewell in haste.
Yours very truly,
D. G. Rossetti.
2. DGR was hoping to neutralize hostile reviews expected from Sir Charles Dilke and Robert Buchanan, with whom WMR had been feuding since 1866. The strategy seemed to work as the 1870 reviews were nearly all laudatory; but Buchanan finally struck in the Contemporary Review for Oct 71, then again in 1872 with his separate pamphlet, The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day.]
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.14, p. 361]
D. G. Rossetti to W. M. Rossetti [3 February, 1870]
Thursday [3 February 1870]
I am always forgetting to ask you as follows. Top wants to do a notice of my book – he proposed Fortnightly but there I believe Swinburne proposes to do so, & had long ago started the idea. Do you think the Academy would be available? And if so, could you propose the thing to the editor? Top’s name would be useful perhaps to him as well as to my book. If publication & such notices were timed together, Dilke might perhaps be bilked yet. 1
D G R
Will you dine here tomorrow at 7? I expect Howell, wife, & Boyce. Who could do it for the British Quarterly? I suppose you are shut out though that wd please me better than anything, but then the book is dedicated to you. Do you think Scotus could get the job? It would be the next best? Indeed equal almost. 2
1. DGR wrongly suspected that Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911), radical politician & proprietor of the Athenæum from 1869, would be antagonistic to Poems. However, the Athenæum published John Westland Marston’s favourable review, and Buchanan brought Dilke into the Fleshly School controversy by denouncing the Athenæum as “the leading organ of the Fleshly School . . . as peculiar in its notions of literary decency as Sir Charles himself in his notions of political propriety”.
2. ACS’ review of Poems appeared in Fortnightly Review for May 70; WM’s on 14 May 70 in the Academy. WBS wrote no signed review of Poems, though he is one of those suspected of being the author of the unsigned and unfriendly notice in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.]
[Note: WM is William Morris (also ‘Top’), WBS is William Bell Scott.]
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.17, p. 364]
D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne [10 February, 1870]
What words, by the bye, can characterize the hideous & bestial attack on William’s Shelley in the Athenæum? It really surprised me, even from that fœtid quarter of the editorial anus. 2
2. WMR’s edition of Shelley’s poems was harshly criticized in an unsigned review of 29 Jan in the Athenæum, supposed to have been written by Robert Buchanan. WMR responded in the Athenæum of 5 Feb.]
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.18, p. 365]
D. G. Rossetti to W. M. Rossetti [11 February, 1870]
Top thinks the best plan wd be as you suggest – i.e. for you to tell the editor of Academy that he is willing to write on his own subjects & notify any book he wishes for review. I suppose that plan is likely to suit editor.
D G R
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 340, pp. 87-90.]
Swinburne to D. G. Rossetti, 12 February 
I did smell the exhalation from the Asinaeum 6 to which you refer, and like you with amazement, but I see that no amount of scientific exploration can adequately prepare the human nose for the surprises of scent it encounters on opening the backdoor of the dwellings inhabited by the critical tribe so beautifully defined by Rabelais as the ‘turdilousifartishittical buggeraminous ballockwaggers.’ I have not the French of the passage under my eye, but the translation is no doubt—and very properly—softened down to the standard of English delicacy. The original probably verges on coarseness.
Apart from William’s own admirable work there is nothing I prize more in the new fragments and windfalls of Shelley than the additional stanzas to Marenghi, which are surely among even his very finest pictorial and executive work. I am really impatient to meet with some review article on the matter which shall not be a too palpable exudation from the British bog.
6. An unsigned review (later found to be by Robert Buchanan) of William Rossetti’s edition of Shelley in the Athenaeum (Jan. 29). William Rossetti replied to part of the review in the Athenaeum (Feb. 5).]
[Note: The Athenæum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 assigns the authorship to Thomas Watson Jackson.]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 342, pp. 92-95.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 14 February, 1870
What utterance of human lips shall be spent on the Asinaeum? not thence, but from a quite other orifice (to speak in Carlylese) shall sentence be given forth on this matter.
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.22, pp. 367-369]
D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne 14 February 
There seems good reason to believe that Buchanan was the special atom of the excremental whole from which the scent which took us both unawares emanated in the Athenæum. ...
By the bye I expect the B-B-Buchanan to be down upon me of course now in the Athenæum, & am anxious to time my appearance when it seems likely that friends can speak up almost at once and so just catch the obscene organ of his speech at the very moment when it is hitched up for an utterance, and perhaps compel the brain of which it is also the seat to reconsider its views and chances.
You once expressed an intention, much valued by me, of reviewing the book in the Fortnightly. I suppose the book will be ready by 1st May. Do you think the review could be got in then also? ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.23, pp. 369-370]
D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis [14 February, 1870]
... I suppose the close of April will be the right moment to bring it out. A review is promised for the May number of Fraser. I want to appear when I know a few reviews are ready, to keep spite at bay and leave it gaping and goggling without a chance of a good snarl. I fancy Mr. Buchanan probably has his natural organ of speech hitched up for an utterance. It would be nice if he had to make it a silent emanation & get nothing but the smell to enjoy. This might perhaps be managed if a few good men were in the field at the outset. Morris proposes to do the Academy, and I believe Swinburne will come out in the Fortnightly. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 343, pp. 96-98.]
Swinburne to D. G. Rossetti, 19 February 
February 19 
My dear Gabriel
As soon as I got your last despatch—in which I was grieved to trace some indications, I will not say of scepticism or of any rooted want of faith and reverence, but of a certain levity in reference to sacred subjects, which I cannot but remark and deplore—I wrote to Morley asking if he would give me room in May for a paper on your Poems—explaining that I wanted to be early in the field to welcome them at length into light and did not see any reason to hinder me from doing so openly in the interest of the art. This I put plainly, taking by the throat and spitting in the face of objection sure to be raised by enemies without a name (except the generic term derived from the Dead Sea) when a man who has a name and speaks in that name comes forward to say the truth about the work of a personal friend. I have not heard from him yet, which I hope means that he is trying to arrange an opening for me in that number; otherwise such conduct must be admitted to savour of the sanguineo-sodomitic. It will be a true and lasting pleasure to me if I do get the chance of saying my say early and fully—frankly it will of course be said if said at all, without reference to other and older claimants of the first place among living English poets—on the advent of the book which I regard now as surely as I did ten years since as the master-book of this generation of English poetry, at once for depth, variety, instinct, and perfection. That it is inevitably destined to take and keep that place at the head of us I have never changed or disguised my conviction, and never shall. I should say so if the book had in it but four-master poems in varying kinds—Jenny, Lilith, Nineveh, Sister Helen.
... On hearing from you that the son of a dildo known as Buchanan (by the by it really detracts from the value of that implement for whose invention or at least name we are indebted to your countrymen, that it is found to produce such lamentable results in the way of monstrous births and excrementitious foetuses, the products of an unskilful hand and an overgreedy womb) was the assailant of Shelley and of William, I invented for that bottle-imp who is not kept in spirits under a glass case a new scientific term of some value—‘buggerling’ or ‘bougrillon,’ formed by analogy after the words ‘suckling’ and ‘négrillon.’ I hope to see it (the term, not the thing) take its place in the next edition of our great lexicographer. If he should wag at you too ‘son pitoyable engin flasque et baveux,’ what matter? The shears of justice shall close upon it, and the iron of exposure cauterize the wound. ...
[Peattie, Letter 185, pp. 250-252]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 20 February 
The Athenaeum did come it strong: 6 why I know not well. It leaves me equanimous. The only other London review I have seen is the Examiner: very handsome on the whole. ...
6. The anonymous attack on PWS, 29 January 1870, pp. 154-56, was by Robert Buchanan.]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 344, pp. 98-101.]
Swinburne to D. G. Rossetti, 22 February, 1870
February 22, 1870
My dear Gabriel
You will be glad in the interests of English morality to know that Morley’s character stands clear of any charge connecting him with the fellow-citizens of the patriarch Lot. Together with your letter comes a note from him beginning ‘I shall be glad indeed to have your notice on Mr. Rossetti’s poems for the May Fortnightly. As for your being a friend of his, that is no reason why you should not both like his poetry and tell us why and how you like it’—attends!—‘and why the rest of discriminating people should do the same.’ On va leur en flanquer dans le ——! So that is settled and I shall turn to this day and not leave this for town till all is ready, as I cannot trust myself among friends and temptations with any immediate work on hand which will not wait. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.32, pp. 378-379]
D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne, 23 February, 1870
23 Feb 1870
I rejoice to find I am really to have your invaluable support at starting, & do not care what else happens now. Only do, do, my dear best of fellows, remember that I am your friend not only to the purpose of praising what I do to the utmost (which I know how surely you will fulfil) but also to the purpose of being on your guard against praising me beyond my deserts, which is pretty sure to be your first impulse, I know well. <And do pitch into me when I need it.> Remember that my verses are not yet my Remains or Manes, and do not Sacrifice to them those poets – least of all the living ones – whom I respect and love and with whom I would be but too proud to rank on such footing as the lesser quantity of my work could give me, if only its quality might be found worthy of being classed with theirs. The four I mean above all are Tennyson, Browning, yourself, & Morris. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.33, pp. 381-382]
D. G. Rossetti to W. M. Rossetti [23 February, 1870]
Swinburne’s article will be in the May Fortnightly – one by Skelton in May Fraser, & Top (I trust) in May Academy. So Buchanan may, let us hope, be caught just in the act of hitching up his organ of speech for an utterance & forced after all to restrict himself to scent.
D G R
P.S. By the bye did I or did I not tell you of the leary dodge adopted by Nolly Brown to find out who wrote that thing on you in the Arse-inæum? 1 Lady Hardy (wife of Duffus) 2 had told Emma Brown that she knew who did it but mustn’t peach. So Nolly was coached, and one night said suddenly to old Duffus as he was getting up out of his chair – “By the bye, what a shame it was of Buchanan to write that attack on Wm Rossetti.” Old D. turned suddenly, very taken aback, & stuttered – “Ah well! Well! perhaps it was!” So I suppose there can be little doubt that the double or triple B did it.
1. According to the “Athenæum Contributor Index,” compiled from the marked file of the journal, the mark for the review is “Jackson,” but there has been no reliable identification. WMR never seriously doubted that Buchanan was the reviewer, declaring in the first draft of SR: “so I was informed and so I firmly believe; but I do not know the fact for certain” (Bodleian); in the published version the passage reads: “as I was informed, and indeed I have reason to be pretty sure of it” (380). In Poems and Ballads: A Criticism (1866), WMR had ridiculed Buchanan as a “poor and pretentious . . . poetaster” (7); the reviewer echoed this comment in his dismissal of “Mr. Rossetti’s somewhat pretentious book [which] is anything but a standard work” and in his contention that he lacked the judgment and taste required of a good biographer and editor.
The edition, the first since Mary Shelley’s of 1839, was widely and favourably reviewed, but the Athenæum reviewer sharply pointed out that WMR did not have “the confidence of the Shelley family” and that the “careful reader” would quickly discover that as editor WMR was “anything but a trustworthy interpreter.” Both charges were easy to make, since WMR had deliberately not consulted the poet’s son, Sir Percy Shelley, and his meddlesome wife, Lady Jane Shelley (Peattie 148n2, 157), and the text of Shelley’s poems was riddled with errors that would take 2 or more generations of textual scholars to correct. Although the review was well informed and even commended WMR for the “care and industry” with which he had collated texts and identified obscurities, the animosity that pervades it was not unreasonably interpreted by the Rossetti circle as another move in the series of attacks and counterattacks culminating in The Fleshly School controversy of 1872 that contributed to DGR’s breakdown in the summer of that year. Certainly Buchanan did abuse WMR’s work then, calling it “the worst edition of Shelley which has ever seen the light” in his 1872 Fleshly School pamphlet.
2. Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy (1804-78), deputy keeper of the Public Record Office, and his 2nd wife, Mary Anne MacDowell (1824-91), who wrote popular novels, were long-standing friends of FMB.]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 345, pp. 101-103.]
Swinburne to D. G. Rossetti, 24 February, 1870
February 24 
My dear Gabriel
I stop writing about you for a little to write to you in reply to your note of yesterday and inform you that having got the chance I have waited ten years for, of speaking out what I see to be truth as regards your poems, I am very particularly and especially well damned if I am going to let it slip. It is my devout intention to cut it fat—as fat as a carver can cut, and yet retain any grace of handling or skill of dissecting. I shall not—to speak Topsaically—say a bloody word that is not the blasted fact. You shall see what it is to fall into the hands of a fellow craftsman. The raging and rancorous jealousy of rival poets is a proverb which you will too soon see bitterly exemplified in your own case as handled by me. Well, look here, seriously, I won’t say a thing without deliberation—but I hope I may be eternally saved and go to heaven if I suppress anything I see to be true and therefore necessary to be said. I will immolate between the horns of your altar neither ox nor ass, nor Tennyson nor Browning, neither the wild goat which is Morris nor the Paschal lamb which is myself. But I do most certainly mean to say and show cause for saying that you have done more work in more ways of the highest order, as a poet, than we. For why? you have. I am taking great pains with what I write of you—I have spent hours already on putting together a single sentence or paragraph expressive—as nearly as I can make it adequate—of the character and effect and impression of one set of your poems—and have striven to say nothing inapplicable, nothing of vague praise and spluttering adulation, but all solid and tangible criticism, which must be met and taken to pieces before it can be answered. And I think I have broken the back of the chief difficulty and set my heel with sufficient weight on the first objection sure to be started by curious idiocy—have plugged up at one end the main outlet or orifice where the British anonym lets fly the emission of his judgment. I have summed up in a swift cursory way the bearings of your great cycle of love-sonnets for ‘The House of Life’ so as to give such a summary analysis as may obviate the charge of obscurity of aim and purport—which to a cursory reader of them by fits and starts was perhaps more or less plausible, but drops off and dies out when they are read as here consecutively arranged by the light of a little thought. This is the only question I can anticipate as possible for ‘human stupor’ and malevolence to raise as regards the book; and as the cycle in question is perhaps for wealth and splendour of poetic body and raiment the most wonderful of your works I have thought it well to tackle it first. The rest will be plainer sailing. I cannot tell you how ineffable in wealth and thought and word and every beauty possible to human work I see that set of sonnets to be on thus laboriously going them over for revision, or how brutally inadequate I feel the best and most delicate comment possible on them to be. You and the British public will have to excuse that. Only Dante could write a proper comment on the verse of the Vita Nuova. But I hope to say something more nearly adequate of the other poems. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.134, p. 468]
D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne, 3 May 
3 May 
My dear Swinburne,
After reading your more than brotherly review of my book, what can I say adequate to so good a gift? You know already how much my love must feel the love, and my pride the praise, of so great a poet; and I knew already how much your generosity would outrun my deservings. Your words abound, as they always do, in a beauty which any artist but yourself would have had to reserve for his own poetry instead of lavishing it on another’s.
I am not least grateful to you for having altered to my wishes the only sentence of the review which I had heard in M.S.
I have made the design for your binding, and Ellis will get it in a day or two.
D Gabriel R
[Fredeman, Vol. 4, Letter 70.156, p. 485]
D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis [14 May 1870]
I fancy my 2nd Edition ought to come out as soon as possible; and I, for my part, shd not object to some portion of it being issued with the old back if that would hasten matters. However you are best judge.
The Saturday article today is a bestial one – almost confessedly incompetent, but not hurtful, which one soon learns, in the sty of British criticism, to think the only point worth considering.
Morris’s article is direct & complete – an honour and a profit to the book. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.159, pp. 164-166]
D. G. Rossetti to William Bell Scott [2 October 1871]
... I see by advertisements I figure as the first victim in a series (I presume) under the title of the Fleshly School of Poetry in the Contemporary Review for October, but haven’t seen it yet. ...
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.161, p. 167]
D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis [c. 8 October 1871]
[c. 8 October 1871]
I have for you the ominous announcement that that set of the Waverley Novels I got from you is imperfect! I have been reading Rob Roy, & find 10 pages missing at the end of the 1st vol. Whether there any other imperfections in the set I cannot say. Do you think you could pick up an odd vol. & so have it supplemented, shd it turn out to be the only hiatus? Unluckily almost all the set has been left at Kelmscott. The set is just as you sold it me (no writing in fly leaves &c) except for some wear of reading if indeed there be any.
Have you seen our contemptuous Contemporary? What fools we must be! For it seems proved that we are greater fools than the writer, and even I can see what a fool he is. For once abuse comes in a form that even a bard can manage to grin at without grimacing.
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.165, p. 169]
D. G. Rossetti to W. M. Rossetti [17 October 1871]
[17 October 1871]
What do you think? Ellis writes me that Maitland is? —
Do you know B’s prose, & can you judge if it be so? If it be, I’ll not deny myself the fun of a printed Letter to the Skunk.
E. says he has it “on very good authority.”
[Peattie, Letter 207, pp. 281-282]
W. M. Rossetti to D. G. Rossetti, 18 October 
18 October 
Buchanan had never occurred to me, but on your mentioning him it seemed to me exceedingly probable. I have now read the article 1 through again. It seems to me that in point of style etc. it might very well be Buchanan’s, but still I don’t feel strengthened in that view by the perusal. Buchanan is himself twice named — p. 334 as personating Cornelius (which seems to imply a slight more or less); p. 343 as your prototype in Jenny. This latter (see also the reference to Buchanan’s critics attached to it) does seem very much the sort of self-assumption which Buchanan might be minded (in utter ignorance of dates etc.) to indulge in. Also, p. 348, Ballad in a Wedding, and Clever Tom Clinch: I don’t know whether these are Buchanan’s, but they rather sound as if they might be. The phrases weird — solemn league and covenant — have a Scotch sound; but Maitland is a Scotch name rather than otherwise, so one can make little of that as suggesting Buchanan.
The observation (344) that you are not to be blamed for selecting the subject of Jenny looks rather like Buchanan, who has been censured for somewhat similar subjects: also the reference (336) to Swinburne’s illness notified in Athenæum. Buchanan, I know, saw that or some similar printed report: for he thereupon took the good-natured trouble (as I suppose I must have mentioned to you) of urging Dr. Chapman 2 to try to get hold of Swinburne and restore him to health — and Chapman called on me in consequence.
My opinion is that there is not at present sufficient material for pinning Buchanan as the author of that review; and at all events I have a strong belief that you will find it in the long run more to your comfort and dignity to take no public steps whatever for the scarifying of Mr. Maitland — though of course the temptation is considerable.
W. M. R.
1. “The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti,” signed Thomas Maitland, Contemporary Review, 18 (October 1871), 334-50; expanded in The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day (1872). Buchanan eulogized DGR in dedicatory verses to God and Man (1881) and in A Look Round Literature (1887). WMR to Richard Garnett, 25 July 1903: “The lines on Buchanan [”as critic the poet Buchanan / Thinks Pseudo much safer than Anon ...”] were at one time quite familiar to me, but did not at all cross my memory when I was compiling the book [RP in which he published twenty of DGR’s nonsense verses]. Even if I had thought of them, I don’t think I should have put them in : Buchanan being now dead, and having in 1881 done what he could to atone”. In 1911 WMR included the lines in Works.
2. John Chapman (1822-94), physician, author, publisher, editor of the Westminster Review from 1852.]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 402, pp. 160-161.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 19 October 
I perceive that, à propos of Gabriel’s poems, a son of Sodom, hitherto unknown except (I suppose) to Whitman’s bedfellows the cleaners of privies, has lately ‘del cul fatto trombetta’ 7 in a Malebolgian periodical called the Contemporary Review, 8 conducted by C.P.s and other spiritual nightmen, of the autocoprophagous persuasion. Among much other excrement of ranker quality, the ‘rear’ as you translate it of Malacoda (is it not?) emits, I perceive, the epithet of ‘little mad boy’ à mon adresse. May I not now if ever reply with Coriolanus
—Boy! False hound!
If you have writ your annals true, ’tis there
That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
Fluttered your Christians in Gethsemane;
Alone I did it, Boy! 9
7. See above, Letter 328
8. “The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti,” Contemporary Review (Oct. 1871). The article was signed “Thomas Maitland,” a smokescreen hiding Robert Buchanan.
9. See Coriolanus, V. v. 112-15.]
[Note: Extract from Letter 328, Vol. 2, pp. 62-64 - Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti:
(having in fact, like Malacoda, ‘del cul fatto trombetta’; 1 an incident from which a translator of Dante need not shrink, I should say).
1. Inferno, XXI. 139: “made a trumpet of his arse.”]
[Peattie, Letter 209, pp. 282-283]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 22 October 
Gabriel has been informed and believes that that article in the Contemporary is not written by any person bearing the name of Maitland (and for my part I know of no writer of that name), but by Robert Buchanan! Gabriel naturally takes such “criticism” in a reasonable spirit of disdain: but he is somewhat displeased with it too, and has thoughts of printing a letter (he has written a little of it) to Mr. Buchanan, not ill adapted to produce a tingling sensation on that individual’s hide. However my advice to Gabriel is not to print anything: and to make very sure that it is Buchanan (though really I suppose it is) before he definitely fixes any responsibility on him. Gabriel has made one or two very good rhymes also—one about
Who the pseudo prefers to the anon:
I am sorry I can’t quote it fully—and perhaps even the above not accurately. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 403, pp. 161-162.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 23 October 
Holmwood, October 23 
I think it may just be worth while to let you and Gabriel know that in a note I received a few days since from Simeon Solomon he says that the editor 1 of the Contemporary Review told him that Buchanan was the writer of the article in question. I am myself inclined to wish that G. would take some notice of it. The little reptile’s hide demands the lash—his head the application of a man’s heel, his breech, of a man’s toe—his shoulder, of the letters T.F.—or say in this instance of a capital B. You may have seen that Ruskin has thought it not beneath him to kick the small piece of dung out of his way in passing (October letter—tenth of his queer series). 2 I believe it is a habit with the verminous little cur to sneak into some other hide as mangy as his own and pretend to yelp at himself as well as his betters to keep up the disguise. Faugh—quelle espèce! He did so I am assured in some doggerel aimed at me. Perhaps however it is better to let him lie—and stink: shewing that, for such as we are, such as he is are not and cannot be. ...
2. In “Letter 10” (a pamphlet issued Oct. 2, 1871) of Fors Clavigera Ruskin said that an article on Morley by Buchanan was “unmatchable . . .for obliquitous platitudes in the mud-walks of literature.”]
[Note: Buchanan’s essay on ‘Mr. John Morley’s Essays’ is available on this site. Published in the June 1871 issue of The Contemporary Review Buchanan took the opportunity to attack Thomas Carlyle and Ruskin’s comment in Fors Clavigera was then cited in a review of the month’s magazines in The Examiner (7 October, 1871) linking Buchanan’s name to ‘Thomas Maitland’, the author of ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, as follows:
‘Mr Ruskin says in the new number of his Fors Clavigera, “There was an article—I believe it got in by mistake, but the editor, of course, won’t say so—in the ‘Contemporary Review,’ two months back, on Mr Morley’s Essays, by a Mr Buchanan, with an incidental page on Carlyle in it, unmatchable (to the length of my poor knowledge) for obliquitous platitude, in the mud-walks of literature.” Many will be disposed to say nearly the same of an article in this month’s ‘Contemporary,’ by a Mr Thomas Maitland, who commences a series of strictures on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” with seventeen pages about Mr Dante Rossetti.’]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 404, pp. 162-163.]
Simeon Solomon to Swinburne [ca. 25 October, 1871]
I looked at the Contemporary and certainly it is the feeblest and silliest of any article of that kind I ever saw, but it is so supremely weak that it does not merit the delightful bit of indignation you bestowed upon it at the end of your last letter—it is not by Buchanan, although no doubt he was capable of it.
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 405, pp. 163-165.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 27 October 
Holmwood, October 27 
I send a line again to say that I have just heard from Solomon that Buchanan is not in this instance the scavenger of his own coprolitic matter—that he did not write the article as at first intended. It is rather a pity if it be so, as it swamps not only Gabriel’s epistle which would doubtless have been a masterpiece but some very beautiful passages in an essay 2 I have just begun, which would have thrown into the shade the strongest colouring and made insipid by comparison the highest flavours of Juvenal’s, Swift’s, and Landor’s satire combined. Indeed I flatter myself they might (if one could but know it) have matched the letter addresses to his reviewers by the immortal author of Justine. You remember that that great and good man did, like me (‘the latest and perhaps the meanest of those who follow in his footsteps’ as Shelley says of Lucretius in his preface to the Revolt of Islam), write and publish a pamphlet on the criticisms evoked by his deathless works. It must be the most precious of all literary gems—as the only notice I ever saw of it said ‘qu’il accablait ses critiques des injures les plus affreuses dans le style le plus éhonté et le plus scandaleux’! Can’t you imagine the Marquis roused to just indignation and pouring forth on paper the overflow of his divine wrath? ...
2. Under the Microscope (Bonchurch, 16, 375-444), issued as a pamphlet in July 1872 and reprinted in ES.]
[Peattie, Letter 210, p. 283]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 29 October 
56 Euston Square,
29 October 
I have just written to Gabriel to tell him that it appears Buchanan is not the author of that article. Meantime Gabriel has given me these versicles to send to you — which I now do. Much obliged for your friendly attention to the matter. I dare say the “essay you have just begun” is rather high in flavour. ...
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 400A, p. 221.]
Swinburne to undisclosed recipient [c. October 1871?]