EXTRACTS FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE OF A. C. SWINBURNE,
W. M. ROSSETTI AND D. G. ROSSETTI, RELATING TO R. W. BUCHANAN (2)
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.211, pp. 205-206]
D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis [17 December 1871]
Sunday [17 December 1871]
No doubt you keep your eye on the Communion of Skunks, who, you will agree, are getting long past any claim to the Forgiveness of Sins. Accordingly I expect my pamphlet may still be called for before long, and wd be much obliged if you wd take it at once (I suppose you have a copy from the printer, though it is still in the state of proof merely) to that lawyer of yours, that we may know what he thinks of its fitness for publication. I think you should show him Thomas Maitland’s article with it. I want to get this necessary opinion at once, so as to be ready with my course of action at a moment’s notice if called for. 1
D G Rossetti
Strahan & Co. must be a nice firm for Tennyson to cotton to. Just think of them mixing up Browning’s name in their lie! 2
1. On the occasion of the publication of Buchanan’s article, WMR counselled his brother “to take no part in the controversy, and to allow the anonymo-pseudonymous attack to die out of itself.” DGC failed to heed WMR’s advice, however, and, as WMR summarizes the episode in FLM, “he wrote a pamphlet, and sent the more serious parts of it to the Athenæum”. The pamphlet, in FSE’s words, “was a very angry letter & in the opinion of Rossetti’s best friends was not worthy of publication – a lawyer who was consulted gave it as his opinion that it was actionable. It was put in type & a slip proof was printed. One copy was sent to Rossetti & one I kept by me for some years, but as it had been the author’s wish to suppress it I did not think it right to preserve it & so destroyed it” (FSE 107n) – in 1890 and in the presence, according to his romanticized account, of a disappointed Thomas J. Wise, who, though FSE let him read the document, was not allowed to acquire it (ALC 6: 101-2). The publisher’s gift of this letter, preserved, Wise says, with the pamphlet, was presumably a consolation prize. After being missing for 110 years, however, a copy of the pamphlet resurfaced in 2000, and is now in Huntington. For a description of the pamphlet and a brief discussion of the “new” material that it contains, see Andrew M. Stauffer, “The Lost Pamphlet Version of D. G. Rossetti’s ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism,’” VP 41.2 (Summer 2003: 197-206). The pamphlet, which is more than double the length of “The Stealthy School of Criticism” article that appeared in the Athenæum [16 Dec 71: 792-94] (Works 617-21), included “ a series of attacks on Buchanan’s pseudonymity, remarks on literary genius and fame, and a variant version of Rossetti’s parodic poem, ‘The Brothers’ [subtitled ‘By a Scotch Bard and English Reviewer’ Works 276]. What is more, its outraged tone – quite at odds with the gentlemanly calm of the Athenæum piece – reveals how deeply Buchanan’s shaft had struck, giving us a prelude to the madness that would overtake Rossetti in the coming year” (Stauffer 197). Stauffer argues that once Buchanan had acknowledged authorship of the Contemporary Review attack and announced an expanded reissue in pamphlet form “most of Rossetti’s as-yet-unpublished criticisms would have been moot. . . . Seeing Buchanan’s announcement, Rossetti must have felt a bit outmaneuvered by what he called this ‘Scotch Bard and English Reviewer in one’” (204-05).
2. In rebutting claims for Buchanan’s authorship in the Athenæum (16 Dec 71), which appeared simultaneously with DGR’s truncated article, “The Stealthy School of Criticism,” and a letter from Buchanan avowing his authorship, Strahan had written, “You might with equal propriety associate with the article the name of Robert Browning, or of Mr. Robert Lytton, or of any other Robert.” DGR was keeping his pamphlet in reserve against the time when Buchanan might fulfil his promise in his letter to republish his attack in pamphlet form.]
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.212, pp. 207-208]
D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis [19 December 1871]
Tuesday [19 December 1871]
I don’t think it is my cue to write again to the Athenæum but I really think you might well write the enclosed unanswerable note if you do not mind my dictating it for your joint signature. Swinburne lately told me of a sort of doggerel poem by Robert-Thomas (pubd either anony or pseudony) in the Spectator on the appearance of Poems & Ballads, attacking Swinburne most grossly, and containing a depreciatory quatrain on Buchanan himself as a misleader. The thing was called “A Session of the Poets,” & I remember it perfectly, though never knew till now it was done by B. This is an absolute certainty as Swinburne assures me; but if you do not care to raise this point, at any rate there can be no objection to sending the former part of the note ending at “signature.”
D G Rossetti
P.S. The note shd be copied and sent at once to Athenæum to be in time this week.
The Stealthy School of Criticism
33 King St. C.G.
As the publishers of the Contemporary Review have addressed you on the above subject, it may not perhaps be thought out of place if the publishers of the writings attacked in Mr. Buchanan’s article ask one simple question. Mr. Buchanan is very positive as to the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland” having been appended to his article through an “inadvertence” which can be explained by Messrs Strahan & Co.; while that firm’s bewilderments on the subject would seem, from their letter to you, even to outstrip his. But will either correspondent kindly inform us how it could have been possible at all to introduce the allusions made in the article to the poet Buchanan, obviously as another person than the writer, had that article ever been meant by him to bear his signature? The truth is, however, that this is not the first time Mr. Buchanan has practised his little misleading ruse of self-allusion while covertly attacking another poet, and the earlier instance can readily be adduced if required.
(signed) Ellis & Green
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 71.213, p. 208]
D. G. Rossetti to Henry Buxton Forman, 19 December, 1871
16 Cheyne Walk
19 Dec 1871
My dear Sir
Of course I know nothing of the people in question, more than of any other members of the Communion of Skunks. Whatever may have been their cowardly plans up to last Saturday, you may be certain that, since I have chosen to take the matter into my own hands, they wd as soon think of giving the devil his due of their own accord as of having me backed up in their pages.
Depend on it, everyone who sees their paper, and some thousands more, see the Athenæum, & that the temperature of their hot water is steadily rising.
With thanks very truly yours,
[Fredeman, Vol. 5, Letter 72.37, p. 246]
D. G. Rossetti to Ford Madox Brown [23 May 1872]
Thursday night [23 May 1872]
I write this late from Wm’s & wouldn’t come to keep you up again. His calmness induces me to think that I probably may have been making too much of this matter. 1 If you’re going to Wallis’s tomorrow evening, perhaps you might come & dine with me first. or else write me. What say you? I don’t think I shall go on there.
I called at Swinburne’s again tonight & found he had been some days in bed with del[irium]. trem[ens]. 2
1. The first reference to The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day, the much-expanded pamphlet reissue of Buchanan’s Contemporary Review attack on DGR & ACS, published towards the middle of May. ... On 15 May, WMR advised DGR against sending “ a denunciatory letter” to Buchanan: “I think it most highly desirable that he should hold utterly aloof from controversy, and leave it to wrangle itself out as best it may” (WMRD 198-99).
2. Later in the day, DGR called on WMR, who recorded in his diary: “Gabriel . . . had been round to Swinburne’s wishing to know what he might be doing with regard to his pamphlet [Under the Microscope, his reply to Buchanan, begun in Oct 71 but not published until Jul 72 (Lang 2: 405)]; but learned that Swinburne is again very unwell (through the usual cause), and not capable of attending to any business” (WMRD 203).]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 421, p. 178.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti [5 July, 1872]
[July 5, 1872] 1
Many thanks for your note—I shall of course take every precaution against a meeting. It is of course a grief to me to be debarred from shewing the same attention and affection as friends who can hardly love him better—as indeed I think no man can love his friend more than I love Gabriel—but I know it can be from no doubt of my attachment that he shrinks from seeing me as yet.
A C S
1. Supplied by William Rossetti. Swinburne and D. G. Rossetti never met or corresponded after this date, and no one knows why. Rossetti’s health, physical and mental, was at its worst in the spring and summer of this year, the period when his brother described him as an “actual monomaniac,” and he may well have tortured himself into imagining Swinburne (as he imagined Browning and Dodgson) to be part of a conspiracy against him. On the other hand, his patience with Swinburne’s lack of self-control could have been exhausted long since, and it may be that Rossetti felt unequal to the compulsions of Swinburne’s company. The fact is that we know no more about the explanation than Swinburne himself knew (see below, Letter 1133). Helen Rossetti Angeli (Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Friends and Enemies, p. 143) says that in June “Swinburne and Sandys were overheard at a popular restaurant holding forth on the subject [of Rossetti’s ‘nervous collapse’] in a loud voice.”]
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 430B, pp. 239-241.]
Swinburne to Joseph Knight, 20 October 
How is it (if I may ask without impropriety) that you have never given the least notice of my ‘microscopic’ pamphlet? I was particularly anxious that some one should point out that it was not, as the scum of comic & other journals asserted, a reply to or an attack on that son of a Scotch bitch who was merely noticed at the end, but an essay on criticism embodying some of my most carefully thought & expressed opinions on some of the most important & most hotly debated poetical questions of the age. I confess its reception or rather non-reception has disappointed me.
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 435A, pp. 245-247.]
Swinburne to Joseph Knight, 5 November 
... As to my pamphlet – I had a legal opinion before it was published to the effect that not only was it not ‘libellous’ but that the very idea of its containing ‘actionable matter’ was too ludicrous to be considered, even had the cur to whom my lash was applied never snapped at my heels or any other: as it was, the portentous absurdity of a charge of libel brought by the author of its pamphlet against one of those from whose heels it had provoked a kick by slavering at them first as well as snapping afterwards wd in any case have prevented the risk of such an action. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 443, pp. 199-201.]
Swinburne to John Nichol, 29 November 
Forsyth seems really, with the generous devotion of a more than Spartan friendship, to have seized the opportunity to immolate himself on your altar by publishing his Hannibal as a foil to yours. It seems to be a most curiously exact repetition of the enterprise and fate of another historian of Rome, Ampère, who crowned his labours in that field by publishing a historico-biographic drama of Caesar written in verse worthy of the applause of Hutton and emulation of Buchanan.
I know nothing of the ‘Globe’ except that I was solemnly promised on receipt of copies a strong article there and in the ‘Scotsman’ in support of my Microscope pamphlet, and neither promiser as far as I know ever did anything to redeem his pledge given with much personal protestation of faith, admiration, sympathy, etc., etc., which in face of the concerted silence of literary London would have been acceptable and useful if genuine and openly expressed. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 447, pp. 203-207.]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 6 December, 1872
By the same post which brought your letter today I heard also from our friend Madox Brown of Tinsley’s expressed wish to publish for me. I should be very willing to deal with him if his offers were such as seemed to you just and reasonable. With King I should on one account especially, of which I spoke to you before, have been very glad to come to terms, and enter upon a regular engagement on a friendly footing; recommended as he was to my good will by a common friend as having been a goof friend in the past to Mazzini—whose memory is so cherished and honoured by me above all others that I love and revere, that any name connected in such a manner with his has a direct claim on my respect and good will. But I observe with surprise, and I must honestly add with disgust, that his name appears now as a purchaser seemingly of the very sweepings of Messrs. Strahan’s refuse stock—of periodicals which have for some time been persistently and consistently devoted to the defamation of Rossetti and myself not merely by means of insult and reviling but by means also of flat falsehood and calumny—and as publisher of the collected ‘Works’ of Mr. Robert Buchanan. Now I am not childish enough either to suppose it any man’s business to dictate to another what and for whom he shall publish, or to entertain any slightest feeling of ill will or reluctance to be associated, whether nearly or remotely, with men who may have attacked my writings in the course of their literary functions as critics or reviewers; in proof of which I may refer to the terms on which, as a contributor to his Review, I have stood for six years almost with relation to my friend Mr. John Morley; who on the publication of my ‘Poems and Ballads’ was one of the most violent, as he assuredly was the most effective, among my assailants. But I did not wait for any expression on his part of regret for the very grave damage his attacks had inflicted upon me in purse and in character, to shew by plain proof that I bore no ill will for the expression, however strong and unmeasured, of any man’s opinion as to my literary demerits or offences. The case is totally different with regard to a personal and calumnious libel, written in disguise and supported by falsehood. The latter, though it may do far less harm to the person assailed, disqualifies in my opinion the perpetrator of it for the society, I do not say merely of gentlemen in the conventional sense—as to which I presume there can be no possible doubt—but of every man of honour and honesty: but above all must it disqualify him for association of any kind with men who have any interest in the honour of literature. Such a person, to the extent of his small capacity, inflicts disgrace upon the name of letters; he does the little utmost that in him lies to make it difficult and unpleasant for an honourable man to have any connexion with that literary life which he and his tribe have always, to the length of their tether, made disreputable and degrading. I think therefore that for exactly the same reason which prevents us from associating with a person convicted of theft, forgery, swindling, or any abominable offence, those who have any regard for literary honour are bound to shew that they refuse to be in any way associated with a Friswell or a Buchanan—to name but two convicted and publicly dishonoured libellers. In the latter case, as you know, it is not I who am chiefly concerned as the main subject of the libel; and therefore, especially after the instance I have just given of my personal theory and practice with regard to any honest and honourable, I feel the more at liberty to speak ‘without prejudice.’ I do not conceive it to be at once the evident right and the bounden duty of every man of honour who may in any way be connected with the writing and publishing of books, to protest by all the force of his example against the contagious disease of dishonour with which these infamous prostitutes of letters, trading under their own name or another or none at all, infect as far as their action may extend the body of which they are certainly among the meanest and least mentionable members. Bred as they are of the shameful parts of literature, they spread even into its nobler quarters the pollution of their dishonour, and taint its upper air with the flavour of their infamy. It behoves us all who have any self-respect or any respect for letters to take care at least that we do not by any act or allowance of ours appear even to condone or tolerate the offence of such a crew of curs. For example, in the very improbable case of the admission into the Fortnightly Review—the only periodical to which I occasionally contribute—of such a writer as Mr. Buchanan—if that be his name—I should at once protest against the disgrace of such fellowship by withdrawal of my own name from the list of contributors. This of course may be of very small moment to editors or publishers; but I think it would be well that all who do not desire to be partakers of such men’s disgrace should feel and show that they feel it a duty incumbent on them to discharge—as I do. No honourable man in the days of Johnson and Goldsmith would have taken in public or private the hand of Kenrick the libeller; no honourable man in the France of our own days would allow his name to be linked with that of Jacquot alias Mirecourt, the pseudonymous ‘biographer’ of his ‘contemporaries.’ The same rule ought surely to hold good among ourselves with regard to the same vermin.
I had no thought when I began of writing anything to be shewn to others; but in case you should have occasion to speak again with Mr. King on the subject of publishing, I should like him, if the matter be mentioned, to have my opinion in my own words. I think it is right that the views on this point of any one who claims no more weight for his opinion than for that of any other man of honour should be as openly expressed and as generally known as may be desirable.
I hope you will excuse the length and wordiness of the letter with which I have intruded on your valuable time. Something I felt bound to say under the circumstances, and I owed it to you as well as to myself to speak fully and clearly on the matter if at all. I need not say that in case you should care to do so you are perfectly at liberty to make any use of my letter which you may see fit. (This strikes me as being rather like Mr. Micawber, when he hands over one of his elaborate letters to a friend ‘as something he might like to keep!’)
Of all my friends in London I know none of better counsel in my affairs than Madox Brown; two of the very few “literary men” whom I call friends, Knight and Powell, are also friends of his; if you think it would be of service to discuss the matters in hand with either, I will write to them on the subject, being confident of their good will to be of use to me.—I am pretty well, and not idle at present.—With thanks for your letter, and renewed apologies for the infliction of mine, I am, dear Mr. Watts,
Ever yours sincerely,
A. C. Swinburne
P.S. With regard to the subject above mentioned I remember a case exactly in point, and to the purpose of my argument, also having reference to the Fortnightly Review. On the appearance in the list of contributors of the name of Gallenga alias Mariotti (or as I usually spell it Iscariotti) the traducer and calumniator of Mazzini, the renegade and defamer of Italian republicanism in the Times, a protest was I believe at once entered on behalf of other contributors against the pollution of his companionship; and no second contribution that I know of has since appeared there from his pen; if it should, there would certainly be a vigorous protest in one humble quarter. In this case I presume Mr. King would, from what I have heard, be of one mind with myself; and the other appears to me an exactly parallel example.
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 447B, pp. 257-259.]
Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to Swinburne, 11 December, 1872
23 Gordon Terrace
Dear Mr Swinburne,
I admire the tone of your letter – I have always admired your indomitable pluck as much as your genius – but I am not quite sure that you should discard Mr King so uncompromisingly as you are doing. I say, I am not quite sure of this; but there is a great deal in what you say. let us however consider it for a moment. Mr King, who has the kindest of feelings towards you and seems to have a genuine admiration of your poems, is making a great push in business, and indeed is (between ourselves this) buying, at prices that speak <for> his enthusiasm more than for his judgment, and among other ventures he has taken Strahans stock. This is a purely commercial speculation (and the commercial mind, as you know, soars as high above your own chivalric code as ever Emperor Sigismund soared above grammar) – and a necessary part of this commercial speculation was taking the Contemporary Review and the offal called “Buchanan’s poetry.” As to “Buchanan’s poetry”, you have no more to do with that than you have to do with Hotten’s ocean of ineffable trash. And, with regard to the Contemporary Review, Strahan, & not Knowles (the editor) was answerable for the insertion of Buchanan’s libel. Strahan always exercised a dictatorship over that review, and B. being a brother Scot who had come to London <as ragged and lousy as himself> for the express purpose of pushing better men off their stools, nothing is more likely than that the “Maitland” article, never passed through Knowles’ hands at all. (Or rather, I have been told, I recollect, that Knowles strongly objected to it). Still, it appeared in the “Contemporary,” and I can understand your refusing to become at any time during Knowles’ editorship, a contributor to it, and if Buchanan instead of Knowles were the editor I could even conceive your refusing to have any business dealings with the man who published it. But B. is not the editor, and neither Mr King nor anyone else will, I should imagine, long continue to publish the “works” of the perpetrator of the “Drama of Kings.” It is impossible to conceive even a British public tolerating this Barnum of literature after that last astounding production. With regard to Buchanan himself I have always felt that clever as “Under the Microscope” was, you wronged yourself somewhat by throwing yourself into the attitude of antagonism towards such a very poor creature. I can fancy the delight of that superlative cad at finding himself in actual respectable warfare with the author of Atalanta. When a common bully throws down the glove before his superior it should not be picked up or noticed, save to be contemptuously trampled in the mire. Otherwise, we shall have all the bullies pitching their dirty gloves at our feet. All the Buchanans in Scotland could not injure you or Mr Rossetti by all the coarse calumnies they might choose to print – while dunces craving for fame can only live when genius consents to write a Dunciad.
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 449, pp. 208-210.]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 12 December 
Holmwood, Henley on Thames,
December 12 
Dear Mr. Watts
I am sincerely obliged and relieved of some sense of doubt and difficulty by your letter just received. What you say has quite convinced me that I can without any derogation or compromise of position or of principle agree in case of any future connection to ignore Mr. King’s purchase of Strahan’s stock. Even if I recognised less fully than I do the unanswerable reason of your view of the matter I would be content to accept your opinion as a guide in this affair. On other personal grounds as I told you it would give me real pleasure to be associated with Mr. King rather than another: and of course what else you tell me of him makes me all the more willing. ...
With regard to my ‘Microscopic’ pamphlet you may be right in thinking that the touch of my hand—or foot—conferring as it did some distinction on the cur who received it, must have entailed upon myself some proportionate degradation; but I have ever since been trying to make my friends see—what an enemy (Mr. Hutton of the ‘Spectator,’ in his article on Tennyson in this month’s Macmillan) has been the first to recognize in public—that the outer satirical husk of that little essay is not the kernel of it; the serious part, to which the rest is but mere fringe and drapery, is in the body of the work and consists in the examination of certain critical questions of the day regarding Byron, Tennyson, and Whitman; questions on which I had long been moved to speak my mind and deliver myself of what I believed to be the plain truth as against foes and friends alike of each poet; subjects certainly of some critical importance if any poetical question be so, and which I saw no better, more graceful or more convenient way of treating than by throwing what I had to say on them into the form of a pamphlet on poetical criticism, sooner than come forward in a more pretentious guise with separate dissertations on each point, ‘as who should say I am Sir Oracle’ etc., to lay down the law as to the merits and demerits of my elders in art. I therefore took the occasion to set my remarks in a frame of satire for which the systematic and virulent attacks of the last year or more on my friends as well as myself as members of an imaginary ‘school’ or coterie gave a timely pretext. I confess also that I felt some satisfaction in administering to a scurrilous liar and coward such a public castigation (my father calls the pamphlet by the naval name of ‘the cat-o’-nine-tails’) as should make it next to impossible for the dog ever again to hold up his bemired head in sight of other dogs or men; but probably, as you say, the creature thrives upon such notice and feels all the better for having been compelled in public to swallow the lie direct and accept without attempting to rebut them the charges of slander, theft, mendacity and poltroonery. I think I may add that you are quite right in attributing the attention I gave (such as it was) to the matter, rather to my affection for a friend than to personal irritation. To me, who can truthfully say (though evidently the criticasters would rather die than believe or at least admit that they believe it) that no attack ever gave me a quarter of an hour’s vexation or deprived me of five minutes’ rest, it is simply incomprehensible and indeed somewhat provoking to find that others can suffer from the bite of such reptiles as have no sting for me; but (between ourselves) both from what I saw with real pain myself and yet more from what Brown told me I could not but recognize the deplorable truth that the vilest of living scribblers had power to inflict grave annoyance and serious suffering on one of the noblest and to me dearest among men and poets. This certainly and I think justifiably gave at once edge and expansion to my satire, already provoked to give itself free play by the variously absurd and grotesque qualities of the subject. So that altogether I cannot as yet say that I regret the indulgence I allowed myself in its expression.
Yours very sincerely,
A. C. Swinburne
Had it been of myself and any merely personal offence alone that I was thinking, there are names on Mr. King’s list of persons who have offered to me far grosser insults in the way of scurrilous personalities and scandalous libel than any offered by Buchanan to Rossetti. But of such I am resolved to take no notice while they are aimed at me alone, for reasons which you may find laid down on pp. 15, 16, of ‘Under the Microscope.’
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 447C, pp. 259-260.]
Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to Swinburne, 13 December, 1872
18 Bedford Row
Dear Mr Swinburne,
Since I posted my last letter to you, I have ascertained that Mr King has actually retained Strahan (the man really answerable for the Maitland libel) as his manager. So, I fear, we must give up King.
I then went to Chapman & Hall (I am on friendly terms with Mr Chapman) and in confidence opened the matter to him – Knowing that the firm is very rich & if willing, quite able to outbid almost any other publishers. Chapman says he would rather publish for you than for any other poet, and the terms he offered were the most liberal I have heard of. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 450, p. 210.]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 14 December 
Holmwood, Shiplake, Henley on Thames,
December 14 
Dear Mr. Watts
I regard your announcement of this morning as the best news for me that I have received since the day of doubtful auspice when I first began to publish. I would much rather be connected with Chapman and Hall than any other firm. I really think this promises to be the turn of the tide for me after so many years of drifting and insecurity and ill luck in all business matters. I cannot thank you too much for the friendly act of opening this door to me by speaking to Chapman.
You will have got my answer to your last letter before this—which now of course on all accounts may be considered as non avenu, except as far as it replies personally to your letter about my pamphlet etc. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 483, pp. 252-53.]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 5 June 
... I should like to publish the Studies at once if they would have as fair a chance of prosperity now as after a success in another field; but then comes the question, what is the book to contain? ... Then as a collection of my prose essays the book ought certainly to include “Under the Microscope” which I wish I had published in the Fortnightly last year, instead of a separate pamphlet. To the title I should add, ‘Fragments of a Prose Dunciad,’ and perhaps add to that, ‘with Excursions.’ so as to cover the episodes on Byron, Tennyson, Whitman, etc.; with perhaps a note or two, and a postscript. ...
[Meyers, Vol.1, Letter 485A, pp. 297-300.]
Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to Swinburne, 23 June, 1873
It being decided, then, that the articles upon contemporary English poets are to be included, I quite think with you that some of them contain your very best writing, unless indeed they are surpassed by portions of “Under the Microscope” and by the preface to Moxons selections from Byron. Whether, however, it would be advisable to reprint the whole of that remarkable pamphlet, is, perhaps, somewhat open to discussion, but you, of course, must be the best judge. Should you do this, I am half inclined to think that it really would be better to postpone its issue till after the appearance of Bothwell. My own opinion about your entering the lists with men like Buchanan & Co. I have already given you, for what it is worth. But a more serious question, perhaps, presents itself in connection with the strictures upon Tennyson. That they are just, and as acute as just, I quite think. But, as yours is a name, one would think, certain to go down for many a generation, it becomes important to be even squeamish in considering whether it should be coupled with any kind of strictures, however just, upon contemporary brother poets. Moreover, Tennyson, I was told, only yesterday, is greatly hurt at what he considers an attack upon him, and has expressed his wonder as to what can have moved you to it. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 491, pp. 259-260.]
Swinburne to Thomas Purnell, 26 November 
Holmwood, Henley on Thames,
November 26 
My dear Purnell
Since I got your note asking for a ‘stanza’ for the Athenaeum I have fallen in with one among my unpublished MSS. which I send you. As a rule I do not care to send any verse to newspapers or magazines under £10 or £20, not finding it worth while, and not wishing to have my name hawked about like that of a Close, 2 Buchanan, or any other hack rhymster; and I am not yet at all in good humour with the Athenaeum for joining in the marked and utter neglect of a pamphlet 3 which I see they now find convenient to quote and borrow from, and on which as a piece of critical prose I value myself more than I usually do on any other improvisations in that line. But as the application comes through you I send what I have. ...
I see with disgust that King of Cornhill who I was told was reputable announces an edition of R. Buchanan’s works! 4 Faugh—it will be impossible for men of honour and character to publish with him afterwards.
A. C. Swinburne
2. John (“Poet”) Close (1816-91), for whom poetaster would be too elegant a title. His civil list pension, awarded in 1860, was withdrawn in 1861 after indignant protests.
3. Under the Microscope (1872).
4. King’s three-volume edition of The Poetical Works was announced for Nov., but the first volume was delayed two months and the others were even later.]
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 502, pp. 270-271.]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 30 January 
Of course I infer that it is quite settled that the Gentleman’s Magazine is never while published by C. and W. to contain any line from the dung-dropping pen of the bitch-born Buchanan—is it not so?
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 520, pp. 296-297.]
Swinburne to John Morley, 23 May 
... But meantime I cannot resist the temptation to say that I wish I had known before that you thought of giving Lord Houghton the position of my reviewer in the Fortnightly; as I should then, in defiance I doubt not of all etiquette, have requested you as a personal favour to me to give it in preference to any other writer alive—say Mr. Robert Buchanan. I have never shrunk from attack or from blame deserved or undeserved; but I must confess that I do shrink from the rancid unction of that man’s adulation or patronage or criticism. ...
[Lang, Vol. 2, Letter 543, pp. 296-297.]
Swinburne to K. R. H. Mackenzie, 31 July 
... But, in the name of our common reverence and affection for Landor, let me conjure you not to inflict on me the discredit by anticipation implied in the title of future Laureate; an office for which I expect to see all the poeticules of New grub Street pulling caps after the death of Tennyson, till the laurel (or cabbage wreath) shall descend on the deserving brows of the Poet Close or the Bard Buchanan. ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 615, pp. 26-27.]
Swinburne to the Editor of The Examiner, 3 April, 1875
3 Great James Street, W.C.,
April 3, 1875
In the Examiner of this morning 1 of this morning I find the following statement:—‘Mr. Swinburne, we know (?), wrote an entire pamphlet, devoted from title-page to colophon to round abuse of every writer that had ever said an ill-word of him.’
I must presume that the writer’s allusion is to e little pamphlet of mine 2 principally devoted to discussion of two not unimportant, but to me certainly not personal, questions which have been much debated of late years—the relative excellencies and short comings of Lord Byron and Mr. Tennyson as poets, and the respective merits and demerits of the first poet of American democracy. To this discussion I prefixed a few pages of comment on anonymous critics without mentioning (as indeed it would not have been easy to mention) the name of any among the nameless subjects of my satire; and appended by way of epilogue some observations on a writer of many books and names, to whom perhaps I should have done better simply to address the query addressed to his French prototype 3 by an eminent living poet—‘As-tu déjeuné, Jacquot?’ ...
1. An unsigned article, pp. 379-80, discussing Charles Reade’s reaction to criticism (particularly on the part of Mortimer Collins) of his Wandering Heir (serialized in the Graphic in 1872, issue as a book in 1875), a novel suggested by the Tichborne trial.
2. Under the Microscope, 1872.
3. Eugène de Mirecourt, pseudonym of Eugène Jacquot. ...]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 673, p. 89.]
Swinburne to Edward Burne Jones [11 December, 1875]
... Get today’s Examiner and read a letter headed ‘the Devil’s Due’—and guess the authorship. ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 674, pp. 89-93.]
Swinburne to the Editor of The Examiner [publ. 11 December, 1875]
The Devil’s Due
1. Assuming that the anonymous Jonas Fisher: a Poem in Brown and White (1875), was the work of Buchanan, Swinburne published in the Examiner (Nov. 20, 1875) an excellent “Epitaph on a Slanderer”:
He whose heart and soul and tongue
Once above-ground stunk and stung,
Now, less noisome than before,
Stinks here still, but stings no more.
A week later the Examiner reviewer of Jonas Fisher remarked that the poem was rumored to be “the work of either Mr. Robert Buchanan or the Devil,” and Swinburne’s letter was played in that key. Some of the satire can be illuminated by the correspondence of an earlier chapter in the feud. After the publication of The Fleshly School of Poetry, it was bruited everywhere that Buchanan, skulking under the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland,” was the author. Rossetti’s “The Stealthy School of Criticism” appeared in the Athenaeum, Dec. 16, 1871. In the same issue appeared a note from Strahan and Co., Buchanan’s publisher, implying that Buchanan had had nothing to do with the now notorious article and saying that the Athenaeum might “with equal propriety associate with the article the name of Mr. Robert browning or of Mr. Robert Lytton or of any other Robert.” Staff work was never feebler, for in the same issue (and directly following) appeared a letter from Buchanan acknowledging his authorship. Naturally, the Athenaeum leapt to taunt, and Buchanan replied once more (Dec. 30), saying that “the pseudonym ‘Thomas Maitland’ was affixed to my article when I was far out of reach—cruising on the shores of the Western Hebrides”—hence, Swinburne’s jibe “St. Kilda.” ]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 677, p. 95.]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 14 December 
I trust you read a letter in last week’s issue of that good republican print, headed ‘The Devil’s Due,’ signed ‘Thomas Maitland,’ and written by
A. C. Swinburne ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 685, p. 105.]
Swinburne to William Minto, 9 January 
January 9 
My dear Minto
I am happy to hear that you have secured a fresh piece of evidence to the valour and veracity of the ‘stupendous creature’ of many names. It will give me sincere satisfaction if you find it expedient to make any use of my last letter in the way of throwing light on his piteous and pitiful protest of non-complicity in the assumption of the pseudonym: and it is really necessary that we should know whether or not ‘a man of letters’ and ‘a man of honour’ are again, as in the days of Old Grub Street, to be presumably and primâ facie incompatible and irreconcilable terms. (I can hardly write legibly, or at all, for the intense cold.) I want you to do me a small favour—lend me the New Quarterly Magazine reviewed in the Examiner yesterday. It really goes against my conscience to order a copy—but Watts tells me that ‘Poet Alias’ has referred to me in an article on Aeschylus (!!!) and Hugo, and this I must see. I can return it at once if you like, but do let me see it or I shall burst in ignorance. ...
[Meyers, Vol.2, Letter 688B, p. 55.]
Swinburne to William Minto, 11 January, 1876
My dear Minto,
Give yourself no trouble about sending the New Quarterly Magazine; I have seen the extended olive-branch, & am so glad if it is enough. Mysterious are the ways of New Grub Street, I expected a great impertinence, & lo an impertinence of the conciliatory order. 1 ...
1. Enkvist draws attention to Robert Buchanan’s ‘unexpectedly moderate’ criticism of Swinburne in ‘Aeschylus and Victor Hugo’, New Quarterly Magazine, V (January 1876).]
[Note: This is the relevant section of Buchanan’s essay:
“Style is all-important, but it will not avail alone. The criterion of a poem is its eternal truth to history or human nature. A work hopelessly fettered to an effete superstition, or to a weary and uninteresting tradition, cannot, however exquisitely wrought in the details, be classed with first-rate literature. To bring the question to an issue, if the gloom of Victor Hugo were less complete, if his moral teaching were less persistently suicidal, his certainty of immortality would be greater than it is. He fails to represent his generation in so far as he fails to image forth its happiness and its hope, together with those ideal aspirations which constitute in all generations what is termed “religion;” and in this respect he is far inferior, for example, to Shelley. The charge of atheism has been brought against both these poets, and with equal justice and consistency. But the atheist is he who disbelieves in light altogether, utterly repudiates that mystic Zeus of whom Æschylus sang, and believes that human nature is going headlong to ruin and despair. The atheist is he who cries with Schopenhauer that life is “a cheat, and a uselessly interrupting episode in the blissful repose of nothing.” The atheist is he who grimly affirms with Feuerbach that “Der Mann ist was er isst.” An atheistical poet is an anomaly, an impossibility; and Shelley, so far from being an atheist, is, of all modern poets, with the exception of Wordsworth, the most religious—so constantly in a white heat of divine ecstasy and worship, that his music becomes almost monotonous. Victor Hugo, on the other hand, is atheistic just in so far as he fails to perceive the triumph of human nature over all the conditions which mar it, and drag it down. He himself, in one of the finest poems of “L’année Terrible,” has expressly vindicated himself against the charge of atheism brought against him by (mirabile dictu!) a French Bishop! No charge is easier to bring, or harder to bear. As I write, I see it, in several journals, brought against a young poet of the day, Mr. Algernon Swinburne. The present writer cannot certainly be accused of sympathizing unduly with the school Mr. Swinburne represents, but he takes this opportunity of saying that Mr. Swinburne is an atheist in the sense that Shelley was one, and in no other. The wealth of his vocabulary of abuse should not mislead us. He utters the truth as he feels and sees it; he utters it, as a rule, far too madly; but the very fury of his invective is a proof that he is in earnest. He fights his adversaries with a flail, and the weapon too often rebounds, as such weapons will in unpractised hands, upon his own head. But for all that, he is one of the army of God, and we forgive him all his outrageousness when he speaks, as he occasionally can and will, the lovely language of Sion. There are far too many real atheists in the world—men who hate truth, and have no faith in beauty. Let us not class among them any one authentic poet, however much his non-poetical utterances may offend our prejudices, and even shock our reason.” ]
[Meyers, Vol.2, Letter 696A, pp. 57-58.]
Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to Swinburne, 21 January, 1876
That unfortunate letter in the Examiner about Buchanan 4 is giving poor Minto trouble incalculable, trouble in which you, I fear, may have to share. These actions for libel are such a bother, and, between ourselves, I fancy the proprietor is angry with M. for inserting it and is somewhat sore that you now send everything to the Athenaeum and 6
4. ‘The Devil’s Due’, Letters, vol. III, pp. 89-93; for an account of the libel suit filed by Buchanan against P. A. Taylor, the proprietor of the Examiner, see Bonchurch, vol. XX, pp. 134-9, ignoring, of course, Wise’s description of his forged edition.
6. The rest of the letter is missing. For Swinburne’s reply to this letter, see Letters, vol. III, pp. 125-7.]
[Note: The extracts from Bonchurch are available below.]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 698, pp. 125-127]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 22 January, 1876
I agree with you, and am sincerely obliged for the suggestion, that it might be a graceful act on my part just now to give a poem gratis to the Examiner. As my ‘copy’ is all in your hands, perhaps you will give Minto the Autumn Rondel (‘From spring to fall’) for publication as soon as he pleases. But, this settled, I feel (between ourselves) that it is due to myself to say that I regard it as a free gift or act of grace, and in no sense or degree whatever as the discharge of a debt. Most assuredly it is not on my side that the balance of profit or credit or obligation accruing from my connection with the Examiner will be found to incline. The last editor, Mr. Fox Bourne, was, when he left it, on his own computation as stated in his last letter to me, forty-two pounds in my debt; no great sum to a rich man, but not unimportant to one whose allowance (as you know) is just £200 a year, and who certainly cannot count on making as much annually by the entire profit of his writings. I gave Minto my essay on Vacquerie (the whole edition of which, when translated and published as a half-franc pamphlet in Paris, was sold off in a few days) for anything he pleased, and accepted with perfect content half what the Athenaeum had offered me for half the number of columns. The previous debt I consented to regard as (what it was not) a private and personal debt of the retiring editor, who was to discharge it when he was able, and whom I have never troubled nor shall trouble about the matter. As to the letter of last month, I must say it seems to me that it is for the editor, and not for a casual contributor or correspondent who knows nothing of editorial business, duty, or etiquette, to determine whether the contribution offered is or is not safe or advisable to publish, and that he alone by virtue of his office is responsible for the decision arrived at and carried out. Had M. declined to print my letter I should certainly not have been fool enough to resent or dispute his verdict, but he did not; and though I am very sorry he should have got into hot water in consequence of this and of his own additional attack or exposure of the same person in the same number, I cannot hold myself the person (if any there be) in fault. Personally, there are few things that would give me more after satisfaction than an unsought opportunity of bearing public testimony by a simple statement of the circumstances connected with our brief acquaintance, to the high character and honourable conduct of the honest and courageous Mr. Robert Buchanan. ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 721, p. 158]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 24 March 
Can you tell me where and when Mr. Buchanan has blown the trumpet before Whitman and brought down on himself and his (other) object of worship the wrath of the Saturday? I am curious to know. ...
The Saturday Review of 18th March 1876 included an article, headed ‘Walt Whitman’, which referred to Buchanan’s letter about Whitman in the Daily News of 13th March 1876.]
[Peattie, Letter 263, pp. 337-338]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 25 March 
As you make no allusion to the matter, I infer that you can hardly have been aware of what has been and now is going on concerning Whitman. Some weeks ago Whitman sent me an American newspaper, West Jersey Press, containing an article which sets forth in strong terms his narrow means, and the American repudiation of his writings; and he asked me to reproduce it in England. I got it into the Athenaeum of 11 March. Buchanan, seeing it there, wrote to Daily News, 13 March, a letter full of Whitmanic enthusiasm, urging people to subscribe for his books, or otherwise aid him. I meanwhile, before the article appeared in Athenaeum, had written to Whitman sending him £10 (£5 for myself and £5 for Mrs. Gilchrist) to purchase copies of his forthcoming volumes, and had asked him whether he would like me to start the like plan among friends over here, or any other plan redounding to his advantage. On seeing Buchanan’s letter in Daily News, I wrote to same paper, 14 March, to explain these facts, and since then both Buchanan and I, on our several hooks, have received various contributions: all that I receive being treated (unless Whitman hereafter decides otherwise) as purchase-money for books. I have not yet received from Whitman a reply to my letter aforenamed: when I get that I shall know more definitely what to do, and would if necessary send round circulars. The Athenaeum, Examiner, Daily News, Saturday Review, Standard, Secularist, and I dare say other papers as well, have taken some part in this Whitman movement — from one point of view or another. ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 722, pp. 158-159]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 26 March 
I have just got a letter from W.M.R. in which he tells me that the Bard Buchanan’s letter on Whitman appeared on the thirteenth and his own the next day. Can you tell me if this was all the correspondence (of which till this morning I never heard a word)? ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 723, pp. 159-160]
Swinburne to Andrew Chatto, 26 March 
Holmwood, March 26 
I should be much obliged if you would procure and send me (if possible by return of post) the Daily News of March 13th and 14th containing letters from Mr. Buchanan and Mr. W. M. Rossetti on the subject of Walt Whitman; 1 also if you can let me know whether there has been any further correspondence on the subject. Mr. Rossetti tells me that ‘The Daily news, Standard, and Secularist have taken some part in this Whitman movement.’ I am curious to see all that is published on the subject, and should be further obliged to you if you could get me these and any other notices that may have appeared; as you were good enough to offer to undertake such commissions for me, and there is no one nearer at hand to whom I can apply, instead of asking you to take the trouble. ...
1. Buchanan’s letter on Mar. 13 (p. 2), “The Position of Walt Whitman,” asked for an English committee to collect subscriptions for at least 500 copies of Whitman’s complete works, and vigorously denounced the treatment of Whitman by American editors and publishers. William Rossetti’s letter on Mar. 14 (p. 6) supported Buchanan’s and made additional observations.]
[Peattie, Letter 264, pp. 338-339]
W. M. Rossetti to Moncure Conway, 30 March 
30 March 
Excuse hurry. Athenaeum reprint from West Jersey paper is 11 march, and contains all the more important matter: Buchanan’s 1st Daily News letter 1 is 13 March. The Athenaeum is quite safe, because it is only what Whitman himself asked me to publish. Buchanan’s expressions founded on it are exaggerated, and Austin 2 followed Buchanan.
Before any of this I had written to Whitman (see my letter in Daily News of 14 March): yesterday I received his reply, quite confirming your statement that he is not in want of any ordinary comfort of life, but he approves of my proposal to promote English purchase of his new books, and I shall take measures accordingly without delay. 3
I don’t now possess a Daily news of 13 or 14 March; did possess them, but my servant has without warrant used them for lighting fires. Sorry not to accommodate you. ...
1. A second letter from Buchanan appeared on 16 March 1876, p. 6: “A large number of sympathetic letters have already reached me in response to my letter ... and I have every reason to believe that substantial help will be forthcoming. Meantime I take cognisance of the letter from Mr. William Rossetti ... and as that gentleman is ... prepared to undertake the organization of a fund for the purchase of Whitman’s works, I think all future correspondence, subscriptions, etc., should be addressed to him. For my own part I shall be glad to co-operate in any scheme for Whitman’s benefit.”
2. Alfred Austin objected that Buchanan’s first letter “clouded a question of benevolence with untimely literary fervour,” for not everyone who approved of helping Whitman was convinced of the merit of his poetry (Daily news, 16 march 1876, p. 6). Buchanan replied on 17 March, p. 3.
3. In his reply of 17 March Whitman declared: “My dear friend, your offers of help, & those of my other British friends, I think I fully appreciate, in the right spirit, welcome & acceptive — leaving the matter altogether in your & their hands. . . . Though poor now even to penury I have not so far been deprived of any physical thing I need or wish whatever — & I feel confident I shall not, in the future”. WMR printed this letter in facsimile for distribution with a circular inviting purchase of Whitman’s books through him or directly from the poet. On 18 April WMR informed Lucy that he “received this afternoon the printed set of Whitman’s letter”, but the circular was delayed until 20 May because of uncertainty over the price of the volumes. A second circular, “of like form,” was issued on 1 June. Before the first circular was sent out, Swinburne, G. H. Lewes, R. M. Milnes, and others (whose names appear in the circular) sent subscriptions to WMR, so he was able to send Whitman a first remittance of £28.4 on 19 April. Further remittances were received by the poet on 20 June (£45.9.6); 9 October (£21.18); 10 September 1877 ($23.30). Buchanan sent subscriptions independently, including £5 from Tennyson. Edward carpenter and probably others subscribed directly to Whitman.]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 729, pp. 170-172]
Swinburne to W. M. Rossetti, 4 April, 1876
Holmwood, April 4, 1876
You were right in supposing that when I wrote last I had not seen the Daily News correspondence in re Whitman. The notice (March 11th) in the Athenaeum I had read with much regret and surprise, not knowing of course that it was you who had received and transmitted the very bad and disgraceful news. I have now got all the papers you mention as having touched on the matter except the Standard (which ought to be a lark) and should be much obliged if you could give me the date of its article. The Secularist (March 25th—has it had any other or further notice, do you know?) says that on the day after that on which your letter to the Daily news appeared—i.e. on March 15th—that paper published a villainous attack on Whitman and his admirers, declining at the same time to receive subscriptions on his account. I have got that day’s number and it contains nothing of the kind. Can you tell me—as I wish very much to see it—on what day such an article and announcement did appear?
I shall be happy to subscribe either for a copy of his new edition or otherwise, as far as one pound goes—more I cannot afford. Du reste, you must allow me to observe that it gives us a pleasing foretaste of the millennial period to see the lion (yourself) lying down (not with the lamb but) with the skunk. I was diverted to see how cautiously (through fear or through respect?) the Saturday abstained from any reference to you while pitching indiscriminately and impartially into the American ‘eagle’ and the Hebridean polecat. Poor old Whitman! the donkey’s caress should be worse to the decrepit or wounded lion than his kick. However, he may set the kick of a Bayne against the caress of a Buchanan. Pity he has no friend at hand to keep him from writing such DAMNED nonsense about poetry and verse as I saw quoted in the Examiner—the most blatant bray of impotent and impudent ignorance I ever heard except from the throat of Bavius Buchanan or Maevius Maitland. These are the things that make it difficult always to remember and compromising often to assert the existence of his really high qualities.
Have you had any communication on the subject with a Mr. O’Grady (the same ‘Arthur Clive’ who reprinted in a pamphlet some part of Shelley’s Essay on Deism) who recently (? last November or December) uttered a most sonorous Irish howl of admiration in the Gentleman’s Magazine for W.W. ‘The Poet of Joy?’ 2 ...
2. Arthur Clive, “The Trammels of Poetic Experience,” Gentleman’s Magazine, Feb. 1875. This article was alluded to (and extracts from a long letter on Whitman by Buchanan were quoted) in the Gentleman’s Magazine, Apr. 1876.]
[Note: ‘The Trammels of Poetic Experience’ is available at HathiTrust. The relevant piece in the April, 1876 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine is available in the Letters to the Press section.]
[Peattie, Letter 266, pp. 340-341]
W. M. Rossetti to Swinburne, 5 April 
I continue in active communication with Whitman: who is not “miserably poor” (Buchananice), but will be extremely glad to have English book-purchasing recruits beaten up. But for an uncertainty about the range of his editions and prices, I should now be already concocting a circular: wrote to him yesterday to clear up all this, and shall then proceed without delay. ...
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 733, pp. 176-180]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 16 April 
Holmwood, April 16 
My dear Watts
Thanks for your dealings on my behalf with Chatto. As I said before, I should much have preferred to see the two shorter poems issued in Belgravia rather than the one now in type: but I suppose it has been decided otherwise. I am quite certain after carefully looking through all your March letters that I never received any such letter as that you mention dated March 15th and referring to Bowles of Vanity Fair. Did yon misdirect it again par distraction? In any such case that may come under your eyes I will ask yon to bring it before me at once, and in full, if you think necessary; in other words, if any insult is levelled at me in print of which, were it your own case, you would feel it due to yourself to take some kind of public notice, and would feel it unfriendly conduct on the part of a friend who should fail to give you warning of the matter, and who, by suppressing or withholding it from your cognizance, should allow you to remain ignorant of its existence—then, and then only, I trust you as my friend, in the full sense of the word as it is used between men of honour to whom each other’s self-respect is no less matter of consideration than that of either man is to himself, to send me the printed attack on the spot, and advise me what steps to take in consequence. This is what I would do for you in like case, and how I think any man should feel himself in such a contingency bound to act towards any one whom he calls his friend or for whom he entertains any sort of regard and respect. But in any less serious case than this it seems to me by no means worth while for any one to trouble himself or his friend about the matter. It is no news to either of us that for ten years past, with more or less intermission, abuse of all kinds, personal and literary, religious or political, has been persistently launched at me by great part of the English and American press; and it is, I hope, no news to my friends that I should despise myself as deeply as I despise my revilers if I permitted my knowledge of this fact, inevitable as the experience of all my fellows and forerunners proves it under the circumstances to be, to affect in any degree my quiet or my self-respect. You are well aware that there is no form of cowardice which I hold in heartier contempt—a contempt which I can hardly bring myself to temper with compassion—than that of a man, whatever other and higher qualities he may possess of genius or of character, who pines and writhes under attack or permits the sting of an enemy to rankle in his mind and corrode his inner life. But on the other hand—though this latter be the better and less unmanly extreme of the two (which perhaps are among the proverbial extremes that meet)—I do not greatly admire nor wish to emulate or to affect the rather unwholesome enjoyment with which Byron, for example, gloated or made believe to gloat over the reflection that he had been accused or believed capable if not guilty of every conceivable and inconceivable form of private infamy or degradation. I agree with those who think it a morbid symptom of anything but genuine strength and manliness of mind that he should, as recorded in his diary, have ever begun to keep a register of the charges brought against him, culminating as you may remember with the charge of a propensity to the peculiar kinds of sensual indulgence attributed to Tiberius and Heliogabalus (I cite his words as nearly as I recollect them). At the same time, I can honestly and confidently assert that I know no man more indifferent to the opinion of strangers than myself—none, perhaps I might say, quite so genuinely indifferent to it. This, of course, the insulters of any man of mark will never believe of him; it would break their hearts to know that they were really powerless to inflict pain on their superiors; and I am sure I would not deprive their sad and dirty little lives of that poor, solitary, vile satisfaction. What comfort or pleasure could a blindworm take in its existence, if forbidden to fancy itself an adder? The men of New Grub Street are most welcome, for me, to hug themselves in the fond assurance that they can and do disturb and wound and harass me; and in fact it does naturally provoke a certain disgust and nausea, mixed with irritation, to see the name that was bequeathed to you with honour, and which you may be allowed to hope has lost none by any fault of yours, coupled in their journals for the first time with some blackguard epithet or imputation; but knowing this to be the old inevitable story, you can but stop your nose and pass by them. I am far from indifferent to the good will or good opinion of men whom I do know; I care nothing whether men I do not know believe me to be good or bad, noble or ignoble, a citizen fit for Sodom or a citizen fit for Sparta. To live on other men’s lips, to draw breath only in time with theirs, to hold my peace and happiness as a tenant at will by leave and favour of their good report and opinion—I had rather be a dog and bay the moon, a kitten and cry mew; I had as lief be such a thing as they, and write lies about my betters for my bread. At the same time I take no more pleasure than any other man of healthy and natural tastes to ‘suffer’ (as Ferdinand says to Miranda) ‘the fleshly blow my mouth’; and since I cannot prevent it from settling on my name any more than it can be kept or driven off that of any other man who has made his name public property, I do not care to be called on to take notice of every fresh instance of its so settling, unless it is evidently necessary or desirable that in that particular instance the insect should be crushed or brushed away. I am sure you will not do me the injustice to think that in writing thus frankly and fully on the subject I am treating you as one of the d----d goodnatured friends whose kindness met with such little recognition from Sir Fretful Plagiary; I hope I have not so much of that worthy bard about me as to shrink from seeing or hearing anything that may be said of me, or dream of shutting my eyes and hiding my head in seclusion to escape the buzz or avoid the sting of the vermin of letters in London; but I certainly think it would entail a waste of time and temper, and involve as a consequence some loss of self-respect, if I were to keep or allow myself to be kept on the alert for every passing impertinence that the sons of Curll and Kenrick may indulge in, and of which I naturally never should or need hear unless it actually calls for notice as the only alternative to submission and acceptance of a distinct and positive brand—as when I accused Hutton and when the Athenaeum accused Buchanan of a direct lie uttered to screen himself from the responsibility of his own words or acts, and both those honest gentlemen admitted the soft impeachment in silence. Once more, you must not and I am sure you will not think that I mean to express or to imply any wish that you had not given me any hint of such a matter; but will simply understand that in any such case I prefer to know all or nothing; nothing, if it is not a case which makes it necessary or incumbent on a man to disturb himself or his friend; all, if it is. I do not want to take matters too seriously or too lightly; but however many things I may have, in common with all other men, to regret on my own account that I should have done or left undone, I am conscious of nothing that should make me more afraid or ashamed than the most rigid Puritan need be to stand before the world as I am. There is nothing in my life that I have more cause to wish hidden or forgotten, overlooked or kept private, than any other man who does not or who does pretend to canonization. I admit no more right in a stranger to intrude upon my private life and report on it falsely or truly than on yours or any other man’s; but I have no more reason or need to fear it. And certainly I should think it odd if I did fear it. People say the last thing lo have been expected of a family which had produced almost every other sort of fellow in turn was that it should at last have produced, in the person of your servant—a poet, but I do flatter myself it is even less to be expected, and would be still more startling and paradoxical as a novelty or lusus naturae, if it should also at last produce a coward; and still more singular yet if one of its members who had enjoyed the friendship of Landor, Mazzini, Victor Hugo, and Richard Burton should prove in spite of such companionship and example so abject a dastard as to live in fear of Mr. Bowles and Mr. Yates. 10
A. C. Swinburne
P.S. I little thought, when I began, to spend my forenoon, not with Mary Stuart, but in inflicting on you so long a spell of egoism: but I shall be glad to hear you have received this.
10. Yates at the moment was editor of the World, which printed on Mar. 29 “Portraits in Oil: LXXXVIII. ‘The Bard.’”]
[Note: Although unconnected to Buchanan, this letter is interesting given its proximity to the ‘Devil’s Due’ libel trial.]
[Meyers, Vol.2, Letter 744A, pp. 78-79.]
John Nichol to Swinburne, 2 June, 1876
[embossed seal: University of Glasgow]
June 2, 1876
My Dear Swinburne
I have just received your songs of “Two Nations,” and shall write fully whenever I can. I am sorry to say I do not know when that may be, as I make very slow progress and sygn [sic] my name under prohibition. I am therefore obliged to avail myself of an amanuensis which circumstance will I fear curtail my Review of “Wells” but it shall be done by dictation, my letter to McC. 3 must be written by left hand or aid of [illeg.]. Please write at once if anything calls for haste, I shall make a point of having two free days at your disposal in London in the 3rd or 4th week of July, when I should much like to meet, Watts [.] 5
Dear S This is about as bad a peice [sic] of luck as could have been thrown to me. I feel as if I would never have the right use of my arm again [.] It is no better since I wrote from Chippenham. I left F fairly well.
You need, for the way I hear people talk of you, give yourself no anxiety about that wretch Buchanan.
3. Colin Ritchie McClymont, a friend of Nichol’s and counsel for Robert Buchanan in Buchanan’s impending suit against the proprietor of The Examiner for having published libels, including Swinburne’s ‘Epitaph on a Slanderer’ (20 November 1875, never collected by Swinburne).
5. From this point the letter is written in Nichol’s own hand.]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 745, p. 194]
Swinburne to John Nichol, 3 June 
Holmwood, June 3 
My dear Nichol
I am very sorry to hear that your hand is no better. Mrs. Nichol in her note—for which please give her my best thanks—told me the doctor said it might be six weeks before you could use it well. Pray do not exert it untimely (even to ‘sygn’ your name as your amanuensis spells it) but above all not on my account. I had rather come to a dozen griefs, as you know, than be the indirect cause of injuring it or you. Watts is trying to get the case postponed till Michaelmas in the hope of sickening the other party’s backers; this of course is in the strictest confidence, and I don’t know that I ought even to whisper it to you, but your friendship leaves mine no choice. 1
Pray don’t think of writing to McC. or any one else till you have the full and perfect use of your hand. That, I hope, will be long before we meet in July. I trust soon to hear it is better, at least than it is now or has been yet. I suppose it is too soon to expect improvement in such a case. I have just time to catch the post and sign myself
A. C. Swinburne
1. Another chapter in the Buchanan imbroglio. Mistaking an anonymous book by the Earl of Southesk, Jonas Fisher: A Poem in Brown and White, for the work of Buchanan, Swinburne published “Epitaph on a Slanderer” and Letter 674, above, in the Examiner, Dec. 11, 1875. Buchanan brought suit for damages against Peter Taylor, the proprietor. Colin Ritchie McClymont, Buchanan’s counsel, was, like Swinburne and Nichol, a Balliol man, and had met Swinburne under Jowett’s auspices in the Highlands. Robert Williams, counsel for the defense, conniving to get the attack shifted from Taylor to Swinburne, a tactic steadily countered by McClymont, repeated (or invented) abusive remarks made by Swinburne against McClymont. At this point Nichol intervened, invoking his own friendship with Buchanan’s counsel. (See the letter from McClymont to Nichol quoted in Bonchurch, 20, 136-39.) The case was tried on June 29 and 30, Buchanan receiving £150 damages (£4850 less than claimed).]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 746, p. 195]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 3 June 
... It makes me so angry that I am writing like old Houghton from whom I have just had a very comic and friendly note, urging me to come up to London to meet people. I hope you will soon be able to let me know that I can with safety and convenience to your designs for frustrating the rascal enemy.
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 749, pp. 197-198]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 17 June 
Holmwood, June 17 
My dear Watts
One line, please, by return of post, to say whether you think the (legal) coast is now clear. It will be three weeks on Monday since I came down here in compliance with your friendly counsel to make myself scarce for three weeks, during which you thought it convenient that I should not be ‘apprehensible’ in town. I am invited to meet some old friends on Tuesday, but if I come up I should wish to stay awhile in London; so just let me know if the time of possible difficulty as to the subpoena has been tided over or not. 1 ...
1. Watts replied on June 19 (the original is in the possession of the editor):
“I scarcely know how to answer you as to coming up to London. I have just learned that the trial is coming on this week—perhaps tomorrow. And yet you have not been summoned by the plaintiff. But Minto tells me that Taylor’s solicitors think it may be necessary to call you and he has given them your Holmwood address. Should I find that [they] really do mean to summon you—which I hope is not the case—I will let you know either by telegram or letter and then you will, no doubt, think it best to come up, and so avoid being served at home with the subpoena. But I think you had better wait until you hear from me.”]
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 750, p. 198]
Swinburne to Theodore Watts, 19 June 
Holmwood, June 19 
My dear Watts
I have just received the subpoena from Shaen and Roscoe with an intimation that the case may come on tomorrow. I write this to Putney in case I should not find you at Danes Inn when I come up this afternoon. Hoping at least to see you the first thing in the morning, I am
A. C. Swinburne
[Lang, Vol. 3, Letter 751, p. 198]
Swinburne to John Nichol [19 June, 1876]
Text: Gosse’s transcript in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
3 Great James Street, Bedford Row, W.C.,
[June 19, 1 1876]
My dear Nichol
I have today received the subpoena summoning me to attend (possibly tomorrow) in the Buchanan-Taylor case. The day is not yet fixed. I have only time to tell you this and hope your wrist may have regained its strength, though you may have no occasion to put it forth on your friend’s behalf.
In great haste
A. C. Swinburne
1. Gosse, in his transcript, dated this letter June 27 (in square brackets).]
[Meyers, Vol.2, Letter 751B, pp. 80-81.]
John Nichol to Swinburne, 20 June, 1876
2 The College
June 20 76
My dear Swinburne,
I need not tell you that on receipt of yours today I have written I only hope not too strongly to McClymont 2 & that no doctor & no shame of this M.S shall prevent me writing anything else that can be of any use.
I can’t get Crosskey’s authority, but he has behaved so ill to me during the last 3 years that if you think your statement about “Caliban” 4 material make it on my authority.
Above all things treat the hound with calm contempt: & for God or the the Devils sake dont be flustered or take stimulus to help you through. I know the temptation & speak to you, my best male friend, with reckless frankness.
For a week I am free – having just tonight returned from ten days in the Highlands.
If I can be really of use in helping or advising or appearing telegraph & I shall come up by express: & I should in that case, put you at ease, let you pay my railway expences! – I can write no more with this wretched wrist.
Excuse the Italics as part of my sprain
2. One of the lawyers for Robert Buchanan in his libel suit against P. A. Taylor, the proprietor of The Examiner, for having published Swinburne’s letter (signed ‘Thomas Maitland’) ‘The Devil’s Due’ (Letters, vol. III, pp. 89-93). MacClymont’s letters to John Nichol of 22 June and 5 July 1876 (Bonchurch vol. XX, pp. 136-9) give a good deal of information on the trial (though, of course, Wise’s introductory bibliographical discussion is all lies).
4. Buchanan’s pseudonym in publishing ‘The Session of the Poets’ in The Spectator (September 1866), (see Bonchurch, vol. XX, pp. 132-3).]
Extracts from the Correspondence of A. C. Swinburne, W. M. Rossetti
and D. G. Rossetti, relating to R. W. Buchanan - continued (2)