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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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Fœtid Buchanan lifted up his voice
Ezra Pound ‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberly’ (1920)


1. Primary Material

(Buchanan’s original article, Rossetti’s response, Buchanan’s extended pamphlet version and Swinburne’s response to that.)


The Fleshly School Of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti

(Robert Buchanan’s review of Rossetti’s Poems, published in The Contemporary Review, October 1871, under the pseudonym, Thomas Maitland)



The Stealthy School Of Criticism

(Rossetti’s reply to the Thomas Maitland review, published in The Athenæum, December 1871.
Plus other related items from The Athenæum and the Pall Mall Gazette.)



The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day by Robert Buchanan

(The pamphlet version of Buchanan’s attack on the ‘Fleshly Poets’ published by Strahan and Company in 1872.
Available for download as a zipped .rtf file.
Plus reviews of the pamphlet.)



Under The Microscope by Algernon Charles Swinburne

(Swinburne’s response to Buchanan, published as a pamphlet in 1872. This is the 1899 reprint by Thomas B. Mosher which includes an appendix with Buchanan’s poems, ‘The Session of the Poets’ and ‘The Monkey and the Microscope’ and a section on Buchanan’s apology.
Available for download as a zipped .rtf file.
Reviews of Under the Microscope.)



2. Secondary Material


Reviews of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems



Related Documents

Buchanan’s Athenæum review of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads.

John Morley’s review of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads in The Saturday Review

‘The Session of the Poets’.

Swinburne’s Notes on Poems and Reviews - ‘idyls of the gutter and the gibbet.’

Athenæum review of Swinburne’s Notes on Poems and Reviews.

Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads. A Criticism by William Michael Rossetti - opening sentence.

‘Mr. Arnold’s New Poems’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne - ‘the fons et origo of the whole affair’.

‘Mr. Swinburne as Critic’ from The Spectator - probably written by Buchanan.

Introduction to David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry.

Athenæum review of W. M. Rossetti’s edition of Shelley.

‘The Brothers’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

‘Among the Books of Seventy-one, by a Reader’ from Temple Bar

‘The Fleshly School Scandal’ from Tinsleys’ Magazine

‘Coterie Glory’ from The Saturday Review

‘The Monkey and the Microscope’

George Chapman. A Critical Essay by Algernon Charles Swinburne

‘Mr. Arnold’s New Poems’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne - revised version

Miscellanies by Algernon Charles Swinburne

The following documents can be found elsewhere on the site:


Faces on the Wall (The Saint Pauls Magazine, 1872)

St. Abe and his Seven Wives - Bibliographical Note from the 1896 edition

Short stories:

Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand (Temple Bar, 1862)

A Roman Supper (The Argosy, 1866)


Society’s Looking-glass (Temple Bar, 1862)

Immorality in Authorship (The Fortnightly Review, 1866)

George Heath. The Moorland Poet (Good Words, 1871)

Tennyson’s Charm (The Saint Pauls Magazine, 1872.)

Criticism as One of the Fine Arts (The Saint Pauls Magazine, 1872)


The correspondence of D. G. and W. M. Rossetti, Swinburne and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is quoted in the various accounts of the Fleshly School Controversy. I have also added the following section featuring extracts from the letters of Swinburne and the Rossetti Brothers:

Extracts from the Correspondence of A. C. Swinburne, W. M. Rossetti and D. G. Rossetti, relating to R. W. Buchanan

Of Buchanan’s meagre collection of surviving letters, the following, which have some relevance to the Controversy, are available on this site:

Letters to Roden Noel:

Undated Fragment No. 2
1st August, 1871
5th June, 1872

Letters to Robert Browning:

7th December, 1870
6th December, 1871
4th March, 1872
March, 1872

Letters to Alfred Tennyson:

7th June, 1871
14th June, 1871
20th June, 1871
16th November, 1871
28th November, 1871
4th June, 1873

Letter to Alexander Strahan, 1st February, 1873

Letter to John Chapman, 1st September, 1873



The ‘Fleshly School’ in the Press

(Press reaction to Buchanan’s article and the aftermath from October 1871 to October 1872.)



The ‘Fleshly School’ Libel Action

Material relating to the second stage of the Fleshly School Controversy which resulted in Buchanan’s libel action against the proprietor of The Examiner in 1876:

1. The origins of the case

2. The Trial - Day One

3. The Trial - Day Two

4. The Trial - Day Three

5. After the trial

6. Extracts from the Diary of Sir Edmund Gosse
(From the Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, two pages of handwritten extracts from the diaries of Sir Edmund Gosse under the heading, “Robert Buchanan”. They refer to the Examiner case and include a physical description of Buchanan.)



Buchanan’s Apology

1. God and the Man
(The first edition of Buchanan’s novel, God and the Man (1881) contained the dedicatory verse, ‘To An Old Enemy’. The following year, after Rossetti’s death, a new edition was published with a second poem, ‘To Dante Gabriel Rossetti’ and a Preface in which Buchanan expresses his ‘permanent regret’ for ever having underrated Rossetti’s ‘exquisite  work’. )

2. The Martyrdom of Madeline
(In response to a review of his novel, The Martyrdom of Madeline, in The Academy of 17th June, 1882, Buchanan wrote a letter to the magazine denying that the character, Blanco Serena, was based on Rossetti.)

3. A Note on Dante Rossetti
Buchanan included ‘A Note on Dante Rossetti’ in his 1887 collection of essays, A Look Round Literature. It was written in 1882 (following Rossetti’s death) in response to an article in the July edition of The British Quarterly Review, and seems to be Buchanan’s attempt to draw a line under the whole affair.)

4. Letters to Hall Caine
(Two letters to Hall Caine from Buchanan, the second of which was published in Caine’s Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1882.)

5. Imperial Cockneydom
(Buchanan included a defence of his conduct over the Fleshly School affair in this article published in The Universal Review in May, 1889. The passage was later omitted when the article was include in The Coming Terror.)



Other Accounts of the Fleshly School Controversy

William Michael Rossetti
(Extracts from
the Preface to The Collected Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Ellis and Elvey, 1887), Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer by William Michael Rossetti (London: Cassell, 1889),
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters by William Michael Rossetti (London: Ellis and Elvey, 1895) and Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti (London: Brown, Langham & Co., New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906) relating to Buchanan and the Fleshly School controversy.)

The Æsthetic Movement in England by Walter Hamilton (London: Reeves & Turner, 1882.)

Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by T. Hall Caine (London: Elliot Stock, 1882.)

Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Joseph Knight (London: Walter Scott, 1887.)

Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, Vol. 2 (London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1892.)

The Bookman (New York) (August, 1901.)

The Autobiography of a Journalist by William James Stillman (Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1901)

Theodore Watts-Dunton: Poet Novelist Critic by James Douglas (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904.)

Rossetti (English Men of Letters) by Arthur C. Benson (London: Macmillan & Co., 1904.)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter & Man of Letters by Frank Rutter (London: Grant Richards, 1908.)

Rossetti: a critical essay on his art by Ford Madox Hueffer [Ford] (London: Duckworth, 1914.)

In Good Company by Coulson Kernahan (London: John Lane, 1917.)

Swinburne's Literary Career and Fame by Clyde Kenneth Hyder (1933, reissued 1963 - New York: Russell & Russell, Inc.)

Poor Splendid Wings; The Rossettis and their Circle by Frances Winwar (Boston; Little, Brown and Co., 1933.)

The Montreal Gazette (a review of Poor Splendid Wings) (6 October, 1934.)

Dramas of the Law by Horace Wyndham (London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1936.)

The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy by William Gaunt (London: Jonathan Cape, 1942.)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Victorian Romantic by Oswald Doughty (Yale University Press, 1949.)

Explorations (‘A hundred years after’ by F. T. Flahiff) (January 1972)

The following can be found elsewhere on the site:

Robert Buchanan by Harriett Jay: Chapter XVI: ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry, 1870’

Extracts from Hall Caine’s Autobiography
(My Story (1908) contains a couple of extracts concerning the ‘Fleshly School’ including an account of Rossetti’s response to Buchanan’s apology. In his chapter on Buchanan, Caine also includes the 1882 letter from Buchanan explaining his position regarding Rossetti and the controversy.)



Critical Essays

‘Robert Buchanan and the Fleshly Controversy’ by John A. Cassidy
(From Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 67, No. 2. (March, 1952), pp. 65-93.)

‘Robert Buchanan’s Critical Principles’ by George G. Storey
(From Publications of the Modern Language Association, Vol. 68, No. 5. (Dec., 1953), pp. 1228-1232.)
(A short article prompted by John A. Cassidy’s “Robert Buchanan and the Fleshly Controversy”.)

‘Prelude to the last decade: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Summer of 1872’ by W. E. Fredeman
(From Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of Manchester Part I: Vol. 53, Issue 1, pp. 75-121, Part II, Issue 2, pp. 272-328, 1971.)

‘Robert Buchanan, F. J. Furnivall, and the Browning Society: A Letter’ by Jay Jernigan
(From Studies in Browning and His Circle (Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring, 1975).

‘D. G. Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne and R. W. Buchanan: The Fleshly School Revisited’ by Christopher D. Murray
(From Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester Vol. 65, No. 1 (Autumn 1982) and Vol. 65, No. 2 (Spring 1983).)

Two unpublished theses by Christopher D. Murray:

Robert Buchanan and the Fleshly Controversy: A Reconsideration.’
The University of British Columbia, 1970. 177p.

Robert Buchanan (1841-1901) : An assessment of his career.
Queen Mary, University of London, 1974. 282 p.
(available from the British Library’s EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service) for free download.)



A ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ Timeline



The Fleshly School of Poetry - an additional note








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
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