The Fleshly School Controversy
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Harriett Jay

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A ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ Timeline


One of the problems with reading the accounts of the Fleshly School affair, primarily those of Cassidy and Murray, is that time gets constricted and it seems like Buchanan is spending all of his, stuck in his house on a hillside overlooking Oban, plotting the downfall of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Another problem is the amount of speculation that Cassidy and Murray indulge in. This timeline is an attempt to solve these two problems by sifting out the facts of the matter, and placing them in the context of what is known about Buchanan’s life during this period. Since the origin of the animosity felt towards Buchanan by Swinburne and the Rossetti brothers is not known, I have started in 1860 when Buchanan came to London and have included a brief account of his early years in the city.








Following his father’s bankruptcy moves from Glasgow to London. Supports himself writing for various journals. He also makes several acquaintances in the literary and theatrical world, including Westland Marston, Dinah Mulock, Hermann Vezin and W. G. Wills. Meets his Glasgow friend, David Gray, who is now suffering from consumption, and invites him to stay with him at 66 Stamford Street.



David Gray returns to Scotland. Charles Gibbon moves in with Buchanan. Buchanan’s parents move down to London. In the autumn Buchanan marries Mary Ann Jay. In December Stormbeaten: or Christmas Eve at the “Old Anchor” Inn, a  collection of poems and short stories, written in collaboration with Charles Gibbon, is published.


3 December

Death of David Gray.


10 December

Buchanan writes to Gray’s father:
“I am too poor now to come at once to Scotland. A thousand family annoyances, poverty & old debt, have reduced my means to a very low ebb indeed. For the last six months, I have had six people besides myself to support, & the strain has been a severe one.”



Buchanan visits Thomas Love Peacock. He also visits G.H. Lewes and George Eliot. Lewes suggests he writes a memoir of David Gray.



‘Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand, Part I’ published in Temple Bar.

Buchanan’s story satirizes the Pre-Raphaelites.


‘Lady Letitia’s Lilliput Hand, Part II’ published in Temple Bar.


17 May

The Rathboys; or Erin’s Fair Daughter, written by Buchanan and Gibbon, is produced at the Standard Theatre London.



The poem, ‘Baby Grace’ is published in The St. James's Magazine. It is reviewed favourably in several newspapers - The Standard declares that “If Mr. Buchanan had never written anything else ‘Baby Grace’ would stamp him as a poet of no common order.” The poem is also reprinted in various provincial papers.



‘Society’s Looking-glass’ published in Temple Bar.

Not mentioned by either Cassidy or Murray but an early essay of Buchanan’s giving his views on the state of the arts in Britain.


In December, Buchanan’s Undertones is published by E. Moxon.






‘The Story of David Gray’ published in the Cornhill Magazine.


8 October

Buchanan’s second play, and his first solo dramatic effort, The Witchfinder opens at the Sadlers’ Wells Theatre, London.


16 November

Writes to Browning and Tennyson, asking them to contribute to the proposed Memorials of David Gray, which Buchanan later abandons.






Idyls and Legends of Inverburn published by Alexander Strahan.


2 May

Letter to Browning soliciting his opinion of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn. The address on the letter indicates that Buchanan has now moved to Bexhill-on-Sea.


30 June

G. H. Lewes, editor of The Fortnightly Review, writes a 16 page review of Idyls and Legends of Inverburn in which he declares:
“Robert Buchanan seems to me a man of genius.”


Late 1865

Buchanan is contracted by J. B. Payne to edit an edition of Keats for Moxon.


30 December

Swinburne writes to J. B. Payne concerning his own edition of Byron which he has been contracted to supply for Moxon:
“... I hope the book will do credit to editor & publisher, otherwise I must say I shall regret having allowed my name to figure in a series which counts among its “poets” Messrs. Tupper and Locker, among its editors Messrs. Lucas & Buchanan. It is only the recollection that Palgrave with Wordsworth came after Locker which would make me willingly consent to come after Tupper with Byron. But I hope you will contrive to eject the black sheep by and by.”






Payne cancels the contract with Buchanan and offers the Keats book to Swinburne.

First mentioned in George Storey’s essay, ‘Robert Buchanan’s Critical Principles’ and repeated in the Cassidy book and the Murray essay. Although this is the earliest indication of a possible grievance between Buchanan and Swinburne, its real significance lies in the letters of Swinburne and William Michael Rossetti which Storey quotes, revealing their antagonism to Buchanan at this point - the reasons for which are unknown.

“In the first of the letters Swinburne expresses contempt for an edition of Keats which Buchanan had prepared for the series of Moxon’s Miniature Poets. Early in 1866 Swinburne had just completed his Byron for the same series, and in writing to William Rossetti to ask his advice about the sum he should demand for his work he said: “An illustrious Scotch person of the name of Buchanan 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 . . . 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.” In reply, Rossetti remarked, “I confess a peculiar abhorrence of  Buchanan, and satisfaction that his Caledonian faeces are not to bedaub the corpse of Keats.”

D. G. Rossetti’s response in a letter to Swinburne of 7th 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.”

4 March

Death of Buchanan’s father.



The short story, ‘A Roman Supper’ published in The Argosy.

Poems published by Roberts Brothers of Boston. Buchanan’s first ‘collection’ it includes Undertones and Idyls and Legends of Inverburn, plus two selections from London Poems.

Buchanan begins his association with the Dalziel Brothers.

Not mentioned by Cassidy or Murray, but, if read as a satire of the times, it is significant.


London Poems published by Alexander Strahan.


4 August

Buchanan’s review of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads appears in The Athenaeum.

Buchanan’s review was not the only one hostile to Swinburne. John Morley’s review in The Saturday Review appeared on the same day.

15 September

‘The Session of the Poets’ by ‘Caliban’ published in The Spectator.

I’m not sure when Buchanan’s identity as ‘Caliban’ was discovered by Swinburne and the Rossettis. A letter from D. G. Rossetti to Frederick Startridge Ellis of 19th December, 1871 contains the following:
‘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.’


Swinburne publishes Notes on Poems and Reviews, which includes the following reference to Buchanan:

“We have idyls good and bad, ugly and pretty; idyls of the farm and the mill; idyls of the dining-room and the deanery; idyls of the gutter and the gibbet. If the Muse of the minute will not feast with “gig-men” and their wives, she must mourn with costermongers and their trulls.”


1 October

The review of London Poems in The Westminster Review opens with the following sentence:
‘Mr. Buchanan’s “London Poems” are defaced by one of the most sycophantic prefaces we ever read.’
This led Buchanan to write a letter to The Athenæum which was published on 10th November, 1866 under the title ‘Genus Irritabile’. Which in turn led to an article published in The Saturday Review of 17th November, under the title ‘The Woes of Poetic Genius’.



W. M. Rossetti publishes his defence of Swinburne, Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads: A Criticism, which opens with:

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


3 November

Swinburne’s Notes on Poems and Reviews reviewed in The Athenæum.

According to a letter to W. M. Rossetti of 12th November, Swinburne believed Buchanan to be the author of the review. Both Cassidy and Murray accept the attribution. However The Athenæum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 assigns the authorship to Dr. John Doran.

19 November

Buchanan writes to William Hepworth Dixon enclosing a reply to the article in The Saturday Review, for inclusion in The Athenæum.


26 November

Buchanan writes to William Hepworth Dixon:
You were quite right, & I suspect I should not have written the letter; however, it carried off a bit of phlegm & there’s no harm done. Please send me back the letter. — Have you seen W. M. Rossetti’s awful book?”

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

Murray interprets this as Buchanan taking Browning’s supposed advice not to respond to W. M. Rossetti’s gibe, but I suspect he was unaware of the Dixon letter, which makes it clear that Browning is responding to Buchanan’s proposed retaliation to the article in The Saturday Review.


‘Mr. Swinburne, his Crimes and his Critics’ published in The Eclectic Review.

Two volumes of poetry, illustrated by the Brothers Dalziel are published by George Routledge & Sons, aimed at the Christmas market. Wayside Posies: original poems of the country life (edited by Buchanan), and Ballad Stories of the Affections: from the Scandinavian.

Mentioned by Murray in his M.A. thesis as possibly by Buchanan, but there is no verification.




27 April

Frederick Startridge Ellis, a publisher and bookseller, to whom Buchanan owed money, writes to Buchanan telling him he has “placed the matter in the hands of my solicitors”.

A letter to the Dalziel Brothers dated Friday 29th, (no month or year) indicates that Buchanan was in financial difficulties and it is probable that it was written on 29th March 1867.

Andrew M. Stauffer’s essay, ‘Another Cause for the “Fleshly School” Controversy: Buchanan Versus Ellis,’ published in the Journal of Pre–Raphaelite Studies (Vol. 11 (2002): 63–67) suggests that Buchanan’s debt problems with Ellis (which were not settled until 1869) could be related to the ‘Fleshly School’ affair, since Ellis was the publisher of D. G. Rossetti’s Poems.

22 May

Buchanan writes to the Dalziel Brothers asking them to pay the bill from Ellis’s lawyer.

According to a letter to the Dalziel Brothers of 16th April, 1866 Buchanan was paid £150 for editing Wayside Posies. Presumably he was paid a similar amount for Ballad Stories of the Affections and, according to Jay, he received £400 for North Coast.


North Coast, and other Poems published by George Routledge & Sons, an illustrated edition engraved by the Brothers Dalziel.

Swinburne’s essay, ‘Matthew Arnold’s New Poems’, published in The Fortnightly Review. It contains the following passage:
‘The poets that are made by nature are not many; and whatever “vision” an aspirant may possess, he has not the “faculty divine” if he cannot use his vision to any poetic purpose. There is no cant more pernicious to such as these, more wearisome to all other men, than that which asserts the reverse. It is a drug which weakens the feeble and intoxicates the drunken; which makes those swagger who have not learnt to walk, and teach who have not been taught to learn. Such talk as this of Wordsworth’s is the poison of poor souls like David Gray’s.’



Buchanan would later claim Swinburne’s slur on the memory of David Gray as the ‘fons et origo’ of the Fleshly School affair, although he confuses it with the new footnote which accompanied the essay when it was reprinted in Swinburne’s Essays and Studies in 1875.

5 October

‘Mr. Swinburne as Critic’ published in The Spectator.

Murray believes this to have been written by Buchanan in response to Swinburne’s essay on Matthew Arnold. Considering the prominence given to Swinburne’s mention of David Gray, I tend to agree with Murray.

11 October

Swinburne writes to W. M. Rossetti:
“Henry Kingsley has just been here ... 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 advertsied in a thing called the ‘Broadway’—  this! ‘Walt Whitman: by Robert Buchanan:’ the word ‘polecat’ reminded me.”



Buchanan’s article on Walt Whitman is published in The Broadway.






David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on poetry published by Sampson Low, Son, and Marston.

Reviews of David Gray and other Essays, are, on the whole, dismissive of Buchanan’s essays, apart from the one about David Gray. Buchanan responds to the review in The Spectator (8th February) with two letters.

The review in The Pall Mall Gazette (21st February) was (accordng to Murray) “the severest attack on Buchanan as poet and essayist that he had yet suffered.”

W. M. Rossetti’s edition of Poems by Walt Whitman published. Rossetti acknowledges Buchanan’s “eulogistic review” in The Broadway in a footnote to his Prefatory Notice.

In his introduction (dated 1st December, 1867 with the address, ‘Sligachan, Isle of Skye’) Buchanan writes of the poetry of David Gray:
“The exquisite music was too low and tender to attract crowds, or to entice coteries delighted with the scream of the whipper-snapper.”
And in his essay, ‘On My Own Tentatives’ he writes:
“A gifted young contemporary, who seems fond of throwing stones in my direction, fiercely upbraids me for writing “Idyls of the gallows and the gutter,” and singing songs of “costermongers and their trulls.”

Murray believes the Pall Mall Gazette review was wriiten by “someone close to Swinburne and his intimates’.


Buchanan’s The Poetical Works of H. W. Longfellow, published by E. Moxon & Co.

An indication, perhaps, that the cancellation of Buchanan’s edition of Keats in 1866 had not affected his relations with the publisher.


Buchanan’s edition of The Poetical Works of H. W.  Longfellow, published by E. Moxon & Co.



The Life and Adventures of J. J. Audubon. Edited, from materials supplied by his widow, by Robert Buchanan. Published by Sampson Low & Co.

Buchanan visits Lord Houghton (Richard Monkton Milnes) at Fryston Hall in Yorkshire. Milnes lends him £100.

An indication, perhaps, that the cancellation of Buchanan’s edition of Keats in 1866 had not affected his relations with the publisher. Buchanan’s Preface includes the following:
of all contemporary poets, with, perhaps, the exception of Mr. Morris, Longfellow is the best teller of stories.”

The Audubon family object to some of Buchanan’s comments about Audubon and the following year the book is replaced by a revised edition with a new introduction by Jas. Grant Wilson.

Another indication of the state of Buchanan’s finances. The letter (and the loan) is mentioned in the following footnote on page 133 of Volume 2 of James Pope- Hennessy’s biography of Monckton Milnes:

“In this context an unpublished letter from Robert Buchanan to Lord Houghton, written after a visit to Fryston in November 1868, during which he had borrowed one hundred pounds from his host, is relevant. ‘I far too thoroughly disagree with you in matters of taste to feel with you on literary questions or to be influenced by your dictum,’ wrote Buchanan; ‘I think it has been a dictum for evil in Swinburne’s case. You will not misconceive me! I regard you with admiration and even affection, and shall be grieved if you felt hurt by my words; but I cannot in honesty conceal my feeling that many of your views would be fatal were they not counteracted in your case by a heart so infinitely more noble than themselves. . . Regret nothing that you did for David Gray! God will remember that.’”

20 November

Writes to Robert Browning from 23, Bernard Street, Russell Square, asking “may I give you a call between this & Wednesday next? I am only in London for a very short time, & it may be long ere I have another chance of seeing you.”

At some point in 1867 or 1868 Buchanan moved his family (now comprising his wife, her sister, Harriett Jay, his mother, and possibly his grandmother) to Gourock in Scotland. As to the actual date, Jay offers little help. Chapter XII of her biography is titled, ‘Return To Scotland, 1866’, and contains the following:
‘After his father’s death he found himself unable to settle down comfortably in Bexhill, so as soon as his book [London Poems] was fairly launched, and its success assured, he set his face northward, and after pausing here and there in his flight he finally went to Oban, and settled down in what was afterwards known as “The White House on the Hill.”’
A letter to Benjamin Webster Jr. is dated 28th June, 1867 and the address is Bexhill. In December 1868 Buchanan writes two letters to Browning from Gourock and there is a letter to Roden Noel from 3rd June 1869  with a Gourock address.
This letter also mentions Oban and Buchanan going to see his “Cottage”:
“I have written to the Owner, insisting on several alterations before I settle.”
This would suggest that Buchanan did not move to Soroba Cottage until the summer of 1869.

24 November

Visits Browning.


10 December

Robert Buchanan gives his first Public Reading in the hall of the Watt Institute, Greenock.

According to Jay, Buchanan tried Public Readings in imitation of Dickens, in order to raise money.




5 January

Buchanan’s second Public Reading at the Watt Institute, Greenock.


20 January

Writes to Browning from 43 Great Coram St., Russell Square:
“I had hoped to see you before the Reading but am suffering from a severe cold & cant get out. Please dont fail to be there! —And wherever you can, speak a word for the affair, as it is of the highest importance to have a good first attendance.”


21 January

According to a letter from Charles Shea (solicitor) to Frederick Ellis, a writ is issued and given to “Nathan the officer of the Sherif of Middlx for service on the Poet.”


Andrew M. Stauffer’s essay, ‘Another Cause for the “Fleshly School” Controversy: Buchanan Versus Ellis,’ published in the Journal of Pre–Raphaelite Studies (Vol. 11 (2002): 63–67) adds some interesting background details to Buchanan’s first Public Reading in London.

22 January

A letter from Charles Shea (solicitor) to Frederick Ellis states: “The ‘arrangement’ with ‘his creditors’ is doubtless only a dodge to allow the B to appear on Monday safely.”
It seems that not only had Buchanan not cleared his debts with Frederick Ellis before going to Scotland, he also had other creditors in London, who were using his widely advertised appearance at the Hanover-Square Rooms, to collect.


25 January

Buchanan gives a Public Reading at the Hanover Square Rooms, London.


26 January

Following the Public Reading, Charles Shea writes to Frederick Ellis:
“He was not to be found at the address from which he dated his letter to you [23 Newman Street], & he managed so well at the Reading that altho’ a very experienced Writ-server was after him he managed to get into the Hanover Square Rooms & out again without detection, with some sort of disguise the server believes.

Swinburne writes to Buchanan regretting that his invitation arrived too late to be used.


2 February

Buchanan writes to Browning from 23 Bernard St., Russell Square:
“Your letter was a delight to me! I was in awful terror lest you might have been shocked & displeased at seeing our “gentle craft” exhibited on the boards. If I pleased you, I dont care a sous for the rest of Europe! But the fact is, I’ve been very unlucky—nothing really illnatured has been said—& some of the reviews are first-rate. So that I hope to make the Readings pay ere long,—“paying” being the one object of importance in this matter.
I shall hope to call upon you some day soon. Meantime, I am busy making preliminaries for other Readings.”


4 February

Shea writes to Ellis that he had “signed a final judgment” against Buchanan, and that “we shall in 8 days time be in a position to capture the Poet at the very first opportunity.”


15 February

Shea informs Elllis that “The “Poet” has been compelled to pay something at last.” According to Shea’s figures, Buchanan had to pay 13/15/6, of which Ellis received 12/4/0.


22 February

Buchanan writes to Browning from 23 Bernard St., Russell Sq.:
“Is it too much to ask you to come to my second Reading on the 3rd? It was too kind of you to pay for yr: Tickets, but I wish you’d let me send you them this time.”


3 March

Second Public Reading at the Hanover Square Rooms, London.

This was also the only known occasion when Buchanan met Swinburne, who had been invited to the second Reading.

This was Buchanan’s final Public Reading.

The meeting between Buchanan and Swinburne is verified by the following piece in Appletons’ Journal (21 August, 1875):
‘Mr. Swinburne is one of the most nervous men—he is very slightly built, and not more than five feet two in height—you could possibly imagine. I shall never forget seeing him at the poetic readings given by the poet Buchanan, some years ago, in the Hanover-Square Rooms. There, in a corner, his intellectual face now wearing a scowl, now a beatific expression, as he was pleased or displeased with his brother poet’s elocution, did he sit twirling his fingers and thumbs in a ludicrously- excited way. Ere long he became the observed of every one. “Who is that?” whispered a mercantile friend to me, nodding toward him. “That,” replied I, wishing to surprise the man of figures, “is one of our greatest poets, Mr. Swinburne.” “Indeed!” was the reply. “Well, I’ve always heard that poets were a rum lot; now I’ve no doubt about it!”’

24 March

Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan visit Browning.


22 May

Buchanan writes to Browning asking for a loan of £20. He mentions two plays he expects to be paid for, and also says that he needs to “send off the cash to my people in Scotland at   once.”

Jay gives ill-health as the reason for Buchanan abandoning his Public Readings, and also implies he returned to Oban shortly after the second one in  London. However, it would appear that although the family returned to Scotland, he remained in London trying to find work in the theatre.

26 May

Buchanan writes to Browning:
“I grieve to say that my managers wont pay up for a fortnight; and I write this to ask whether you will be personally inconvenienced by waiting that time for the £20 you so generously lent me.”
He goes on to say:
“Unless under dreadful pressure I should never have asked your help; but your kind friendship came just in time—without it, I should have been in a sickening difficulty—my poor women folk miserable & ashamed.This damnable want of pence is the saddest saltest thing I know: it spoils everything—thought, hope, fellowship. My life is a fiery struggle to get money at set periods to meet claims. Cui bono?”


3 June

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel from Gourock, thanking him for a loan. This letter also mentions Buchanan going to see his cottage in Oban.
He also mentions his wife being seriously ill “with internal inflammation. On Sunday she was in real danger. She is now better and the Doctor hopes for a slow but permanent cure—for the assurance of which she is ordered to keep her bed for  weeks.”

In Chapter XV of her biography, Jay writes the following about Buchanan in Oban:
By this time he was settled comfortably at Oban, and was living the life of a regulation country gentleman. His tastes were expensive, and he gratified them. He had his shooting and his fishing, while his yacht was riding at anchor in Oban Bay.”
     She goes on to imply that he was living beyond his means and then offers a more general explanation of his attitude to finances throughout his life.
     But this image of Buchanan the country gentleman with his private yacht does get repeated in accounts of the Fleshly School affair and, I feel, may give an erroneous impression.
     Since the correspondence and diaries of the main players on the ‘other side’ of the Fleshly School affair have survived and have been examined in detail, Buchanan’s part has largely been reduced to accounts of his published attacks, both real and imagined. But, while everything seems to be happening in London (plus ça change) Buchanan is in self-imposed exile in Scotland. Gourock is far enough, but only 30 miles from Glasgow. Oban is almost a hundred miles further north of Glasgow and, although it is a busy little port, the countryside around it is still very wild and desolate. Fine for a poet wishing to sail his yacht and commune with nature during the summer months and write a great epic about man’s relationship to God, but a different matter when that poet is living in a small cottage on a hill overlooking Oban and facing a Scottish winter as the sole provider for three (possibly four) dependent women.
     I don’t offer this in mitigation for Buchanan’s attack on D. G. Rossetti, I just feel a note is necessary to explain the reality of Buchanan’s position at this time.

21 July

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel, complaining of being ‘headsore’.


16 October

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel, from Oban:
Better a bit, thank God, tho’ still far from well.”


20 October

D. G. Rossetti receives the manuscript of the poems which had been retrieved from his wife’s grave.


13 November

From The Athenæum:
     “Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, is so unwell with cerebral symptoms that literary labour has had to be entirely suspended, and is not likely to be soon resumed. He has been more or less unfit for active work for some years past,—a grievous misfortune to a professional man of letters.


22 December

Browning writes to Lord Carnarvon recommending Buchanan for a civil pension. He writes a second letter on 31st December. Browning receives a reply from Gladstone dated 2nd January 1870.





29 January

The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited by William Michael Rossetti is reviewed in The Athenæum.

William Michael Rossetti firmly believed that the uncomplimentary review of his edition of Shelley had been written by Robert Buchanan, although The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 ascribes it to Thomas Watson Jackson. However, Buchanan does refer to the book in his ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ article in October 1871:
“This work was inscribed to his brother, Mr. William Rossetti, who, having written much both in poetry and criticism, will perhaps be known to bibliographers as the editor of the worst edition of Shelley which has yet seen the light.”
     Whether or not Buchanan wrote the original review - both Cassidy and Murray accept that he did, though it is doubtful given the state of his health at the time - the fact that W. M. Rossetti believed he did, added to the animosity felt towards Buchanan by the ‘Rossetti camp’.

3 February

D. G. Rossetti writes to John Skelton:
“I am going to publish some poems, as you have, I think, heard from McLennan, and have been meaning to write to you thereanent. ... 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. ... 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.”

D. G. Rossetti’s decision to plant favourable reviews of his Poems, written by his friends, in various journals, could be seen as the real ‘fons et origo’ of the Fleshly School affair. It should be mentioned that Rossetti was also fearing an attack from Sir Charles Dilke, proprietor of The Athenæum, as well as from Buchanan.

10 February

In a letter to Swinburne, D. G. Rossetti includes the following:
     “What words, by the bye, can characterize the hideous & bestial attack on William’s Shelley in the Athenæum? It really surprises me, even from that fœtid quarter of the editorial anus.”


14 February

Another letter from D. G. Rossetti to Swinburne, includes the following:
     “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?”

D. G. Rossetti also wrote to his publisher, Frederick Startridge Ellis on the same date:
“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.”


23 February

D. G. Rossetti writes to Swinburne:
     “I rejoice to find I am really to have your invaluable support at starting, and don’t 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 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.”


24 February

Swinburne replies to D. G. Rossetti:
     “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.”


12 April

Buchanan awarded a Civil List Pension of £100 per year. “In consideration of his literary merits as a poet.”


16 April

Joseph Knight writes to F. S. Ellis:
“I have spoken to the Editor of the Standard, and he promises a long review. ... I write to the Telegraph to-day. They however will scarcely give a long notice unless it reaches them soon. I shall be glad to know of any change as I have another review to write for The Graphic. Not easy to write three, is it?”


17 April

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. S. Ellis:
     “I believe you have heard from Knight, & so have I today. ...
Another friend – Dr. Hake – has got leave to do it in the New Monthly.”


26 April

Poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti published.


29 April

Buchanan write to Browning from Oban:
“Long reflection makes me regret nothing in the Pension matter; & the money is a boon indeed. On first getting your letter of explanation I was somewhat disappointed,—having faintly hoped the kind helper was one of us, a singer, a brother-artist; but that wore off. All feels peaceful and pleasant.”



The Book of Orm: a prelude to the epic published by Alexander Strahan.

First reviews of D. G. Rossetti’s Poems appear in various magazines.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that Buchanan’s first epic poem about religion, which he’d struggled to complete during his period of ill-health, should be published at the same time as D. G. Rossetti’s Poems. The critical reception for The Book of Orm was mixed, ranging from high praise for certain poems within the work, to a cautious curiosity, to a dismissal of Buchanan’s attempts to create something significant. On the other hand, Rossetti’s Poems received the highest praise in all the notable journals, which was unsurprising since he had taken great pains to plant these reviews by his friends. In a few instances the two works were reviewed in the same issue of magazines, with Buchanan coming off worse. It should be said that the response to The Book of Orm would probably have been the same whenever it was published, but, appearing at the same time as the avalanche of praise for Rossetti, it must have added to Buchanan’s resentment.

3 May

D. G. Rossetti writes to 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.”

Swinburne’s review of D. G. Rossetti’s Poems in The Fortnightly Review was, of the early, ‘planted’, reviews, the most extravagant in its praise.

14 May

D. G. Rossetti writes to Ellis:
     “I fancy my 2nd Edition ought to come out as soon as possible; ...
     “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.”

Rossetti refers to reviews of his Poems which appeared in The Saturday Review and The Academy, the latter written by William Morris.


D. G. Rossetti’s Poems reviewed (anonymously) in The Contemporary Review. It concludes:
Of course, all this is only the result of a first impression; but still, Mr. Rossetti does not, as we have said, satisfy us, even when he is at his best. What is it that is wanting?”

This short review of D. G. Rossetti’s Poems has been attributed to Buchanan in some quarters. The problem with this, is that it then conflicts with Buchanan’s statement that he did not read Rossetti’s Poems until the summer of 1871. However, since the review is short and only quotes from ‘The Blessed Damozel’, which had been published before, it could be suggested that Buchanan may have written it before actually reading the  book. On the other hand, it might just be best to take it as an indication of the mixed reception that the book would have received if Rossetti hadn’t planted his good reviews.


D. G. Rossetti’s Poems reviewed (anonymously - the author was Mrs. Oliphant) in Blackwood’s Magazine:
“The poems of Mr. Dante Rossetti have already called forth an amount of remark totally out of proportion to their intrinsic importance.”

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. J. Shields:
“The book has prospered quite beyond any expectations of mine, though just lately signs of depreciation have been apparent in the press (Blackwood to wit). I am only surprised that nothing of a decided kind in the way of opposition should have appeared before. However, I have also been surprised (and pleasantly) to find such things producing a much more transient and momentary impression of unpleasantness than I should have expected,— indeed I might say none at all.”



D. G. Rossetti’s Poems reviewed (anonymously) in the North American Review.

John A. Cassidy cites this review as the template for Buchanan’s ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ and assigns it to James Russell Lowell. Christopher Murray believes Cassidy is mistaken and the reviewer is J. R. Dennett.

30 November

Buchanan writes (from Oban) to Browning asking if he can dedicate his new book, Napoleon Fallen: a lyrical drama, to him.


7 December

Now in London, Buchanan writes again to Browning:
     ‘Just had your letter forwarded from Oban, & was not astonished at its tenor, for I knew something of your old faith & wondered at it, and should never have thought of inscribing to you a “glorification” over the Fallen. No; there is in my poem no attempt whatever to sentimentalize, but I think the general effect is to awaken sympathy with the subject. Shall I, who have been howled at for finding brothers & sisters among Whores & Thieves, hurl epithets as some have done at a Tyrant  overthrown? I cannot describe with what loathing & horror I have read such verses as those called “Intercession”, by that conscienceless & miserable inanity, little Swinburne:—verses which brooded, with a feminine fiendishness, over the prospect of physical suffering & torture to the subject. Dont think that I will ever develope the aesthetic instinct at the expense of conscience & feeling. I would rather die. Truth first; afterwards, if possible, Beauty.
     In a word, I feel convinced that you could accept the dedication of “Napoleon” with perfect security & satisfaction. I am not an imperialist, I am in principle a republican; but I am above all one whose religion inculcates charity – to those above & those below me.
     “Charity!” I hear you echo, referring to the epithets “miserable” & “conscienceless” as applied to Swinburne. The fact is, charity is
always right, and it is our own fault & disgrace if we are not always charitable. It requires however a superhuman effort to be thoroughly charitable where the personal antagonism is so intense,—but that effort should be made.’

According to further letters to Browning, Buchanan spends most of December and all of January in London.

12 December

Buchanan writes to Browning cancelling the dedication of Napoleon Fallen following Browning’s objections.






Napoleon Fallen: a lyrical drama published by Alexander Strahan.

Songs Before Sunrise by Algernon Charles Swinburne is published.


17 January

D. G. Rossetti writes to Joseph Knight:
     “I was glad to see that Swinburne fared more creditably than Morris last Saturday. The one on Morris was surely Buchanan’s doing, wasn’t it?”

This mention of Buchanan is the first item in ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry: Chronology 1871-72’, which is Appendix 8 of The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti Vol. 5 edited by William E. Fredeman. Fredeman links it to a review of William Morris’ Earthly Paradise in the January, 1871 edition of The Edinburgh Review, which was written by G. W. Cox.

26 January

Buchanan writes to Browning asking if he can call on him tomorrow before he returns to Scotland: “My wife is out of  Town, but I will take the liberty of bringing her younger sister with me instead.”



The Land of Lorne: including the cruise of the ‘Tern’ to the Outer Hebrides published by Chapman and Hall.






Buchanan’s essay, ‘George Heath, The Moorland Poet’ is published in Good Words.


Buchanan had suggested writing a guidebook about Scotland in a letter to the Dalziel Brothers on 23rd June, 1866. They did not take him up on his offer, but The Land of Lorne (although smaller in scope) can be seen as the result of that earlier idea. Buchanan took the trouble to get Royal approval for the book, dedicating it to Princess Louise, who was shortly to be married to John, Marquess of Lorne, son of the Duke of Argyll. Unfortunately Buchanan included a 32 page prologue in the book which criticised the Princess’ future father-in- law and it was this prologue, rather than the rest of the book, which was reviewed in the Press.

George Heath, a ‘ peasant poet’ from his home county of Staffordshire, suffered a similar fate to that of David Gray and Buchanan links the two in his essay. Murray writes the following about this essay:

“Buchanan’s entire case against the Fleshly School is to be found in parvo in “George Heath, The Moorland Poet,” and shows the frame of mind in which he read Poems a few months later. In the opening paragraphs Buchanan makes his first known public response to the reception of Poems and thus supports W. B. Scott’s contention that Rossetti’s “working the oracle” may have brought on just what he sought to avoid. Reminded by Heath’s career of “the old story,” he continues,

At the present moment it comes peculiarly in season: for England happens to be infested at present by a school of poetic thought which threatens frightfully to corrupt, demoralise, and render effeminate the rising generation; a plague from Italy and France; a school æsthetic without vitality, and beautiful without health; a school of falsettoes innumerable—false love, false picture, false patriotism, false religion, false life, false death, all lurking palpable or disguised in the poisoned chalice of a false style. Just when the latter Della Cruscan school is blooming out in the full hectic flush of mutual admiration which is the due preliminary to sudden death, just when verse-writers who never lived are bitterly regretting that it is necessary to die, and thinking the best preparation is to grimace at God and violate the dead, it may do us good to read the old story over again ... (pp. 170-1).

Swinburne saw the piece and refers to it in Under the Microscope (Hyder p. 75). And later in the essay Buchanan picked up Swinburne’s covert challenge of the previous year and sought to demonstrate Gray’s “supreme poetic workmanship,” to which passage this footnote is added:

     Mr. Algernon Charles Swinburne, author of “Atalanta in Calydon,” went some years ago far out of his way to call David Gray a “dumb poet”—meaning by that a person with great poetical feeling, but no adequate powers of expression. So many excellent critics have resented both this impertinence and the unfeeling language in which it was expressed, that Mr. Swinburne is doubtless ashamed enough of his words by this time; but would it not have been as well if, before vilifying a dead man, he had first read his works, which, if they possess any characteristic whatever, are noticeable for crystalline perfection of poetic form, unparalleled felicity of epithet (witness the one word “sov’reign” as applied to the cry of the cuckoo), and emotion always expressed in simple music? When Mr. Swinburne and the school he follows are consigned to the limbo of affettuosos, David Gray’s dying sonnets will be part of the literature of humanity. (p. 175n).”


Napoleon Fallen is reviewed in the April edition of The Westminster Review.



‘The Teuton before Paris’ published in The Saint Pauls Magazine.

Cassidy draws attention to this dismissive review, which was preceded by one praising Swinburne’s Songs Before Sunrise. Cassidy does not mention that the review of Buchanan is then followed by laudatory reviews of works by Arthur O’Shaughnessy and William Morris.

Subtitled, ‘From a Forthcoming Work’, this is an extract from ‘The Teuton against Paris’ section of The Drama of Kings.

2 April

The date of the 1871 census. The Buchanan household at ‘Sorobaw Cottage’ now consists of Robert Buchanan (29, ‘Author in Poetry & Belles Letters’), Mary Buchanan (26, wife), Margaret Buchanan (54. mother, widow), Anne Williams (77, grandmother, widow), Harriett Jay (17, sister-in-law) and one general domestic servant, Jane Inglis.



The Dedication and the Proem of The Drama of Kings are both dated May, 1871.

Our Living Poets by Harry Buxton Forman published.


I mention this since Buchanan is not included in the book, which is a collection of essays on ‘living poets’ which had been previously published, mainly in Tinsleys’ Magazine and the London Quarterly Review. The poets included in the volume were: Alfred Tennyson, Menella Bute Smedley, Jean Ingelow, Robert Browning, William W. Story, Augusta Webster, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Gabriela Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, Thomas Woolner, William Bell Scott, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris, Richard Henry Horne, Henry Taylor, George Eliot, John Payne and Arthur W. E. O’Shaughnessy. Whether Buchanan was aware of the book, or had been waiting for his name to appear in the series of articles in the magazines, I have no idea. However, it is an indication of his fading reputation as a poet, who, only six years before had been declared a genius by G. H. Lewes.


Buchanan opens Chapter 5 of his ‘Fleshly School’ pamphlet with the following:
“I had written thus far of Mr. Rossetti’s poems, just after reading them for the first time when cruising among the Western Isles of Scotland in the summer of 1871”.
Exactly when during the summer of 1871 is unknown, but there is an undated fragment of a letter to Roden Noel which includes the following:

     “I have just been reading Rossetti & Morris this for the first time. Rossetti is justly described by the North American Review as “a poetical man”; he has the instrumental without the shaping capacity; and his nature seems very poor & thin. Morris, I fancy, mistakes his vocation entirely when he writes in verse; his shallow stories & false style will not bear the poetical test; best if he had told the same tales in prose, something in the manner of his “Grettir”, he would have produced a book that would have lived. A more barren week I never spent than when reading these men.”

The confusion over when Buchanan actually read Rossetti’s Poems is mainly caused by Harriett Jay opening Chapter 16 of her biography with:

“It was in the summer of 1870, when he was still living at Oban, that Mr. Buchanan read the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti”.

Although the Roden Noel fragment can only be dated to after October, 1870 (the date of the edition of the North American Review which carried the Rossetti review) it does open with the following:

“in August. The climate would just suit you & the scenery delight you both. I could get you a little place very cheap, & you could run down from London at a trifling expense. Think of it!—What do you propose doing for the winter? Would you go south to Capri or Rome?”

This is open to speculation - that mention of August may be connected to some other matter, or it may be part of Buchanan’s invitation to visit. If the latter then it would make sense that the letter was written in the summer of 1871.

However, the importance of this fragment is more that it reveals Buchanan’s initial response to the poetry of Rossetti (and Morris), which seems devoid of anger or outrage.


Mr. John Morley’s Essays’ published in the Contemporary Review.


7 June

Buchanan writes to Tennyson asking for a loan of £200. He blames ill-health and poor sales of his books for the “difficulty which threatens to drown me altogether.” It appears that Buchanan’s arrangement with Strahan for Napoleon Fallen and The Drama of Kings involved no advance payment and was solely dependent on sales.

Buchanan’s letters to Tennyson are not mentioned by either Cassidy or Murray, so I assume they had no knowledge of them. This letter gives a clear indication of Buchanan’s financial position in the summer of 1871. Although such comparisons are not entirely accurate, £200 would be the equivalent of around £23000 today. Or, to give another example: when Buchanan was enjoying the height of his theatrical success and moved, in 1889, to 25 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead (next door to Herbert Asquith M.P.), his annual rent was £195.

20 June

Buchanan writes to Tennyson thanking him for the £200 loan.


1 August

Buchanan writes to Roden Noel:
     “I do not plead guilty to any wanton desire to make enemies. If you will examine my motives for any personal attack, you will find they are invariably moral & in a sense sacred. I have never yet attacked any man on merely literary grounds. ...
     In your bustle & fever of seeing many people, & the eagerness of your very keen ambition, I can hardly expect you to be quite fair either to the work or the literary motives of a reserved man like myself—misunderstood & in reality  unpopular. I could not live in the constant discussion of mere literary subjects, and I warn you against such discussion ...”

As well as giving his opinion of Ruskin (“a foolish gibbering person”), Buchanan also mentions in this letter an imminent visit from Alexander Strahan.

13 August

D. G. Rossetti writes to William Bell Scott:
     “It appears from something I see written by Knight that there has been a very obtuse review of Swinburne in the Edinburgh – done I suppose by the same puny Scotch hand which scribbled about Morris lately.”

This is linked to Rossetti’s letter to Joseph Knight of 17th January in the first item in ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry: Chronology 1871-72’ in Appendix 8 of The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti Vol. 5 edited by William E. Fredeman, as a possible reference to Buchanan. The article on Swinburne in the July, 1871 edition of The Edinburgh Review was written by T. S. Baynes.


In his libel action against The Examiner in 1876, Buchanan gave the following evidence:

In September, 1871, I wrote an article upon the “Fleshly School,” and sent it from Oban, in Scotland, to the Contemporary Review. I believe that there was no name appended to it; I gave directions that it should be published anonymously. It appeared with the name of “Thomas Maitland” appended to it. Mr. Strahan wrote that the editor objected to the article appearing anonymously, and I telegraphed to him to suppress it.”



‘The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti’ published in the Contemporary Review, under the pseudonym ‘Thomas Maitland’.


2 October

D. G. Rossetti writes to William Bell Scott:
“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.”


7 October

A review of the month’s magazines in The Examiner links Buchanan’s name to ‘Thomas Maitland’, perhaps coincidentally:
‘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.’


8 October

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. S. Ellis:
     “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.”


15 October

Sidney Colvin inserts paragraph in The Academy denouncing ‘Maitland’ for using “the obsolete vituperative style in criticism.”

According to W. M. Rossetti’s diary, D.G. Rossetti is dissatisfied with its brevity.

17 October

D. G. Rossetti writes to his brother:
     “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.’”


18 October

W. M. Rossetti replies to his brother:
     “Buchanan had never occurred to me, but on your mentioning him it seemed to me exceedingly probable. I have now read the article 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 Athenaeum. 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 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.”

D.G. Rossetti writes to Joseph Knight saying he will ignore attack on the advice of friends but seeks confirmation of an accurate identification of “Maitland”.

The incident of Buchanan sending a doctor to see if he could help Swinburne is mentioned by Murray, who includes a quote from W. M. Rossetti’s diary:
‘...Buchanan persuaded John Chapman to call on William Michael with a view “to see whether he could not treat Swinburne [currently suffering from some disorder, probably delirium tremens] according to his spinal ice-bag system—which it seems has proved very beneficial in Buchanan’s own case”.’

21 October

D.G. Rossetti reads a few sentences to his brother from his proposed letter castigating Buchanan; W. M. Rossetti advises him “to print nothing”.


22 October

W. M. Rossetti writes to Swinburne:
     “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.”


23 October

Swinburne writes to W. M. Rossetti:
     “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 of the Contemporary Review told him that Buchanan was the writer of the article in question.”

James Knowles was the editor of The Contemporary Review. Buchanan also blamed him (in a letter to Tennyson) for revealing the identity of Thomas Maitland.

27 October

Swinburne writes to W. M. Rossetti: saying Solomon now denies that Buchanan was “in this instance the scavenger of his own coprolitic matter”, and also to announce the genesis of what was to become Under the Microscope.


29 October

W. M. Rossetti writes to Swinburne:
     “I have just written to Gabriel to tell him that it appears Buchanan is not the author of that article. Meantime Gabriel had 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.”



The Drama of Kings published by Alexander Strahan.


6 November

D. G. Rossetti and Swinburne disagree about “Maitland’s” identity. Rossetti states that F. S. Ellis learned that it was Buchanan from Frederick Locker and sends Swinburne the first paragraphs of his proposed response.


11 November

Swinburne writes to Locker seeking confirmation of Buchanan as author.


13 November

Swinburne sends D. G. Rossetti written confirmation from Locker and urges him to proceed with his reply to Buchanan.


15 November

D. G. Rossetti writes to Swinburne that he will write to Locker and Solomon himself for direct confirmation; if he gets it he will proceed with his reply. “I know I cannot keep my hands off him any longer.”


16 November

Buchanan writes to Tennyson (from 4, Bernard Street, Russell Square) asking his opinion of The Drama of Kings. He also writes:
“I fear this book wont put much into my pockets, as it has few elements of popularity; but I am labouring in other ways, and do not forget my obligations.”
The ‘other ways’ presumably refer to
Saint Abe and His Seven Wives and the ‘obligations’ to the £200 loan.

As in the previous year, Buchanan seems to have spent the winter of 1871 in London.

19 November

Tennyson writes to Buchanan inviting him to visit him at his London lodgings.


20 November

According to W. M. Rossetti’s diary, confirmation that Buchanan was ‘Maitland’ had been received from both Locker and Solomon by this date.


22 November

Buchanan visits Tennyson at 16 Albert Mansions, Victoria St., London.


24 November

D. G. Rossetti sends F. S. Ellis ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism” complete with title-page to be typeset and demands to see a proof at once.


28 November

Buchanan writes to Tennyson asking for another loan of £100.
“The ‘Drama of Kings’ will not give me a penny—it will yield me no cup but critical abuse—but that I should not mind, if I did not need money so much; for even regarding the drama as a failure in every sense, I know well a dozen such failures would not keep me from rising to the summit of modern thought in time. But, strictly in confidence, let me say that I have other work of a more successful kind slowly making its way, and that what that work has already done for me makes it next to certain that I shall have plenty of money in a month or little more. Indeed, I have every hope of being able in in Janry to pay the debt I owe you; and then visiting you in the Isle of Wight. For I cannot summon up heart to be your guest till I have returned you what you so generously lent me.
     You will guess, perhaps from your own reminiscences, that I have no means of getting money apart from work. Moreover, I have no wealthy friends, no connections, no anything.”

The “other work of a more successful kind” is Saint Abe and His Seven Wives, which Buchanan published anonymously, hence the “strictly in confidence”.

Buchanan then launches into an attack on James Knowles, a close friend of Tennyson’s and, at the time, the editor of The Contemporary Review. Knowles had rejected an article which Buchanan had written on the subject of Goethe (for which he was expecting to receive 70 guineas). He then goes on to say:
“Mr Knowles has done me more injustice than this. He has broken confidence as to my authorship of the article on Rossetti, & led to the inference that I wilfully took a false name. Strahan can tell you that he (Strahan) coined & affixed the name to the article, without my knowledge, when I was far from the spot. It was a weak & badly written article, I admit, but I flinch from none of its opinions.”

There is a record in Tennyson’s account books of the first loan of £200 (although no mention of its being repaid). There is no record of a second loan of £100, so one presumes that he turned Buchanan down.

29 November

W. M. Rossetti writes in his diary:
“Gabriel has seen a letter written by Knowles, Editor of the Contemporary Review, saying point-blank that the article on Gabriel is by Buchanan: so this matter is finally set at rest. The letter raises some objections to the article and favours the idea of a counter-article to be inserted in the Contemporary; a bungling and sneaking sort of compromise.”
Knowles had written this letter to Sidney Colvin. D. G. Rossetti tries to involve Colvin, Franz Hueffer and Joseph Knight in his support.


2 December

From The Athenæum:
“Mr. Sidney Colvin is, we believe, preparing to answer, in the pages of the Contemporary Review, an article which lately appeared in that magazine, entitled ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ by Thomas Maitland, a nom de plume assumed by Mr. Robert Buchanan.”


4 December

Buchanan writes to Professor Blackie asking him to review The Drama of Kings:
     “Why dont you review the Drama somewhere, savagely or kindly?—Even the “Dark Blue” wd: like to hear your fulminations on such a theme. I find no one knows a grain abt Deutsch & Prussian, or German history, or History generally—that, in fact, the literati (!) are steeped in ignorance from the throat upwards—and for one fine fellow who sees the Soul of my book, half a dozen donkeys kick savagely at its Body. But you have not only eyes, but you have the subject at your finger ends: so why dont you help the public to understand the opus a little bit?”


6 December

Buchanan writes to Browning asking for another loan:
     “Do forgive me!—but can you without inconvenience repeat the loan you once made me. Several schemes have gone wrong & I am in a fix—not that your loan would clear me, but I am absolutely at a stand for spare cash.
     Along with what seems dispiriting, I've better news to communicate. In the first place, I can repay you with certainty on Janry 1st. In the next, I shall after that date be in a very different position, as I have accepted a definite appointment of no arduous kind. In the third, altho’ the Drama of Kings is not lucrative, other work—which I dare not name—is likely to be so.
     So bad & good come together. Up to 1st Janry I shall be in a mess, pressed on all hands for heavy sums, worried to death; but after that, there’s a pleasant prospect.”

The ‘definite appointment’ is probably connected to The Saint Pauls Magazine, which was published by Strahan & Co. Throughout 1872 Buchanan wrote a number of essays and poems for the magazine under a variety of aliases.

The ‘lucrative, other work—which I dare not name’ is Saint Abe and His Seven Wives.

8 December

Saint Abe and His Seven Wives published (anonymously) by Strahan & Co. (London) and George Routledge & Sons (New York).

Jay states that the animosity towards Buchanan over the Fleshly School controversy was the reason Saint Abe and His Seven Wives was published anonymously:
“So cruel indeed and so relentless was this persecution of him, that when, in the year 1872, he published his poem “St. Abe and His Seven Wives,” he found it expedient not only to issue the book anonymously, but to take every precaution to prevent the name of the author from becoming known.”

However, in the Bibliographical Note to the 1896 edition of the book, Buchanan states:
St. Abe and his Seven Wives was written in 1870, at a time when all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with sharpshooters on the look-out for “the d——d Scotchman” who had dared to denounce Logrolling. It was published anonymously, and simultaneously The Drama of Kings appeared with the author’s name. The Drama was torn to shreds in every newspaper; the Satire, because no one suspected who had written it, was at once hailed as a masterpiece.”

9 December

Sidney Colvin writes a letter to The Athenæum denying he is preparing to answer ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’:
“With reference to an announcement made a little incautiously in your last,—and I venture to think it scarcely worth making had it been exact,—allow me to state that it is not the case that I am “preparing an answer” to the strictures on a certain school of poetry, signed “Thomas Maitland,” in the Contemporary Review for last October. So far as I can judge, there was nothing instructive about those strictures, except their   authorship.”


16 December

‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’, D. G. Rossetti’s response to ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’ is published in The Athenæum. This is a toned-down and abridged version of his original pamphlet.

The article is followed immediately by two letters responding to the item of 2nd December, one from Alexander Strahan denying Buchanan was the author of ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’, and the other from Buchanan, admitting it. Buchanan writes:
“I certainly wrote the article on ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry,’ but I had nothing to do with the signature. Mr. Strahan, publisher of the Contemporary Review, can corroborate me thus far, as he is best aware of the inadvertence which led to the suppression of my own name.
     Permit me to say further that, although I should have preferred not to resuscitate so slight a thing, I have now requested Mr. Strahan to republish the criticism, with many additions but no material alterations, and with my name in the title-page. The grave responsibility of not agreeing with Mr. Rossetti's friends as to the merits of his poetry, will thus be transferred, with all fitting publicity, to my shoulders.”

According to the diary of W. M. Rossetti, his brother now intended to “issue the whole of his pamphlet as it originally stood ... with any slight addition which Buchanan’s re-issue may demand.”


17 December

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. S. Ellis asking for a legal opinion on his pamphlet.


19 December

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. S. Ellis telling him about Buchanan’s authorship of ‘The Session of the Poets’ and asking him to send a note (enclosed with the letter) to The Athenæum pointing out that Buchanan had used “his little misleading ruse of self-allusion while covertly attacking another poet” before.


23 December

A letter from Alexander Strahan, attempting to explain his earlier denial that Buchanan was Maitland, appears in The Pall Mall Gazette and (on 25th December) the Glasgow Herald.

Buchanan writes a letter to The Athenæum.

The Athenæum publishes a review of “Two New American Poems” - The Divine Tragedy by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Saint Abe and His Seven Wives. The review of the latter begins:
     “Partly from the subject, but chiefly from its treatment, the tale of Salt Lake City has a freshness and an originality altogether wanting in ‘The Divine Tragedy.’”




According to The Athenaeum Index of Reviews and Reviewers: 1830-1870 the writer of the review was Thomas Purnell, who was a friend of Algernon Charles Swinburne.

30 December

Buchanan’s letter in response to ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’ is printed in The Athenæum:
     “Suffer me to contradict your editorial statement that I had, in the article on the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry,’ “praised my own poetry.” The only allusion to that poetry (rendered necessary by Mr. Rossetti’s apparent plagiarism) was the reverse of complimentary. It is in vain, perhaps, to protest against the comments of such a judge as you, but for every one who reads your journal a dozen will read my reprinted criticism, and will be able to see you in your true colours. Mean time, suffer me to direct your attention to Mr. Alexander Strahan’s letter, published in the Pall Mall Gazette of this day. His vindication of the nom de plume seems to me complete. Nevertheless, so far as I am concerned, no vindication is necessary; for as I have suggested once before, the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland” was affixed to my article when I was far out of reach—cruising on the shores of the Western Hebrides. For the rest, it is absurd to attribute mean motives when honest ones would do quite as well to explain the case. I have written under pseudonyms repeatedly, and so have some of the ablest of my contemporaries. In the present case, I am in no way responsible, but I should certainly not have hesitated to affix “Thomas Maitland” to the article if I had thought it worth my while. I was merely recording the experience, almost novel to the public in this instance, of a person who had not the honour of Mr. Rossetti’s personal acquaintance. I am sorry that this gentleman’s friends, who have done so much for him in other ways, did not dissuade him from publishing so inconsequent a letter.”


31 December

D. G. Rossetti writes to F. S. Ellis:
“I long ago said how unwise I thought it to be for ever reprinting the two notices by Morris and Swinburne, and I am still sure of this”. He also tells Ellis to advertise the sixth edition of Poems as “’just ready’ to show we have advanced so far into the bowels of Robert-Thomas”.

On legal advice from Green and Tindall, Ellis informs Rossetti that a jury would not find for him in an action brought against Buchanan’s article, and might find for Buchanan should Rossetti publish his pamphlet, since that would be a “personal matter”..


A ‘Fleshly School of Poetry’ Timeline - continued








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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