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{ Robert Buchanan: Some Account Of His Life, His Life’s Work And His Literary Friendships }



FIRST BOOKS, 1863–66


     MEANWHILE the young poet who was working very steadily, was taking Mr. Lewes’s advice “not to publish too hastily.” But much as he valued the opinion of his friends he longed to challenge public opinion, and as a result his first volume of poems was given to the world. The volume, which was entitled “Undertones,” was published by Moxon and Co., towards the close of the year 1863, and the reception of it was cordial enough to satisfy even the wildest dreams of its author, for not only had he justified Mr. Lewes’s faith in him, but he had secured for himself, at one bound, the much- coveted title of “Poet.” His second volume of verse, “Idyls and Legends of Inverburn,” was published in May, 1865, and the reception given to this book was even more encouraging than that which was accorded to his first venture. “The reputation which the earlier poems of Mr. Buchanan have acquired for him among all lovers of poetry cannot fail,” said the Sunday Times, “to be greatly enhanced by this latest production of his ripening muse. It is by no means a constant rule that the promise contained in the early poems of an author is fulfilled in his later career. Youth is as completely associated 117 with poetry as Spring with blossoms, but with most men the leaves of poetry are soon shed, and the bloom, after its first short day of beauty, disappears and is seen no more. The publication of a first volume of poems implies therefore little, the appearance of a second volume, on the contrary implies much. It means that poetry is not the mere delight of youthful days, but the chosen and acknowledged profession of a life, that the author claims frankly to be received into that noble confraternity of bards from whose lips we have received our most noble teaching, and at whose hands we obtain all that refines and makes pleasant our life. On the present volume, then, if what we have stated be true, Mr. Buchanan rests his claim to be considered as a poet, and that claim few will be found to deny him. The voice of poetry seldom spoke more plainly or more loud than it does in the ‘Idyls and Legends of Inverburn,’ and those whom the exquisite fancy and rich sensuous grace of ‘Undertones’ had prepared for much, will find, we think, in this volume their most sanguine anticipations outgone.” The second volume was published by Alexander Strahan, who at the same time took over the volume of “Undertones” from Moxon and Co. With this business transaction began a friendship between Mr. Buchanan and his publisher which only terminated with the poet’s death. On hearing of this Mr. Strahan wrote: “It is with a pang of regret that I hear of the terrible blow which has fallen upon you and upon your wide circle of friends, to say nothing of the world at large, who are indebted to Robert Buchanan for many priceless works which will touch their hearts to noble issues for many a day to come. He certainly did not live in vain, although had he been spared to live a 118 little longer, he would undoubtedly have enriched the world still more than he has done. Peace be with him. His good qualities, and they were not few, were always appreciated and admired by me, and the world will not be the same to me now that this brave, unselfish man has gone from us—that the throbs of his wildly beating heart have ceased for ever.
     “I suppose it is the case that all true passion makes us dumb—the deepest grief as well as the highest happiness seizes us too violently to be expressed by our words. At all events I am made to feel, in presence of this calamity, that silence is the perfectest expression of sorrow, for I should be but little grieved if I could say how much.”
     Just before the publication of “Idyls and Legends of Inverburn” the state of my sister’s health became such as to make it quite clear that a permanent residence in London was not to be thought of, so the young couple removed to the (then) little village of Bexhill, and settled down for a time in a quaint gabled house built of red brick and surrounded with wonderful stretches of garden ground and orchard. The cottage was owned by a retired cobbler of Socialistic leanings, who attended to the garden, while his wife acted as general servant. After a time their domestic circle was enlarged by the appearance upon the scene of the late Mr. Gentles and Mr. Walter Maclaren, who has since become so well and widely known as a painter of Italian scenes. Another and a deeper friendship also dates from this time, for it was in the summer of 1865 that the subject of these memoirs made the acquaintance of the Hon. Roden Noel, for whom, all his life, he entertained feelings of deep affection. At the time of which I write Mr. Noel was staying at Hastings with his father, the late 119 Earl of Gainsborough, and he walked over one fine day and sent in his card while the Bohemians were at dinner. In those days Robert Buchanan was Radical to the finger-tips, and the prefix “honourable” on the young patrician’s card awoke a strong prejudice within him, but no sooner had he come face to face with his visitor, and shaken his hand, and looked into his eyes, than he was spellbound with the thrill of love which began that day between them and lasted till the day Mr. Noel died.
     “It is a far cry to that time now (wrote Mr. Buchanan in 1884), to the time when we swam together in the tumbling waters of the Channel, wandered in the Sussex lanes and talked of the old poets and the old gods. I got one of my first lessons in toleration when I first met and talked with the aged Earl of Gainsborough, simple, child-like, a Christian, and with that beautiful soul his Countess, a peerless woman and a loving mother. From this good and gracious stock came Roden Noel, fortunate in an inheritance of sane and gentle blood. His early youth had been spent at his father’s seat in Rutlandshire, and at the Irish seat of his maternal grandfather, the Earl of Roden. At twenty he went to Cambridge with a view of studying for the Church, but religious scruples intervened and he never took orders. Soon after taking his degree he spent two long years in the East, visiting Egypt and the Holy Land, Lebanon, Greece, and Turkey, and gathering in the course of many romantic adventures the materials for some of his finest poetry. His marriage took place during this pilgrimage, and was a little romance in itself. Struck down with fever at Beyrout, he was nursed back to life by Madame de Broë, wife of the director of the Ottoman Bank, and he married her 120 eldest daughter Alice shortly after his recovery. That marriage, I think, was the crown of a fortunate life! It has kept this poet calm and happy at a time when most of us are troubled and storm-tossed, and it has given to him the consecration of a pure domestic love. While others have been fighting with windmills and struggling for bread, peace and rest have dwelt with the young wayfarer from Hellas; and if he has known, as all must know, the acute agonies of human sorrow, if his hearth has been darkened by the wings of the destroying Angel, the issue has still been holy, thanks to the faith that comes to us through Love alone. Often as his thoughts may wander back to Hellas, while the pagan stirs within his blood and he hears from afar the voices of the Dryad and the Naiad, the Satyr and Sylvanus, he has learnt by his own fire the one great modern lesson—that the god of Humanity has conquered and subdued to his own likeness all the gods of the world that lies beneath his feet.” 1
     It was in the year 1894 that this dear friend was stricken down in death, when on his way to Stuttgart, and on hearing of the sad calamity the poet made the following entry in his diary:—
     “If I survive beyond this lingering cloud of Time, those whom I have loved will survive with me, and not least of these is the beloved friend who was taken from me yesterday. He has been writing verses and publishing them for nearly half a century, yet few readers even know his name. A noble-hearted man, he has dwelt upon the skirts of life and literature, independent of all necessity to work for bread, and yet eager and willing to take his part in the great 121 strife of modern thought. If any writer of verse possessed the deep poetic heart, it was certainly Roden Noel.”
     The first visit paid by Mr. Noel to the good old cobbler’s cottage was only the prelude to many others, for the friendship, begun so auspiciously, throve apace.
     “Even as I saw him approaching many years ago, my heart went out to meet him in the full certainty that he could speak to me of the hidden things of Hellas, of the vanished Wonderland where gods were born. This he surely did, so that for me, as for Sainte-Beuve, Ganymede, Pan, and the Water-Nymph lived again. . . . I do not know, I have not cared to inquire to what extent and in what measure Roden Noel accepts the popular religion (to my thinking a poet’s opinions are of little consequence so long as they do not imply belief in baseness), but it is from popular religion that he derives his second great quality as a poet, that of moral exaltation. No singer of our time is so eager to perceive, so quick to apprehend the problem of Evil; in poem after poem he shows himself alive, not merely to personal sorrow, but to the pain of Humanity at large; yet no singer of our time of equal gifts is so stirred to exalted utterance by a spiritual message. Let it be noted that the poet’s religious mood is as childlike and primitive, as direct and simple, as his former mood of pagan sensuousness. Nowhere in our language is personal sorrow more supremely expressed than in the noble series of poems called with touching tenderness, ‘A Little Child’s Monument.’ This is a book for all loving souls, above all for the bereaven, and I am glad to know that its popularity with the great public has been in proportion to its merits as poetry. It is 122 not only with his own suffering as an individual, however, that the poet has to deal. His personal sorrow is merely a key to the great heart of humanity. Just as surely as he felt the joy and sunlight of the pagan world, does he feel the storm and stress of the post-Christian. The same vivid keenness of perception, of insight, is brought to bear here as there. Everywhere in the poem, ‘Poor People’s Christmas,’ there is the same haunting sense of the details of misery and the eyes of the Christ look out upon us from the printed page.
     “‘The poor are Mine, that I may heal,’ says the voice from the Cross. Roden Noel’s so-called spiritual poems have, moreover, one great merit to distinguish them from the latter-day poetry of Christian apology; they are seldom or never rectangular and argumentative. The poet approaches the truth in the frank, free spirit of the lost paganism, eager to see all, to learn all, and to suffer and sympathise with all, and he finds his answer to the problem of Evil in his own heart-beats by becoming (according to the precept) even as a little child. . . . Fortunately for himself all the shafts of modern doubt have failed to penetrate the white armour of his fully reasoned faith. He has passed his forty days in the wilderness of moral despair only to return secure in insight and certain of his mission, which is to offer the good things of Hope to all men. He is, in other words, the poet of Christian Thought. Surely a strange sight is here; the young pagan fresh from the woodlands of Pan, and from the dark, shadow mountains of modern speculation, flinging himself down on his knees at the foot of the Cross!
     “If we miss this fact in Roden Noel’s poetry we shall miss its whole power and purpose. He is a 123 Christian thinker, a Christian singer or nothing. Not that I conceive for one moment that he accepts the whole impedimenta of Christian orthodoxy, he is far too much of a pagan ever to arrive at that. But he believes, as so many of us have sought in vain to believe, in the absolute logic of the Christian message: that logic which is to me a miracle of clear reasoning raised on false premises, and which to others is false premises and false reasoning all through. To me the historical Christ, the Christ of popular teaching, is a Phantom, the Christ-God a very Spectre of the Brocken, cast by the miserable pigmy Man on the cloudland surrounding and environing him. I conceive only the ideal Christ as an Elder Brother who lived and suffered and died as I have done and must do; and while I love him in so far as he is human and my fellow-creature, I shrink from him in so far as he claims to be Divine. With Roden Noel, as with so many other favoured souls, it is different. Where we can find little comfort and no solution he finds both. He embraces in full affluence of sympathy and love that ghostly godhead, and credits him with all the mercy, all the knowledge, all the love and power which we believe to be the common birthright of Humanity, the accumulation of spiritual ideals from century after century. But where I and those who think with me are at one with Roden Noel is in the absolute moral certainty that, in the estimate of the Supreme Intelligence, what we believe counts for nothing, in so far as it merely represents what we know. The atheist and the Christian, the believer and the unbeliever meet on the same platform of a common beneficence. Faith in Love is all-sufficient without faith in any supernatural or godlike form of Love. There is nothing nebulous, however, about 124 Roden Noel’s religious belief. It is clear, direct, and logically reasoned out. He is, moreover, in the highest sense of the word a spiritualist, as all true poets must be. The pessimism of Schopenhauer and Leopardi is as far away from his sympathy as the gross materialism of Holbach and Zola. Even disease transmutes itself under his tender gaze into images of loveliness and hope. At the present epoch of our progress thinkers of this kind are sadly wanted. The history of our poetry for the last twenty years has been a melancholy record of mere artificiality and verbalism; and in spite of the splendid flashes of power shown by one or two of our prosperous poets, there has been little or no effort to touch the quick of human life. True, the miasmic cloud of Realism which is darkening and destroying all literature by robbing it of sunshine and fresh air, has not yet reached our poetry, the majority of those who write in verse being neither realists nor idealists, only triflers who imagine verse to be a schoolboy’s exercise or an idle man’s amusement. If Poetry is ever to resume again its old prophetic function, and to regain any influence over the lives and thoughts of men, it will be through the help of such writers as Roden Noel.” 2
     Such was the man who, stepping into the place left vacant by the death of David Gray, became the most intimate and lifelong friend of Robert Buchanan.

1 Preface to the Poems of the Hon. Roden Noel (Canterbury Edition).
2 Preface to the Poems of the Hon. Roden Noel (Canterbury Edition).





     THE first sojourn at Bexhill was followed by a brief visit to France where, in the little village of Etretat, in Normandy, the poet familiarised himself with the scenes which were afterwards so graphically described in his romance, the “Shadow of the Sword.” Returning to Bexhill in the spring of 1866, with the completed MS. of a new volume of poems ready for the press, he was met by the news of the dangerous illness of his father. Mr. Buchanan, who never really recovered from the blow which fell upon him in Scotland, had been stricken down in London, and there he was speedily joined by his son. My sister, who was always more or less an invalid, was at that time suffering from rheumatism in such an acute form that she had to be carried from room to room. She was therefore unable to accompany her husband on his visit to the sick-bed of his father, so at her earnest solicitation he was removed with all speed to Bexhill, where he received every possible attention. After his death his widow took up her residence with her son, with whom she spent the remaining years of her life.
     In times of supreme sorrow the poet turned for consolation to the only thing which ever interested 126 him—his beloved poetry. While mourning his dear comrade, David Gray, he wrote one of the most beautiful poems in the English language, “To David in Heaven”—and in this, his second great sorrow, he conceived and commenced to write the poem, which was afterwards published under the title of “The Wandering Jew.” It was not until some thirty years later that this poem was given to the world, and then the poet in some beautiful lines dedicated it to his father, who had been its inspiration.
     Meanwhile the MS. which he had brought back with him from France had been sent to the printers. The book, under the title of “London Poems,” was issued by Mr. Strahan, and its reception was such as to secure for its author a permanent place in the very foremost rank of English poets.
     In the year 1896, in taking a general survey of Mr. Buchanan’s poetry, Mr. William Canton said: “It was in ‘London Poems’ that Mr. Buchanan touched most acutely the quick of life; and I do not think it rash to say that never since has any one touched the same quick with such telling effect. Who that has read ‘Liz’ can have forgotten the poor slum-child’s first venture from London into the green fields—the high green hill and the unclouded sun, and the smokeless blue, the trees and the soft winds and the singing birds, and who has surpassed in verse the poignant misery of ‘Jane Lewson’?”
     In the dedication to Mr. Hepworth Dixon, with which the book opens, Mr. Buchanan says: “‘London Poems’ are the last of what I may term my ‘poems of probation,’ wherein I have fairly hinted what I am trying to assimilate in life and thought. However much my method may be confounded with the methods of other writers, I am sure to get quartered 127 (to my cost perhaps) on my own merits by and by.”
     In connection with this book the author told a story which it may here be interesting to recall.
     “When the Fortnightly Review was started, under the editorship of George Henry Lewes, I was among its first contributors, and published in it one of the longest of my ‘London Poems’—the story of the flower-girl ‘Liz.’
Afterwards, when my poems of London life appeared in a volume, I sent an early copy to my friend and critic, who replied to the gift in a letter expressing disappointment. He did not like the book, and frankly said so—a serious blow to me, despite the praise of the journals and the work’s phenomenal popularity. A few weeks afterwards, however, came a letter of cordial recantation. ‘I have been in the country’ (Lewes wrote) ‘and have read your poems amongst different surroundings, in a fresh spirit and in solitude. I cannot now convey to you my full impression concerning them, but it is enough for the present to say that they moved and delighted me.’ Another illustration of the truth that a good critic may form very contradictory impressions of the same work according to the spirit in which he reads and the nature of his environment.”
     Again in writing of this book, Mr. Buchanan said:—
     “In ‘London Poems’ I was a great deal juster to the rude forces of my life, my sympathy was bolder and more confident, my soul clearer and more trustworthy as a medium, however poor might be my power of perfect artistic spiritualisation. As common life was approached more closely, as the danger of vulgarity threatened more and more to interfere with 128 the readers’ sense of beauty, the stronger and tenderer was the lyrical note needed. In writing such poems as ‘Liz’ and ‘Nell’ the intensest dramatic care was necessary to escape vulgarity on the one hand and false refinement on the other. ‘Liz,’ although the offspring of the very lowest social deposit, possesses great natural intelligence, and speaks more than once with a refinement consequent on strange purity of thought. Moreover, she has been under spiritual influences. She is a beautiful, living soul, just conscious of the unfitness of the atmosphere she is breathing, but, above all, she is a large-hearted woman, with wonderful capacity for loving. She is, on the whole, quite an exceptional study, although in many of her moods typical of her class. ‘Nell’ is not so exceptional, and since it is harder to create types than eccentricities, her utterance was far more difficult to spiritualise into music. She is a woman quite without refined instincts, coarse, uncultured, impulsive. Her love, though profound, is insufficient to escape mere commonplace, and it was necessary to breathe around her the fascination of a tragic subject, the lurid light of an ever- deepening terror. In the language of both these poems I followed Nature as closely as possible, so far as poetic speech can follow ordinary speech. I had to add nothing, but to deduct whatever hid instead of expressing the natural meaning of the speakers; for to obtrude slips of grammar, misspelling, and other meaningless blotches—in short, to lay undue emphasis on the mere language employed—would have been wilfully to destroy the artistic verisimilitude of such poems. Every stronger stress, every more noticeable trick of style, added after the speech, was sufficient to hint the quality of the speaker, was so much over truth 129 offending against the truth’s harmony. The object was, while clearly conveying the cast of the speakers, to afford an artistic insight into their souls, and to blend them with the great universal mysteries of Life and Death. Vulgarity obtruded is not truth spiritualised and made clear, but truth still hooded and masked and little likely to reveal anything to the vision of its contemplators. By at least one critic I have been charged with idealising the speech a little too much. Both ‘Liz’ and ‘Nell,’ it is averred, occasionally speak in a strain very uncommon in their class. In reply to this I may observe how much mispronunciations, vulgarisms, and the like, have blinded educated people to the wonderful force and picturesqueness of the language of the lower classes. They know nothing of the educated luxury of using language in order to conceal thought, but speak because they have something to say, and try to explain themselves as forcibly as possible.”
     While his new volume of poems was delighting the world the poet himself was strangely sick and sad at heart. After his father’s death he found himself unable to settle down comfortably in Bexhill, so as soon as his book 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.” Here is his own description of it in the “Land of Lorne.”
     “In a kind of dovecot, perched on a hill far from human habitation, the Wanderer dwelt and watched, while the gloomy gillie came and went, and the dogs howled from the rain-drenched kennel. The weasel bred at the very door in some obscure corner of a drain, and the young weasels used to come fearlessly 130 out on Sunday morning and play in the rain. Two hundred yards above the house was a mountain tarn, on the shores of which a desolate couple of teal were trying hard to hatch a brood; and all around the miserable grouse and grayhens were sitting like stones, drenched on their eggs, hoping against hope. In the far distance, over a dreary sweep of marshes and pools, lay the little town of Oban, looking, when the mists cleared away a little, like the woodcuts of the City of Destruction in popular editions of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Now and then, too, the figure of a certain genial Edinburgh Professor,1 with long white hair and flowing plaid, might be seen toiling upward to Doubting Castle, exactly like Christian on his pilgrimage, but carrying instead of a bundle on his back, the whole of Homer’s hexameters in his brain. Few others had courage to climb so high in weather so inclement, and, wonderful to add, the Professor did not in the least share the newcomer’s melancholy, but roundly vowed in good Doric that there was no sweeter spot in all the world than the ‘bonnie Land of Lorne.’
     “The town of Oban, prettily situated along the skirts of a pleasant bay, and boasting a resident population of some two thousand inhabitants, has been fitly enough designated the ‘Key of the Highlands’; since from its quaint quay, composed from the hulk of an old wreck, the splendid fleet of Highland steamers start for all parts of the western coast and adjacent islands. In summer-time a few visitors occupy the neat villas which ornament the western slopes above the town, and innumerable tourists, ever coming and going to the sharp ringing of the steamboat bell, lend quite a festive appearance to the little main 131 street. As a tourist the Wanderer first made the acquaintance of Oban and its people, and resided among them for some weeks, during which time there was a general conspiracy on the part of everybody to reduce him to bankruptcy: extortionate boatmen, grasping small tradesmen, greedy car-drivers, all regarding him as a lawful victim. He was lonely, and the gentle people took him in; he was helpless, and they did for him; until at last he fled, vowing never to visit the place again. Fate, stronger than human will, interposed, and he became the tenant of the White House on the Hill. He arrived in the fallow season, before the swift boats begin to bring their stock of festive travellers, and found Oban plunged in funereal gloom—the tradesmen melancholy, the boatmen sad and unsuspicious, the hotel waiters depressed and servile instead of brisk and patronising. The grand waiter at the Great Western Hotel, one whom to see was to reverence, whose faintest smile was an honour, and who conferred a lifelong obligation when he condescended to pour out your champagne, still lingered in the south, and the lesser waiters of the lesser hotels lingered afar with the great man. All was sad and weary, and at first all looks were cold. But speedily the Wanderer discovered that the people of Oban regarded him with grateful affection. He was the first man who for no other reason than sheer love of silence and picturesqueness had come to reside among them ‘out of the season.’ In a few weeks, he not only discovered that the extortioners of his former visit were no such harpies after all, but poor devils anxious to get hay while the sun shone; he found that these same extortioners were the merest scum of the town, the veriest froth, underneath which there existed 132 the sediment of the real population, which for many mysterious reasons no mere tourist is ever suffered to behold. He found around him most of the Highland virtues—gentleness, hospitality, spirituality. No hand was stretched out to rob him now. Wherever he went there was a kind word from the men and a courtesy from the women. The poor, pale faces brightened, and he saw the sweet spirit looking forth, with that deep inner hunger which is ever marked on the Celtic physiognomy. Every day deepened his interest and increased his satisfaction. He knew now that he had come to a place where life ran fresh and simple, and to a great extent unpolluted.
     “Not to make the picture too tender, let him add that he soon discovered for himself—what every one else discovers sooner or later—that the majority of the town population was hopelessly lazy. There was no surplus energy anywhere, but there were some individuals who for sheer unhesitating, unblushing, wholesale indolence, were certainly unapproachable on this side of Jamaica. It so happened that the Wanderer wanted a new wing added to the White House, and it was arranged with a ‘contractor,’ one Angus Maclean, that it should be erected at a trifling expense within three weeks. A week passed, during which Angus Maclean occupied himself in abstruse meditation, coming two or three times to the spot dreamily chewing stalks of grass, and measuring imaginary walls with a rule. Then, all of a sudden one morning, a load of stones was deposited at the door, and the workmen arrived, men of all ages and all temperaments, from the clean methodic mason to the wild and hirsute hodsman. In other parts of the world houses are built silently, not so in Lorne; the babble of Gaelic was incessant. The work crept 133 on surely if slowly, relieved by intervals of Gaelic melody and political debate, during which all labour ceased. Angus Maclean came and went, and of course it was sometimes necessary to advise with him as to details; and great was his delight whenever he could beguile the Wanderer into a discussion as to the shape of a window or the size of a door, for the conversation was sure to drift into general topics, such as the Irish Land Question, or the literature of the Highlands, and the labourers would suspend their toil and cluster round to listen while Angus explained his ‘views.’ In a little more than a month the masonry was completed, and the carpenter’s assistance necessary. A week passed and no carpenter came. Summoned to council, Angus Maclean explained that the carpenter would be up ‘the first thing in the morning.’ Two days afterwards he did appear, and it was at once apparent that, compared with him, all the other inhabitants of Oban were models of human energy. With him came a lazy boy, with sleep-dust in his round blobs of eyes. The carpenter’s name was Donald Mactavish—‘a fine man,’ as the contractor explained, ‘tho’ he takes a drap.’ The first day Donald Mactavish smoked half a dozen pipes and sawed a board. The next day he didn’t appear— ‘it was that showery and he was afraid of catching cold’; but the lazy boy came up, and went to sleep in the unfinished wing. The third day Donald appeared at noon, looking very pale and shaky. Thus matters proceeded. Sometimes a fair day’s work was secured, and Donald was so triumphant at his own energy that he disappeared the following morning altogether. Sometimes Donald was unwell, sometimes it was ‘o’er showery.’ Tears and entreaties made no impression on Mactavish, and he took his 134 own time. Then the slater appeared with a somewhat brisker style of workmanship. Finally a moody plasterer strolled that way, and promised to whitewash the walls ‘when he came back frae Mull,’ whither he was going on business. To cut a long story short, the new wing to the White House was complete in three months, whereas the same number of hands might have finished it in a fortnight.
     “Thus far we have given only the dark side of the picture. Turning to the bright side, we herewith record our vow, that whenever we build again we will seek the aid of those same workmen from Lorne. Why, the Wanderer has all his life lived among wise men, or men who deemed themselves wise, among great book-makers, among brilliant minstrels, but for sheer unmitigated enjoyment, give him the talk of those Celts—flaming Radicals every one of them, so radical forsooth as to have about equal belief in Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli. They had their own notions of freedom, political and social. ‘Sell my, vote?’ quoth Angus; ‘to be sure I’d sell my vote!’ and he would thereupon most fiercely expound his convictions, and give as good a reason for not voting at all as the best of those clever gentlemen who laugh at political representation. At heart, too, Angus was a Fenian, though not in the bad and bloodthirsty sense. Donald Mactavish, on the other hand, was of a gentle nature, inclined to acquiesce in all human arrangement, so long as he got his pipe and his glass, and was not hurried about his work. With playful humour he would ‘draw out’ the fiery Angus for the Wanderer’s benefit. Then the two would come suddenly to war about the relative merits of certain obscure Gaelic poets, and would rain quotations at each other until they grew hoarse. They had both 135 the profoundest contempt for English literature and the English language, as compared with their beloved Gaelic. They were both full of old legends and quaint Highland stories. The workmen, too, were in their own way as interesting—fine natural bits of humanity, full of intelligence and quiet affection. Noteworthy among them was old Duncan Campbell, who had in his younger days been piper in a Highland regiment, and who now, advanced in years, worked hard all day as a hodsman, and nightly, clean- washed and shaven, played to himself on the beloved pipes till overpowered with sleep. Duncan was simply delicious. More than once he brought up the pipes and played on the hillsides, while the workmen danced. These pipes were more to him than bread and meat. As he played them his face became glorified. His skill was not great and his tunes had a strange monotony about them, but they gave to his soul a joy passing the glory of battle or the love of women. He was never too weary for them in the evening, though the day’s work had been ever so hard and long. Great was his pride and joy that day when the house was finished, and with pipes playing and ribbons flying, he headed the gleeful workmen as they marched away to the town.
     “From that day forward the White House on the Hill remained silent in the solitude. Though the summer season came, and with it the stream of tourists and visitors, the Wanderer abode undisturbed. Far off he saw the white gleam of the little Town, but he seldom bent his footsteps thither, save when constrained by urgent business. Nevertheless, faces came and went, and bright scenic glimpses rose and passed, while day after day he found his love deepening for the Land of Lorne.”
136     Amid these scenes some of his best work was done. Following his “London Poems” came “Ballad Stories of the Affections” (1866), “North Coast and Other Poems” (1868), “The Book of Orm” (1870), “Napoleon Fallen” (1870), “The Drama of Kings” (1871), and “St. Abe and his Seven Wives” (1872). While in prose he issued “David Gray and other Essays,” “The Land of Lorne,” and “Master Spirits.”

1 Professor Blackie.





     HUNGRY at all times for any form of experience, and driven to various devices in his constant search for health, Mr. Buchanan was for many years what is known as a “sportsman”—in other words, he wandered forth with gun and rod intent, in the usual manner of Englishmen, on “killing something.” He was never wantonly cruel, or a mere pot-hunter, and he disdained the savageries of the battue, preferring rather to seek game under the wildest conditions, at as much personal inconvenience and even peril as possible. There was a time in his life, indeed, when he thought that to lie out for wild duck among the marshes, hidden up to the neck among reeds, was the brightest pleasure in existence.
     He was first persuaded to take a gun into his hand by Mr. William Black, who went down to Bexhill one snowy wintertide and persuaded him to go shooting over the marshes in the direction of Pevensey. I do not think he shot anything on that occasion, but Mr. Black killed one or two fieldfares, over which he was quite jubilant When Mr. Buchanan went to Scotland one of his earliest experiences was 138 wild-goose shooting in the wilds of Uist, of which he gave some account in his Hebridean sketches.
     “I shoot very little, but I have a fancy for having shooting round me—the wilder the better. I never go in for slaughter, even on a small scale. I find if I walk without some excitement I simply get ill, because my mind continues working out of doors; and so in the depths of winter I pursue snipe, grouse, and wild fowl. But I like fishing best, both because my conscience never quite acquits me for shooting at all, and because it is altogether a gentler art. You must know I have to humour my health, just as Bright kept his by salmon fishing.” 1
     Of course, as a sportsman he learned a great deal which he could hardly have learned in any other way. When he first went to Oban he hardly knew the difference between a cuckoo and a sparrow-hawk; indeed, he took the first cuckoo he saw for a small hawk, and was only instructed rightly by its cry. With regard to this same cry of the cuckoo, it has been described in the common English song—

“The cuckoo is a pretty bird,
It sings as it flies;”

he then learned that it did nothing of the kind, so he wrote—

“From rock to rock I saw him fly,
Silent in flight, but loud at rest.”

     It was delightful for him to learn those things, but I have heard him regret again and again that he did not learn them without the shedding of innocent 139 blood. At that time he never realised that what he did was cruel; indeed, he would have resented the charge with indignation. To harm or kill a living thing in cold blood, to pursue sport as some so-called sportsmen pursue it, in the manner of slaying tame or farmyard fowl, was always distasteful to him; but if he had to face the elements and to seek the solitudes and to climb the mountains—if there was difficulty and fatigue and needful skill in pursuing his quarry, he thought himself justified in taking the life of grouse, or wild duck, or any other edible thing. Wantonly he never worked, never killing for the sake of killing, always justifying himself by the fact that what he killed was meant for human food. At the time when he thought sport justifiable he was more or less exercised on religious subjects, for he wrote the “Coruisken Sonnets” and the “Book of Orm,” the motto of which was Milton’s line—

“To vindicate the ways of God to Man.”

At no time in his life was he so tenderly observant of natural objects, so alive to the terrors and beauties of nature, or so pitiful to the sorrows of his fellow-men. Had he not lived in the solitudes and felt their spell to the soul, he could never have written such lines as those descriptive of autumn among the mountains—

“The heather fadeth; on the treeless hills,
O’er rusht with the slow-decaying bracken,
The sheep crawl slow with damp and red-stain’d wool,
Keen cutting winds from the Cold Clime begin
To frost the edges of the cloud—the Sun
Upriseth slow and silvern—many Rainbows
People the desolate air. . . .”   

140 Or these lines descriptive of his own condition—

“The World was wondrous round me—God’s green World—
A World of gleaming waters and green places
And weirdly woven colours in the air.
Yet evermore a trouble did pursue me—
A hunger for the wherefore of my being,
A wonder from what regions I had fallen.
I gladdened in the glad things of the World.
Yet crying always, Wherefore, and Oh, wherefore?
What am I? Wherefore doth the World seem happy?”

And so on and so on, the poem being full of one long wail to the effect that there must be a God, and that that God would certainly not let even the basest of men perish. He arrived at fine imagery and great poetry when he reached his “Vision of the Man Accurst,” which he could not compose without tears, and which has moved many a man and woman to compassion. I have heard him say that the blot on the “Book of Orm” is the fact that, with all its great pity for Humanity, it has not one word on the subject of our duty to the things beneath us. “I have often thought that if Jesus of Nazareth had lived among the civilised savages of the West, instead of in a land where the woes of human beings were paramount, another and a wonderful chapter would have been added to the New Testament, and in addition to the beautiful blessing spoken on little children we should have had such words as: ‘Suffer the dumb beasts and the birds of the air to come to Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ For really and truly that is the lesson which is forced more and more as evolution advances in the soul of every thinking man, that is the teaching imminent in the teaching of my beloved master, Herbert Spencer, when he sees in developing altruism the hope and potency of the 141 human race. For the most beautiful of all the beautiful things in the development of the modern scientific spirit (not the spirit of the vivisection-room or of the Pasteur Institute, but the loving and piteous spirit of advancing knowledge) is the revolt against cruelty in any shape, not merely to our fellow-men, but to all the gentle things that dwell beneath the sun.” 2 I never could understand how it was that he, a man full of loving impulses, ever came to pursue the savage pleasures of the average Britain. That he loved animals will be seen in the following letter to Mr. Canton.
     “I am just now quite heartbroken. I have lost my best friend who loved me faithfully for nine years—a little Dog. He died, after months of pathetic suffering, on Friday last, just as I finished a letter to you; and I have not rested or worked since. He lies close by me now, but I must bury him to-morrow and it tears my heartstrings. He was born just nine years ago, when my father was dying, and in the same house. I don’t know if you ever learned to fathom a dog’s living soul, but if you ever did, you’ll know my grief is not the mere trifle some would think it. I have not cried for nine years, but since Friday my eyes have never been dry. I bury him to-morrow close to the door, in a spot they call the ‘Fairies’ Knoll.’ It will be a miserable day to me. My household Fairy will lie there.” 3
     Now the evolution of supreme pity, which is only another word for justice, is often very slow, and it was slow in his case. I well remember his telling me that as a little boy in Norwood he was taken by a friendly butcher boy to the slaughter-house, and saw with complete equanimity the killing of sheep and 142 oxen. He felt perhaps a little horror, but had no perception that what he saw was cruel. Later on, when a boy at school, he witnessed other brutalities, and not at first did he even sympathise with the sufferings of human beings. Gradually, however, his own sense of justice, conditioned by his mother’s constant teachings of beneficence, awoke in him the enthusiasm of humanity. “I look upon the sporting episode as the crowning wickedness of my life, at any rate nothing that I can remember seems to tell so strongly against my claim to a comparatively decent manhood. There are times when the thing haunts me, and a voice seems to say ‘Die and be forgotten as you deserve!’ for all that time I was praying to God and wondering if my miserable soul was worth saving. I was clinging wildly to the dream of a personal immortality, and arguing that the sufferings of men deserved some eternal recompense. The sufferings of man? What of the sufferings of the gentle things which man, with diabolic and pitiless obtusity, tortures daily and hourly for his wretched pleasure? What of the poor wounded hare, the panting deer surrounded by man-taught hounds, the fox pursued from copse to copse and ‘enjoying’ (as the egregious Trollope put it) the run to his death? Thank God, if I forgot for a time the poet’s birthright of pity, the great poets of mankind had not forgotten it. Poor world-worn, sensual, tippling Burns had tears of compassion even for the field-mouse, ruined and beggared by the plough. It has been argued again and again that Nature herself is cruel, that animals wantonly destroy each other, and that, so far as the wild game is concerned, they must either be reserved as sport and food for men or be abandoned altogether. 143 The preponderance of their experience, moreover, is (it is urged) on the side of enjoyment. Such arguments, to my thinking, are neither here nor there. The whole evolution of altruism is a revolt against nature, beaded by the most supremely pitiful of men, the Nazarene. If it were only for its evil action on the higher nature of man himself quite apart from the question of the suffering so wantonly distributed by man, cruelty in any form would be evil, and would make in the end for Humanity’s deterioration and finally for its destruction.” 4

1 Letter to Mr. William Canton.
2 Letter to Mr. Wylie.
3 Letter to Mr. Canton.
4 Letter to Mr. Wylie.




By Henry S. Salt


     I AM asked to write my impressions of Robert Buchanan as a humanitarian, and I do so the more gladly because I think this aspect of his many-sided genius has generally been overlooked, though to some of his readers it constitutes not the least of his numerous claims to their gratitude and admiration. Whatever else may be said of him, in praise or dispraise, this can never be denied—that a passionate love of humanity lay at the root of his most memorable work, and that his great powers were enlisted on behalf of the weak and suffering, and in defiance of the tyrannous and strong. It will be said, perhaps, that humanitarianism is concerned with the lower animals as well as with mankind, and that Mr. Buchanan, who was at one time an ardent lover of sport, cannot be classed as an out and out humanitarian. I have no wish to lay undue stress on one side of his character, but it will be seen that, in his latter years, his sympathies were so widened as to include not only human beings but all sentient life.
     It was, I believe, through our mutual friend, the Hon. Roden Noel, that I became acquainted with 145 Mr. Buchanan some ten or twelve years ago, and in 1892 and 1893 I had correspondence with him about the inclusion of some of his poems in an anthology of ‘Songs of Freedom’ which I was then editing, and on other literary matters. On March 4,
1893, he wrote to me as follows:—
     “Many thanks for the brochure on Tennyson. It contains, to a great extent, the truth as I feel it, though I could
not, owing to my personal relations with the poet, give it expression. Bunting asked me to write a memorial article on T. for the Contemporary, but I refused, on the score that if I wrote at all I should have to express my honest convictions.
     “What a satire on literature it is, to find the whole world flocking to worship the poets of Good Taste, while a singer like James Thomson dies neglected! We are ringed all round with shams—sham sweetness and light, sham criticism, sham morality, sham Christianity; and the man who tries to break through must assuredly pay the penalty of his foolhardihood. To exist comfortably, one must dance like a tame bear in the middle of Society’s charmed circle, and then the world will cry, ‘How pretty! how self-controlled! how full of beautiful ideas!’—those ‘beautiful ideas’ which are the death of all honest manhood.”
     On August 10, 1894, he became a member of the Humanitarian League, of which I was Hon. Secretary. “I will gladly join your League,” he wrote, “as I sympathise outright with all its objects.” In the same letter he expressed a wish to see Francis Adams’s “Songs of the Army of the Night,” a copy of which I accordingly sent him. On this subject he wrote a few days later as follows:—
     “Many thanks for the poems, which I have just 146 received on returning from a few days’ run into Normandy; also for the pamphlets which have arrived. A glance at the newspaper notice reminds me of the piteous circumstances under which poor Adams died, and which impressed me very sadly at the time.
     “I have only just glanced at the poems, and to be frank, feel rather repelled by some of them, finely human though they are. The indignation seems somewhat overdone, and the sympathy not too healthy. But I reserve all judgment till by and by, when I know the book, as far as my nature will allow me to know it. Of late years (I suppose it is because I am growing old) I am less in accord than I used to be with some forms of democracy, and I look forward with anxiety to a millennium of labour. Certainly the problem of human suffering will have to be solved, but will its solution come from the many-headed god, Demos? I doubt it. Is it not rather the inclination of Demos to suppress individual happiness, and to reduce life to a tyrannical rule of thumb? Is there much difference between a tyranny of one person and the tyranny of an organisation?
     “And why do the labour people adopt the jargon of Christianity? Adams does so habitually. Surely the time has come to show that the mistakes of Christianity were the mistakes of its Founder?”
     In 1894 Mr. Buchanan sent me a copy of his poem “The Devil’s Case,” referred to in the following letter, dated March 31st:—
     “I am specially glad.that you like the form of the ‘Devil’s Case,’ for it was chosen after long thought, and I myself feel that no other form was possible. Not one of the idiots who have described it as easy and careless have perceived that it is subtly assonantic 147 and very difficult to manage. Your suggestion for a ‘Satanic Series’ is distinctly good, and I shall seriously think of it.”
     Readers of the “Devil’s Case” will remember that it contains some magnificent humanitarian passages—

“Cast thy thought along the Ages!
Walk the sepulchres of Nations!
Mourn, with me, the fair things perish’d!
Mark the martyrdoms of men!

Say, can any latter blessing
Cleanse the blood-stain’d Book of Being?
Can a remnant render’d happy
Wipe out centuries of sorrow?

Nay, one broken life outweigheth
Twenty thousand lives made perfect!
Nay, I scorn the God whose pathway
Lieth over broken hearts!

Man, thou say’st, shall yet be happy?
What avails a bliss created
Out of hecatombs of evil,
Out of endless years of pain?

Even now the life he liveth
Builded is of shame and sorrow!
Even now his flesh is fashion’d
Of the creatures that surround him.

From the sward the stench of slaughter
Riseth hourly to his nostrils.
By his will the beast doth anguish,
And the wounded dove doth die.”

     In 1897 Mr. Buchanan, who had been one of the signatories of the memorial against the Royal Buckhounds, was asked to write a preface to a pamphlet entitled “The Truth about the Game Laws,” which Mr. J. Connell was then preparing for the 148 Humanitarian League. On October 10th he wrote to me as follows:—
     “I shall be glad to see proofs of pamphlet, but I have to confess with shame that I was for years an ardent sportsman myself! I don’t know whether ’tis merely sour grapes and advancing years, but I feel very differently now on the subject, and if I write for you should resemble the ‘converted clown.’”
     The same confession was made by him in the preface itself, but this did not hinder him from writing a very strong and trenchant criticism of the sportsman and the game-preserver:—
     “When all is said and done, however, sport, in so far as it embraces the hunting and killing of wild animals, is invariably more or less demoralising—is, in fact, a relapse from civilisation to barbarism. Therein lies its real fascination for men bored with the proprieties and duties of the nineteenth century. The instincts of the primeval man—food-hunting, predatory, self-preserving—re-emerge in the modern; moral sanctions are disregarded, the rights of inferior races are forgotten, and the hunter feels himself, figuratively speaking, naked, savage, bloodthirsty, and unashamed. Sportsmen for this reason are invariably selfish and conservative. A sportsman who is a Radical in politics and a pioneer in social science is an impossibility.
     “It is hopeless, therefore, to expect from sportsmen any sympathy whatever with the agitation against the cruel and iniquitous Game Laws. The agitation began, and it must continue, among the men who shrink from cruelty of any kind, and prefer the amenities of civilisation to the coarse pleasures of barbarism. Now, more than ever, the fight in the higher planes of life is between philanthropy and 149 savagery, culture and brutality, the pleasures of the thinking being and the amusements of the naked man.”
     Nor was it only on the question of sport that Mr. Buchanan had avowed humanitarian sympathies. There is a terrible and most impressive passage in his “City of Dream,” in which he describes the vivisection of a dog in the Temple of Science—

                                   “I look’d no more;
But covering up mine eyes, I shrieked aloud
And rush’d in horror from the accursed place;
But at the door I turn’d, and turning met
The piteous eyeballs fix’d in agony
Beneath a forehead by the knife laid bare!”

     And in a later contribution to the Zoophilist (June 1, 1899) he reaffirms the same judgment on the tortures of the laboratory:—
     “That which has hitherto been deemed most godlike in humanity, that which has brought comfort and hope and moral salvation to countless human beings, is the one thing which the arch-priests of a false science seek to eliminate for ever from the human conscience—the sentiment of Pity, which is only another name for the idea of Justice. If animals have no rights, then men and women have no rights; if men and women have no rights, then the conception of a Divine Providence, of a Law which works invariably for righteousness, is no more than a drunkard’s dream.”
     A few months after the publication of the Game Laws pamphlet the League was permitted to reprint a notable article on the “Law of Infanticide” which Mr. Buchanan had contributed to the Star, with reference to the case of Kate Shoesmith, the “Hetty 150 Sorrel” of the occasion. “No words of mine,” he wrote, “could express the horror and the pity of the whole business; yet the story is as old as our marriage market and is repeated with heartbreaking variations every day. . . . In truth we are still a savage and uncivilised people, able and willing to mow down with artillery such subject races as are not of our way of thinking, but utterly blind and indifferent to the sorrows of the weak and the sufferings of the martyred poor.”
     On November 2, 1898, he wrote to me with reference to his last volume of poems:—
     “I am about to publish my ‘New Rome; Ballads and Poems of our Empire,’ and much of it will appeal, I think, to your circle, though the critics generally will cordially detest it. It is an attack on our civilisation all round, in the name of Humanity. One poem in it, ‘The Song of the Fur Seal,’ was suggested by passages in your journal. 1 I shall really be glad of any sympathy you can show me, for I am certain to get very scant justice in other quarters. I have poured out the belief that is in me, however, and I don’t think it will be altogether wasted.”
     “The New Rome” is indeed inspired by the most passionate humanitarian feeling. Under the title “Songs of Empire” the poet denounces the selfish and aggressive militarism which was then practising on native races the barbarities which have since reached their climax in the war on the South African Republics. His “Song of the Slain” breathes the true democratic spirit, and no more trenchant satire has been written of late years than his “Ballad of 151 Kiplingson” and “The Chartered Companie.” Nor are the poems conceived in a spirit of mere denunciation; for many of them express with consummate tenderness and beauty the new gospel of Humaneness. Here, for example, are some stanzas from “God Evolving,” which might be taken as the hymn of Humanitarianism:—

“Where’er great pity is and piteousness,
     Where’er great Love and Love’s strange sorrow stay,
Where’er men cease to curse, but bend to bless,
     Frail brethren fashion’d like themselves of clay.

Where’er the lamb and lion side by side
     Lie down in peace, where’er on land or sea
Infinite Love and Mercy heavenly-eyed
     Emerge, there stirs the God that is to be!

His light is round the slaughter’d bird and beast
     As round the forehead of Man crucified,—
All things that live, the greatest and the least,
     Await the coming of this Lord and Guide;

And every gentle deed by mortals done,
     Yea, every holy thought and loving breath,
Lighten poor Nature’s travail with this Son
     Who shall be Lord and God of Life and Death!

No God behind us in the empty Vast,
     No God enthroned on yonder heights above,
But God emerging, and evolved at last.
     Out of the inmost heart of human Love!”

     On social questions Buchanan’s outlook was not less humane, and his abiding sense of the close kinship of all sentient life is shown in many of his poems—in none perhaps more nobly than in the magnificent verses that have reference to “fallen women”:—

“How? Thou be saved and one of these be lost?
     The least of these be spent, and thou soar free?
Nay! for these things are thou—these tempest-tost
     Waves of the darkness are but forms of thee.

Shall these be cast away? Then rest thou sure                          152
     No hopes abide for thee if none for these.
Would’st thou be heal’d? Then hast thou these to cure;
     Thine is their shame, their foulness, their disease.”

     Nor were the lower animals excluded from his sympathies, as is testified by the stanzas on “Man of the Red Right Hand,” “Be Pitiful,” “The Song of the Fur Seal,” and many others. It is on this oneness of mankind, and of all sentient life, that Humanitarianism, if it be more than a passing sentiment, must be based, and this is the spirit in which “The New Rome” is written.
     “I had been taught by sharp experience,” says Buchanan in his preface, “that such poems were not wanted by the public.” This sort of admonition, however, was always disregarded by him, and herein, perhaps, is the reason why his great poetical qualities have been so strangely undervalued in dominant literary circles. No thoughtful lover of poetry can be unaware that Mr. Buchanan’s equipment, intellectual and artistic, would have been sufficient to fit out some half-dozen of the popular poets whom Society delights to honour; but his inveterate habit of calling a spade a spade almost condemned him to the rôle of a prophet crying in the wilderness. All the more, then, do humanitarians owe a tribute of gratitude to this most humane and fearless writer, whose poems are a living testimony to the fact that true poetry does not lose, but is greatly a gainer, by association with compassionate feeling. It is right that this side of Robert Buchanan’s genius should receive the appreciation which it deserves.

1 “The Cost of a Sealskin Cloak,” by Joseph Collinson, reprinted from Humanity, as one of the Humanitarian League’s pamphlets.



READINGS, 1868–69


     WHEN he returned to Scotland the shadow against which Bryan Procter first warned him had not yet descended upon him. He was free, for the time being, to write poetry, and to dream that it would procure both bread and a foothold in the world. His “London Poems” had succeeded beyond his expectations. Encouraged by the success of his translations from the Danish, published under the title of “Ballads of the Affections,” and consisting for the most part of renderings from the “Danske Viser,” Messrs. Dalziel had offered him four hundred pounds for his next book of poems, on the condition that they might issue it, as they had issued the “Ballads,” with illustrations. This they did, and the volume, containing some of his best work, was published under the title of “North Coast and other Poems.” I fancy that the work failed for one reason or another to show a profit to the publishers, such original poetry as it contained being quite out of the way of those who buy expensive illustrated books. The poems which it contained, however, were magnificently noticed by the Press.
     By this time he was settled comfortably at Oban, and was living the life of a regulation country 154 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. From time to time as the humour seized him he boarded this little craft and made sundry excursions among the outer Hebrides, gaining in each of these expeditions fresh poetical inspiration such as that which came to him when he stood upon the lonely shores of Loch Coruisk and conceived the series of poems which were afterwards published under the title of “Coruisken Sonnets.” It was from Loch Slighan, Isle of Skye, that he wrote the following letter:—

                                                                                                                                     “August, 1868.

     “DEAR NOEL,—You will think me a beast for my silence, and indeed I reproach myself daily for my neglect of you and other dear friends. I cannot, however, help being a bad correspondent; and moreover each letter is so much taken from my scant literary hours. Were I to write to you as often as I think of you, and as kindly, you would be sick—with sugar.
     We have had a long wander, roughing it a good deal both literally and figuratively, and we have drunk much wonder by eye and ear. The little craft we sail in has behaved bravely and gone through her work like a lady of the old Norwegian school—with a fierce grace. I have thought much and written little, eat little and walked much. I don’t know that I am much the better in health for this cruise—the cuisine has been a little too bad; but I shall enjoy civilisation better when I next enter an eating-house.
     ‘How goes your book? You never told me what Chapman said, or how he said it; and you never sent me that Heroditan romance, of course. My horrid bigotry revolts you. Well! you will think my 155 views larger some day, when I have had my full say. Meantime I am merely mumbling an odd music with little meaning to the foreign. That I do not love all you love, that I do not see all you see, that I do not hope all you hope are misfortunes; but with a little clearer light, some day, we shall find we agree better than we think. I am doubtless silly and fantastical when your Arnolds and your Swinburnes, even your Tennysons, do not anyway move me, any more than my crude stuff moves them. I really do believe it is some vice in myself; yet were you to know me alone, when I have been reading of Sancho’s government, or of the Miltonic epos, or of poor Jack Falstaff’s death—of these and a thousand other beloved things—you would know I could love something, much. It is my vice that I must love a thing wholly, or dislike it wholly. Of contemporaries, I love only a few wholly. You see I have only been half educated, and my tastes are very raw.
     “But one thing let me confess—my total obtusity about Clough. I have not read a line of him since, yet all at once the light has grown on me of its own accord, and I see that Clough was a star—not one in the same heaven with my Chaucer and my Shakespeare, and my Burns and my Cervantes—but a pure scholastic light, real and everlasting.
     “I don’t know what will come next, but I shall try to get to London for a month soon, when I hope to get a little more of your company. I have great bothers of course, and am still troubled; but the clouds clear. I was shipwrecked in the night, but I swam for shore, and am looking out for another ship. Where will you be in October? Write to
                                       “Yours always,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.” 1

156     As will be seen from the above, the cloud was descending, for he was beginning to feel the discomfort caused by a small income and a heavy expenditure. Added to this the writing of poetry, which was always a great strain upon him, was beginning to affect his health. “You do not remember,” wrote one of his old friends to me during his last illness, “because you were only a child, but I remember that as far back as those Oban days he had a slight stroke of some kind. He was very ill then, and his brave young wife nursed him back to life.”
     The cause of this breakdown arose partly from overwork, and partly from the privations which he had endured when he first came to London. There is a general impression abroad that he was a self-made man—that he rose, if not exactly from the gutter, at any rate from very poor surroundings, and that he never knew what it was to eat a good dinner till he was able to earn it by his pen. That this impression is a perfectly erroneous one I have shown in the earlier chapters of this memoir. His upbringing, until he reached the age of eighteen, was princely, for his indulgent mother never left a single wish of his ungratified, so that when at length poverty came to him, the very novelty of the situation helped to rob it of its repulsiveness. He took to it very much as a young aristocrat might take to “slumming,” and all the time he was happy in the knowledge that it would certainly not last long. The few months spent in the garret at Stamford Street, when he was waited upon by shockheaded “Belinda” and compelled to eat stale eggs for breakfast, became an episode in his career, and one to which he was never tired of referring. The struggle 157 for existence which darkened his whole life was mainly the result of his early training—a taste for luxury of all kinds had been instilled into him by his mother, while from his father he inherited a love of speculation. From neither had he learned the value of money; when he had it he spent it like a lord, when he hadn’t it he lived upon credit, and then, finding himself in difficulties, he endeavoured to extricate himself by hard work, or by plunging into hazardous speculations which very often had the effect of sinking him still deeper in the mire.
     To such a man a wife fashioned on the lines of Jane Welch Carlyle would have proved a blessing, but my sister had unfortunately been cast in much the same mould as himself. She had no idea of managing, or saving, or thinking of to-morrow. “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof” was her motto, and so like a couple of babies they muddled through life, tasting sometimes of its joys, but oftener of its sorrows.
     Up to this time (1868) five years had elapsed since the publication of his first volume of poems, and during those five years he had published many more, yet in spite of the large sums which he received from these volumes, and in spite of much ignoble pot-boiling, he found himself at the close of the year 1868 in such monetary difficulties that he was compelled to face the situation and cast about in his mind for some kind of work which would be more lucrative than that of literature, with the result that after a good deal of deliberation he determined to follow in the footsteps of Dickens—to emerge from his solitude and give readings from his own works on the public platform. This he did, on January 25, 1869, appearing at the Queen’s Concert Rooms, Hanover 158 Square. His appearance in public created no little stir, and the audience which he drew was an exceptional one. “In front of him sat Lord Houghton, on his right was Robert Browning, near him Dr. Westland Marston and the Rev. Newman Hall. The body of the room was full of literary men, critics, editors, publishers, but he was not afraid of his critical audience; he faced them boldly, read manfully and well, and wrung from them for his best passages the tribute of enthusiastic applause.” There cannot be a doubt that he was in every way well fitted to succeed in the path which he had elected to tread; “he had a pleasing and distinct delivery, a voice of compass and power, and a prepossessing appearance.” “ If all our writers” (said the Examiner) “were as capable as he of doing histrionic justice to their works, we should consider them not only unwise but positively culpable in not treading the same path as that so manfully traversed by Charles Dickens and Robert Buchanan.”
     The success of the second reading, which took place in March, was as great as that of the first, and had he been blessed with even moderate health all would have been well with him. Offers to read and lecture came from all parts of the country, and a prosperous future opened before him, but his highly strung nervous system was unable to bear the strain of these public appearances, and after the second reading had been given he returned to Oban, so broken in health that for a time at least every kind of work had to be abandoned. It was at this period of his career that the late Mr. Gladstone granted him a Government pension of a hundred pounds a year, which sum he received until his death.

1 Letter to the Hon. Roden Noel.





     IT was in the summer of 1870, when he was still living at Oban, that Mr. Buchanan read the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which had been received with much praise by the entire newspaper press, to the accompaniment of rapturous salvoes from the writer’s friends and personal admirers. In all the ocean of eau sucrée which surrounded the new poet there had not been one drop of gall; and the cliques were ringing with the pretensions of the whole school to which the poet-painter belonged. By temperament, instinct, and literary education Robert Buchanan was opposed to that school, and the voice of calumny whispered that insults had been heaped upon his own friends and sympathisers. He remembered too things which still rankled in his mind, and to which allusion will be made later on. Unfortunately for himself he yielded partly to the desire to express his opinion of the poems which criticism was praising, he thought, too vehemently, and partly to the temptation to be smart and funny at the expense of a clique whose antics were, to his thinking at least, highly absurd. The result was an article published in 160 the Contemporary Review signed “Thomas Maitland,” and entitled “The Fleshly School of Poetry.”
     The story of that article is now old literary history, but I must traverse it again with a view to the partial exculpation of the one who, ever since the publication of the article in question, has been made the subject of endless slander and misconception.
     “My own career” (he wrote) “may be cited as an example of the difficulties which must beset any individual who is rash enough to despise coterie friendships altogether. No man loves praise more than I do, and few men of equal gifts have got so little, ever since the time when my natural indiscretion conquered me and I began to express decided opinions. I have had many friends, but few of them, alas! have been professional Critics, and I alienated those few long ago by refusing to accept their judgments as authoritative or to express complete confidence in their integrity. But here again, what has it mattered? I should have been more loved had I been more lovable, and doubtless I have only got my deserts. I may flatter my vanity at times by assuming that I am not properly appreciated, but I know well in my heart of hearts that a man as a rule gets what sympathy he earns, and that I have earned exactly what I have received. I may affirm or insinuate that I am an honest creature, while all the Critics of the Coteries are either knaves or fools, but I know well in my heart that I am not a bit better than they are, and am indeed as arrant a Logroller as any one of them. Blood is thicker than water, and Love is stronger than Criticism. Let me illustrate the fact again in my own person. I published many years ago an article called the ‘Fleshly School of Poetry.’ It created a tremendous stir 161 and provoked endless recriminations, and the question which I am about to answer now is, Was it an honest article, i.e., did it actually represent my honest belief? To answer that question I must refer to the fons et origo of the whole affair. Not long before its publication Mr. Swinburne the poet had gone out of his way to print, in a note to one of his prose essays, an insulting allusion to the friend of my boyhood, David Gray, whose premature death I still mourned deeply. He spoke contemptuously and cruelly of Gray’s ‘poor little book,’ an allusion emphasised, I was assured, by other spiteful comments of the Coterie to which Mr. Swinburne belonged. I showed the note to Lord Houghton; he was much surprised and vexed, and said (I quote his actual words): ‘O he (Swinburne) did this to annoy me!’ Whatever motive inspired the allusion, it seemed to me most ill-timed, offensive, and cruel; and I vowed then and there to avenge it if ever I had the opportunity. I am not justifying my conduct; I am simply describing it. I am not naturally revengeful, but remember I was very young and my dead friend was very dear to me. Well, I bided my time. I forgot the provocation I myself had given by my review of Mr. Swinburne’s ‘Poems and Ballads’ in the Athenæum,—a review in which, I am ashamed to say, I compared the writer to the Gito of Petronius. The retort came, not merely in Mr. Swinburne’s fierce exculpatory brochure, but in Mr. Rossetti’s pamphlet defending his friend, in the opening passage of which I was called ‘a poor and pretentious poetaster who was causing storms in teacups,’ the allusion being to the success of my ‘London Poems.’ From that instant I considered myself free to strike at the whole Coterie, which I finally did, at the moment when all the journals were 162 sounding extravagant pæans over the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
     “My criticism in the Contemporary Review was not conscientiously dishonest; I really believed then that Rossetti was an affected, immoral, and overpraised writer. I was not alone in that opinion, absurd as I consider it now. Shortly after the publication of my review, Tennyson avowed to me vivâ voce that he considered Rossetti’s sonnet on ‘Nuptial Sleep’ the ‘filthiest thing he had ever read.’ Browning in private talks had been equally emphatic. Thus encouraged, I faced at last the men who had (I thought) trampled down the flowers on poor Gray’s grave, and

                   ‘When I struck at length
Their honour, ’twas with all my strength!’

     In spite of the shriek of protest raised, the blow was decisive; the Coterie collapsed like a house of cards.” 1

     At the time of the publication of this criticism Mr. Buchanan was under contract to supply Alexander Strahan, for the Argosy, the Contemporary Review, and other of his publications, with so much magazine copy monthly. His contributions being very varied in character, including verses and descriptive articles as well as more serious matter, were frequently unsigned and more frequently signed pseudonymously, and his first idea was to publish the criticism on Mr. Rossetti without any signature whatever, so it was Mr. Strahan who attached to it the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland.” It is certain, however, that Mr. Buchanan had no intention of signing the article 163 with his own name, for at that time the coterie had most of the literary journals, including the Athenæum, at their absolute command, and would be certain, he thought, to use them to discredit his criticism. I am not saying this in order to justify the course adopted, I am merely stating a fact. His motive was, I know, primarily revenge, his opinions dictated by a wrath which he considered righteous, as well as by a literary antipathy which he considered just.
     He had not long to wait before learning that he had thrust his staff into a hornet’s nest. The authorship of the article soon became known; he avowed it indeed directly his name was mentioned in connection with it, and as he had meant all along to avow it sooner or later. The critical journals described him as a “disguised assassin,” stabbing a brother artist in the back and then hiding his head in darkness. The Saturday Review alone defended him, and ridiculed his opponents in an article called “Coterie Glory.” Fiercer recriminations followed, culminating in Rossetti’s protest, published in the Athenæum, in the re-publication of the review in pamphlet form, with large and savage additions, and in Mr. Swinburne’s “Under the Microscope.” But in the meantime the fiery attacks upon him had brought unknown friends into the field, who were just as eager to support him. The late Cardinal Manning sent him a private message, approving what he had done and desiring to make his acquaintance. Tennyson and Browning were on his side, tacitly if not openly, and a large number of less famous people sent him messages of sympathy and congratulation. The late Lord de Tabley, then the Hon. Leicester Warren (author of “Philoctetes”) helped him to design the cover of his pamphlet by supplying him with drawings of the 164 various flowers of the wayside, and so pointing the moral of the diatribe.
     Nevertheless he was practically left to fight his battle alone, no one daring or caring to provoke the hostility of his enemies by a public expression of opinion; and for months, nay for years afterwards, he was assailed with every insult that malice could invent for his destruction. 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. The secret was so well kept that when a representative of a leading London daily newspaper went to Mr. Strahan (the publisher of the book), showed him the proof of a highly laudatory review two columns in length, and promised that it should appear the very next day if he would tell him (in strict confidence of course) the name of the author, Mr. Strahan refused to speak, and as a consequence no notice of the poem appeared in the columns of the journal in question. The book however (since it could not be proved to be written by Robert Buchanan), did not fail to make its mark. Indeed both “St. Abe” and its successor, “White Rose and Red,” were welcomed by the public and received by the journals with such roars of applause as certainly would not have greeted them had the secret of their authorship become known.
     Writing in the Christian World in July, 1876, some five years after the publication of the famous pamphlet, the Rev. W. H. Wylie said—
     “Had they perceived the truth, Mr. Swinburne and his friends would have been grateful to Mr. Buchanan 165 for the advice he gave them. He told them to abandon blasphemy and the sensual vein of Baudelaire. . . . This excellent advice, instead of being gratefully received, was spurned; and any one who desires to see the unholy wrath which it provoked in the breast of Mr. Swinburne has only to turn to the pamphlet ‘Under the Microscope,’ in which he replied to Mr. Buchanan, pouring forth such torrents of invective as, fortunately, have few parallels in the range of English literature. Having delivered his soul in the article of 1871, I am not aware that Mr. Buchanan has ever published another syllable about the Fleshly Poets; but when the story is told of how they have laboured to discredit him, both as a man and a poet, it will form one of the most humiliating episodes in the literary history of our generation. To escape the band of Mohawks by whom he was relentlessly pursued, he has on more than one occasion betaken himself to anonymous publication; and I am aware of one instance in which a leading evening journal has, within the same week, assailed a new poem bearing his name with violent invective, and welcomed another poem, which was also his, but which he had taken the precaution of issuing anonymously, as the work of a man of undoubted genius. The appearance last year of ‘Jonas Fisher’ was made a peg on which to hang another series of attacks on Mr. Buchanan. That poem, at first appearing anonymously, they ascribed to his pen, led into this error by the fact that Lord Southesk had also spoken his mind pretty plainly about the Fleshly School. When Mr. Buchanan disowned the imputed authorship of a work which he had not even seen, and with the writer of which he was then totally unacquainted, Mr. Swinburne still continued the attack. It seemed to the victim of 166 these libels that the time had at length arrived when a decided step should be taken to put a stop to the malicious slanders; and accordingly he appealed to the strong arm of the law. It was a hazardous experiment, for it seems to be a prevalent notion that one poet may libel another with impunity; and all the damage that could be inflicted on the plaintiff by an ingenious cross-examiner like Mr. Hawkins was, of course employed to discredit his case. But I am happy to say that the cause of justice triumphed, even before a special jury in the Court of Common Pleas; and after having the whole story opened out before them, which I have here compressed into a brief compass, that jury delivered a verdict for the plaintiff with damages £150. It adds to my satisfaction to learn that the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Archibald, condemned in most unqualified terms the productions against which Mr. Buchanan tabled his protest five years before. Speaking of the works of Dante Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris, &c., the judge declared that ‘it would have been better if they had never been written, and that if all the poetry of the Fleshly School were committed to the flames tomorrow, the world would be very much the better for it.’”
     I grant the provocation, but, as I have shown, the first blow was struck by the other side, and the whole conduct of the fight appears to me to have been mean and cowardly on that side from first to last. When Mr. Buchanan attacked Mr. Rossetti, he attacked, as he thought, a strong man—he was not showering rancour on the helpless dead. Had he conceived for a moment that his words would have caused so much pain, he would never have written as he did, but in this instance he 167 himself had been attacked far more savagely again and again, and had taken his punishment like a man. He could not understand then, indeed he never could understand, how any clique of men could take a piece of adverse criticism in so paltry and pusillanimous a spirit. But the moment he saw in what spirit his criticism had been received, the very moment he realised that he had been the cause of such bitter pain, he came forward and made amends, both in his inscription to “God and the Man” and in his mature appreciation of Mr. Rossetti in his “Look Round Literature.” Nevertheless I would gladly, if I could, wipe this episode from the record of so large-hearted and high- minded a man as Robert Buchanan or, failing that, persuade myself and my readers that his motives in the attack were consistently honest and high-minded. But in telling the story of this quarrel I have above all things attempted to speak the truth, as he would have wished me to speak it, thus leaving the public to mete out their own measure of praise or blame. His motives, it seems to me, were complex, first among them being the determination to be even with the men who had insulted his dead comrade. Add to that a young man’s irritation at the exaggerated praises heaped upon work which then seemed to him artificial, affected, and insincere.
     It is certain that Robert Buchanan, more than most men, suffered from wilful misconstruction and deliberate persecution, but more than most men, on the other hand, he asserted his intellectual independence and held on his own way towards his own ideals. I should exaggerate perhaps if I said that he was indifferent to misconstruction—no man is able to despise, or has any right to despise, the opinion of his contemporaries, but I can safely assert that in his 168 case the pleasures of independence far outweighed the pains of personal martyrdom. Praise is sweet to us all, blame is bitter enough, but in his case neither blame nor praise affected one hair’s breadth his fight with his own conscience.

1 “Latter Day Leaves.”





     IN the year 1874 his occupancy of the “White House on the Hill” came to an end, and he left Scotland for ever. Various circumstances contributed to this move, first among them being the condition of his health, about which he had very serious misgivings, certain symptoms pointing to probable paralysis. With the breakdown in health came the inability to work and consequently to meet his weekly expenditure, which at that time was considerable. He persuaded himself moreover, that the climate of Scotland did not suit him, so his yacht was sold, his shooting given up, and he came again to London not with the idea of settling there, but merely to consult certain doctors, and to search the advertising columns of the newspapers for a country residence the expenses of which would be considerably less than they had been at Oban. Doctors King Chambers and Russell Reynolds had both been consulted, when the subject of these memoirs was strongly advised by the late Countess of Gainsborough to call in Dr. Gulley, in whose system she had the most implicit faith. Her advice was acted upon; Dr. Gulley was called in, with the result that Mr. Buchanan was sent to Great Malvern and placed 170 under the care of Dr. Fernie, who had become Dr. Gulley’s successor.
     He was taken to Malvern by his wife, who has recorded in her journal that “though the weather was intensely cold (February 28th) Robert bore the journey pretty well.” They were met at the station, and found that apartments had been taken for them at Holyrood House. The journal goes on to state:—
     “Feb. 29th.— We rose at nine o’clock and found the ground covered with snow. Most depressing—even the houses look depressed. Our apartments are most oddly situated; we have a doctor on one side, an undertaker on the other, and I think a churchyard close by. The bell is constantly tolling. Baths close to our window and making a dreadful noise through letting off steam by machinery. Robert so cold he has to wear his cap and gloves. Dr. Fernie called in the afternoon, and in the evening, as the weather was warmer, we took a walk and became a little better impressed with the town.
     “March 2nd.— Robert went through his first tortures. It has been a lovely day and we went for a drive, but it was dreadfully dull. In the evening we walked for about a mile, and when we had covered half the return journey Robert’s leg became bad again—loss of power in it—but I managed to get him home. Once there he became
worse. He had flushing in the head, numbness in the right cheek, and he lost power in his hand too. Went to bed, but did not get much better all the evening, though he had a fairly good night. The bell is still tolling!
     “March 13th. — When we were out walking this morning Robert complained of being in a violent 171 perspiration feeling muddy in the head, and very nervous, and so we hurried home. Have strongly advised him to leave as he seems to get no better.”
     A few days later they returned to London, and Mr. Buchanan placed himself under the care of Dr. Lobb, but as the symptoms from which he suffered seemed to continue with more or less severity, he decided to return again to Malvern and make a further trial of the water treatment. This he did on March 29th.
     “Travelled to Malvern. Rose at eight and took a hasty breakfast. Right leg very bad while walking down steps to cab, and continued so throughout the drive to the station. Left town by the ten train. Felt pretty well till we got to Worcester, then became very ill with swelling feeling in right arm and face. Took stimulant drops and brandy and got slightly better. Arrived at Malvern about three o’clock, felt leg very bad while walking from train to cab. Had a tea-dinner on arriving, but did not get thoroughly well all the evening. To make matters worse Polly has contracted a bad cold.” 1
     During this time, although he was always more or less unwell, he had not been idle, for on March 12th I find the following entry in my sister’s diary:—
     “Robert finished and posted complete poem, ‘White Rose and Red.’ Neuralgia away, but right cheek bothering him very much and head rather bad during the evening.”
     The second visit to Malvern, which lasted several weeks, was productive of no better results than the first. Mr. Buchanan’s health got steadily worse and his pocket proportionately lighter. “It is awfully dull and damnably dear,” he wrote; “in fact a perfect 172 catarrh of cash. . . . I got a lighter heart directly I had seen Reynolds and Gulley, and they to some extent dissipated my greatest dread.” 2
     Having convinced himself that no great good would result from a lengthened stay at Malvern, he resolved to try again the remedy of an open-air country life. With this object in view he rented, from an advertisement in the Field newspaper, a furnished cottage called Rossport Lodge, which was situated in the very wildest parts of the wilds of Connemara. He had had no previous knowledge of Ireland whatever, his decision to make the experiment having been brought about by the wish to obtain a certain amount of luxury with the least possible outlay. With the discovery of Rossport he seemed to have found exactly what he wanted. The Lodge was small, fairly furnished, and comfortable enough. Included in the rent there was the right to burn unlimited turf, which was also brought to the house free of charge, there were two or three thousand acres of wild, rough shooting, the right to fish in a couple of rivers well stocked with salmon and trout, the use of a horse and car three days a week, and the rent was fifty pounds a year!
     By the courtesy of Mr. William Canton I am enabled to quote from a very interesting and very voluminous packet of letters which he received from Mr. Buchanan during the period of the latter’s residence in Ireland, and the following quotation gives a very graphic picture of the poet’s surroundings at that time:—
     “Don’t imagine me ‘looking out from a garden’ on the Atlantic! We have no gardens here. My ‘Lodge’ is a little place in the centre of a bog, surrounded by 173 huts even wilder than those you paint in Romaine. I am ten miles from Belmullet, a wretched little town something like Tobermory in the Highlands. There is fair snipe-shooting and salmon- fishing in summer. I wish you could see Kid Island, a weird place out in the sea surrounded by wondrous caves and haunted by legions of birds. Photographs quotha! You have a dim notion indeed if you think a photographer has ever been here. A young ‘kern’ of my acquaintance went the other day forty miles distant to Ballina, and saw the Train! He trembles at the memory of that appalling sight. They tried to persuade him to get into a carriage, but he was not such a fool! Superstition flourishes. They believe implicitly in the Mermaid, the Second Sight, the Water Bull, and all the rest of it. Such are we here; and as we vary our monotony by occasionally shooting a landlord, our life is not uneventful.”
     The main reason for his going to Rossport, that of retrenchment, was not accomplished. “I came here for economy” (he wrote), “and just now, calculating up, I find it costs me as much as London, though we only live in a tiny cottage. There are so many Poor who must and will be assisted.” 3
     Despite its drawbacks, which were not few, the time spent in Rossport was productive of much happiness. With the change to these surroundings, Mr. Buchanan’s health rapidly improved, and his power of work became greater than it had been for many months. “I simply cannot work in Town, but directly I get here, though I take twice the exercise, and am out thrice the time, I do twice or thrice the work. I never felt one tithe of the literary power I feel now, and the results will make or mar me. So 174 much for Oxygen. Not that I feel quite the thing—I never do that, and I suppose few do.” 4
     The place was certainly inconvenient, for not only were we forty miles from a railway station, but we were ten miles from a post-office or any kind of shop, and had it not been that my sister, who loved nothing so well as a country life, soon turned the shooting-lodge into a miniature farm, we might often have gone hungry to bed. As it was we baked our own bread, reared our own poultry, and when they killed a sheep at the barracks, invariably took a good portion of it as our share, while for other provisions my sister had only to dip into her store cupboard, which had been well stocked soon after our arrival. Thus we were able not only to have our own wants supplied, but to feed half the starving villagers besides. But it was not alone for their generosity, which was always of the most lavish kind, that the poet and his wife endeared themselves to all the poor of Rossport; it was also for their great tenderness to all the sick and afflicted. As an amateur Mr. Buchanan was a most able doctor, and my sister was a particularly skilful nurse, and since the nearest doctor lived ten miles away, the poet and his wife were soon called upon to tend the village sick. This they did with never-ending patience. Indeed I have known my sister to be called up in the middle of the night, and to tramp for miles over a wet and slushy moorland in order to tend some miserable peasant woman who, but for her kindly ministrations, would most surely have died. When she left the village, which she occasionally did to pay a short visit to London, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, while to celebrate her return bonfires were 175 lit, and the Lodge surrounded by a sorry-looking lot of creatures who had gathered together to bid her welcome home. We seldom or ever saw a newspaper, and our letters were delivered to us three times a week, when we were so lucky as to get them delivered at all. The post-boy, “Johnny the Ferry” as he was called, had to fetch the letters from Belmullet, a distance of ten miles. Sometimes he got a lift on a side car, but oftener he had to do the journey on foot, and that, too, in the wettest and stormiest weather, so that occasionally the letters arrived in such a state of dilapidation as to be almost unreadable. The post usually came in at nine o’clock at night, and went out again at 7.30 in the morning, an arrangement which we found exceedingly inconvenient when a book happened to be going through the press, as, when proofreading had to be done, it generally meant sitting up till the small hours of the morning. In this way Mr. Buchanan corrected the proofs of the “Shadow of the Sword” and I those of the “Queen of Connaught.”
     But the life we led there was by no means dull. For society there was the parish priest—Father John Melvin—a particularly handsome man who loved a game of chess and a glass of whiskey, and who could produce on occasion one of the finest glasses of potheen ever brewed in Connaught.
     During one of our periodical visits to London we brought with us some of Father John’s potheen and presented it to Charles Reade, who was so enthusiastic over it and who set such store by it that when producing it at his own table he insisted upon having it served in the tiniest of liqueur glasses. There was Father John’s curate, Father Michael 176 Geraghty, a delicate, refined youth of some three-and-twenty summers, whose pathetic life-story was so touchingly told in the novel which was published in 1898 under the title of “Father Anthony,” while Rossport House, the only other habitable dwelling in the village besides our own, was occupied by Colonel Campbell, his wife, and four bonnie daughters; and last, but not least, there was the Protestant clergyman the Rev. G. H. Croly, who dwelt in Polothomas, just across the ferry. Those were days to which the poet ever looked back with pleasure, and when he published his novel “Father Anthony,” he referred to them in a dedication to the parish priest.

     “DEAR FATHER JOHN,—I am inscribing this book with your name in memory of our many meetings among the sea- surrounded wilds of Erris. Certain scenes and characters in it will be familiar to you, and in ‘Father Anthony’ himself you will recognise a dim likeness to one whom we both knew and loved. For his sake and also for yours, I shall always feel strong affection towards the Irish Mother-Church, and towards those brave and liberal-hearted men who share so cheerfully the sorrows and privations, the simple joys and duties of the Irish peasantry.
     “As I close the unpretentious tale, for which I claim only one merit, that of truth to the life, I look back with regretful tenderness to the happy years I spent in Western Ireland and to the friends whom I found there to ‘brighten the
sunshine.’ Some have already passed away; dear ‘Father Michael,’ who sleeps in his lonely grave at Ballina; and the good ‘Colonel,’ blithest and best of hosts and truest of sportsmen, at whose table you denounced the ‘Saxon,’ 177 to the Saxon’s unending delight, joining afterwards till the rafters rang in the chorus of ‘John Peel.’ Ever leal, faithful, brave, and honest, tolerant to all creeds yet staunch and steadfast to your own, you survive, beloved still, I am sure, by all that know you, and still carrying with you the brightness of a kindly gospel and a broadly human disposition.
                                       “Yours always affectionately,
                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN5

     At this point of my narrative I recall an incident which it may be interesting to relate. The Colonel was an omnivorous reader. He subscribed to Smith’s library, and regularly every month came his box well stocked with books, which he was always ready to lend to any member of our little colony, but his reading was limited to prose, the lists which went in never by any chance including the name of a volume of poems. Once, however, a terrible mistake occurred. In the publisher’s announcements the Colonel one day saw the advertisement of an anonymous work entitled, “St. Abe and his Seven Wives: a Tale of Salt Lake City,” and, without waiting to ascertain whether the work in question was in prose or verse, he hastily added it to his list. On the arrival of the box the mistake was discovered and the offending volume was cast into a corner and left there. Some little time later it was taken up, quite by chance, and looked at. Having read a few lines, the Colonel became interested; he read the poem to the end, and his enthusiasm knew no bounds. That same night he appeared at the Lodge with the book in his hand. He had brought it for the poet to read, and having recommended it with all the enthusiasm 178 of which he was capable, he said how much he would like to meet the man who had written it. The poet listened and smiled, but my sister revealed the secret of the authorship with no little pride. Up to that time the friendship between the two men had not been of the closest, for the Colonel, it must be admitted, was in every way the opposite of the poet. Both were Scotchmen, but while one was generous to a fault, the other was what is termed “close,” especially in the matter of sport, keeping to himself his knowledge of the best pools in the river, or the “warm corners” on the moor. But now all was changed—the King could do no wrong—the poet was at liberty to fish in the Colonel’s river if it so pleased him, or to shoot on his land, and following the theory that by pitch one is defiled, the Colonel, by intimate association, imbibed a good deal of the generosity and good-heartedness of his neighbour. From having been tolerated in the village, he became liked, and indeed he was soon quite popular. But much as he esteemed the poet, he never learned to like poetry; indeed, he ever regarded it with horror, despite the fact that he had derived so much pleasure from the reading of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives.”
     Another friendship which dates from this time is that of Charles Reade, whose acquaintance the poet made during one of his visits to London, and of whom, many years later, he wrote the following touching reminiscence:—
     “It was in the summer of 1876 that I first made the acquaintance of Charles Reade, at a little dinner given by Mr. John Coleman, then manager of the Queen’s Theatre. The occasion was one especially interesting to me, as the great novelist (for great and in some respects unparalleled he will be found to be 179 when the time for his due appraisement comes) had expressed a desire to meet my sister-in-law, who although still a very young girl in her teens, had risen into sudden distinction by the publication of the ‘Queen of Connaught.’ Pleasant beyond measure was that night’s meeting; pleasanter still the friendly intimacy which followed it, and lasted for years; for of all the many distinguished men that I have met, Charles Reade, when you knew him thoroughly, was one of the gentlest, sincerest, and most sympathetic. With the intellectual strength and bodily height of an Anak, he possessed the quiddity and animal spirits of Tom Thumb. He was learned, but he wore his wisdom lightly, as became a true English gentleman of the old school. His manners had the stateliness of the last generation, such manners as I had known in the scholar Peacock, himself a prince of tale-tellers; and, to women especially, he had the grace and gallantry of the good old band of literary knights. Yet with all his courtly dignity he was as frank-hearted as a boy, and utterly without pretence. What struck me at once in him was his supreme veracity. Above all shams and pretences, he talked only of what he knew; and his knowledge, though limited in range, was large and memorable. At the period of our first acquaintance he was living at Albert Gate, with the bright and genial Mrs. Seymour as his devoted friend and housekeeper; and there, surrounded by his books of wonderful memoranda, he was ever happy to hold simple wassail with the few friends he loved. Gastronomically his tastes were juvenile, and his table was generally heaped with sweets and fruits. A magnificent whist and chess player, he would condescend to spend whole evenings at the primitive game of 180 ‘squales.’ In these and in all other respects he was the least bookish, the least literary person that ever used a pen; indeed, if the truth must be told, his love for merely literary people was small, and he was consequently above all literary affectations. His keen insight went straight into a man’s real acquirements and real experience, apart from verbal or artistic clothing, and he was ever illustrating in practice the potent injunction of Goethe—

‘Greift nur hinein in’s volle Menschenleben!
Ein jeder lebt’s, nicht vielen ist’s bekannt,
Und wo ihr’s packt, da ist’s interressant!’

     “His sympathy was for the living world, not for the world of mere ideas; and as his sympathy so was his
religion,—not a trouble-haunted, querulous questioning of truths unrealised and unrealisable, but a simple, unpretending, humble, and faithful acquiescence in those divine laws which are written in the pages of Nature and on the human heart.
     “He read few books and abominated fine writing. I well remember his impatience when, taking up a novel of Ouida, and being pestered with a certain abominable iteration about an ‘Ariadne,’ he sent the book flying across the room before he had reached the end of the first chapter. For the literature of pure imagination he cared little or nothing, perhaps not quite enough. Among the letters of his in my possession is one in which, referring to certain conversations we had had on the subject of poetry, he utters the following dicta, following them up with the charming playfulness which was his most pleasant characteristic: ‘Even Tennyson to my mind’ (he says) ‘is only a Prince of Poetasters (!) I think with the ancients, in whose view the Poetæ Majores were 181 versifiers who could tell a great story in great verse and adorn it with great speeches and fine descriptions; and the Poetæ Minores were versifiers who could do all the rest just as well but could not tell a great story. In short, I look on poetry as fiction with the music of words. But, divorced from fiction, I do not much value the verbal faculty, nor the verbal music. And I believe this is the popular instinct, too, and that a musical story-teller would achieve an incredible popularity. Réfléchissez y! Would have gone in for this myself long ago, but can only write doggerel. Example—

“You and Miss Jay
Hope to see my play;
     I hope so too.
Because–the day
You see my play,
     I shall see you!”

Vive la poésie!—Yours ever very truly, READE.’
     “Here I may appropriately refer to his habit of signing with his surname only those letters which he reserved for intimate friends. In all his personal relations he was completely frank, charming, and gay-hearted. On the back of a photograph before me taken at Margate, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health, he wrote as follows:—

     “‘DEAR MISS JAY,—I enclose the benevolent Imbecile you say you require. It serves you right for not coming down to see me!—C. R. All previous attempts were solidified vinegar. This is the reaction, no doubt!’

     “This was written not long before he encountered the great trouble of his later life, when the good and 182 gracious friend who had made his home delightful to all who knew him was suddenly and cruelly taken away. ‘Seymour,’ as he used to call her very often, possessed much of his own fine frankness of character, and knew and loved him to the last with beautiful friendship and devotion. From the blow of her loss he never quite rallied. His grief was pitiful to see in so strong a man; but from that moment forward he turned his thoughts heavenward, accepting with noble simplicity and humility the full promise of the Christian faith. Fortunately, I think, for him, his intellect had never been speculative in the religious direction; he possessed the wisdom which to so many nowadays is foolishness, and was able, as an old man, to become as a little child.” 6

1 Mr. Buchanan’s diary.
2 Letter to the Hon. Roden Noel.
3 Letter to Mr. Canton.
4 Letter to the Hon. Roden Noel.
5 Dedication to “Father Anthony.”
6 “A Look Round Literature.”


To Chapter XVIII: First Ideas of Novel Writing

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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