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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search




Robert Herrick, Poet and Divine
 published in Temple Bar (No. 2, January 1861.)


Illustrated Times (5 January, 1861 - p.11)

     The second number of Temple Bar is a very great improvement on the first; there is more variety in the selection of the articles and a lighter tone throughout. Graver readers are, however, not uncared for; there is a scientific article on “Light,” clearly and intelligibly written, and educing much novel thought; and an admirable description of a coal-mine and colliery explosions, called “What our Coals Cost Us,” and understood to be written by Professor Ansted. Articles of a Household-Words descriptive character are “The Houseless Poor” and “A Visit to the Iron-clad Ship.” Mr. Sala contributes three papers to the number—a complete and concise summary of the events of the year, written with great force, and in its concluding portion with much beauty of expression, called “Annus Mirabilis;” a continuation of the pleasant “Travels in Middlesex;” and the first instalment of his new novel, “The Seven Sons of Mammon,” which promises admirably. Nothing can be better than the description of the millionaire and his surroundings, while so far, at least, the story possesses the grand merit of being kept close to its point, and being free from that diffuse wandering in which its author occasionally indulges. Lovers of old literature will delight in a charming essay on “Robert Herrick,” written in the true spirit of appreciation There are three poems in the number—one by Mr. Stigant; a second of the “London Poems,” full of fine thought and eloquent expression; and a musical song, by Mr. Mortimer Collins.



A Jovial Bishop
 published in Temple Bar (No. 6, May 1861.)


The Evening Herald (2 May, 1861 - p.7)

     Temple Bar flourishes after its manner. “The Seven Sons of Mammon” is the opening story, and is this month, so far as we can see, something more original than last. We detect no “wine” in the present number borrowed without leave or acknowledgement, to use the words of a succeeding paper, “from another man’s vintage,” and this is at least an improvement. “A Jovial Bishop” is a readable and clever paper, “Broad Awake” is sketchy, as Mr. Edmund Yates’ productions not unusually are. “The Real and the Conventional Nigger” should be read at the present time as a counterpoise to the extravagant sympathy in which we are likely to indulge respecting “the men and brethren” of the new American confederation. “For Better, for Worse” is as good as before. “London Poems: Belgravia” is musical and readable; “Clouds” contains some good thoughts; a sketch of “Elizabeth Berkeleigh, Margravine of Anspach,” is respectable; “John’s Wife” is an agreeable story; “On Quacks” is well written, if not very original; “In the Temple Gardens” is well told; and “Three Times” embodies a good idea in three sweet verses. The little poem, in fact, is a perfect gem.



Holy Mr. Herbert
published in Temple Bar (No. 8, July 1861.)


The Evening Herald (4 July, 1861 - p.7)

     Temple Bar is up to its average. The inevitable “Seven Sons of Mammon” commences the number; “The Burg- keeper’s Secret” is a good story; “Chalk” contains a good deal of readable and enjoyable information about those white cliffs of Albion for the neighbourhood of which every one in London is sighing; “Aged Forty” is not worth criticism; “Holy Mr. Herbert” is one of those excellent papers upon minor celebrities of the past which Temple Bar would do well to make a specialty; “Spell-bound” is a short but tolerably good story; “Of the Mountebank Family” records the popular history of the gladiators and fun-makers of old in a sufficiently pleasant fashion; “London Poems” contains “A City Preacher,” very well written; “For Better for Worse” drags its slow length along; “Told at Frascati” reads well; “In Loco Parentis” deserves like commendation; and the concluding piece is some poetry of good quality, suggested by Mr. Holman Hunt’s wonderful picture “Christ in the Temple.” We must not forget to mention as part of the number a complacent, self-satisfied preface, by Mr. Sala, to the volume just concluded.



Donne The Metaphysician
published in Temple Bar (No. 9, August 1861.)


Illustrated Times (10 August, 1861)

     Temple Bar is vigorous as ever. We have a rather smaller instalment of “The Seven Sons of Mammon” than the interest created by it led us to wish for; but when the quality is so excellent, complaint would be ungracious. There is rather more than the usual allowance of poetry; but perhaps none of it deserves, as verses go, any severe criticism. Mr. Williams Buchanan, who seems to be a regular contributor, ought to become a poet. So thinking and so hoping, we would advise him to write less and blot more. The article upon Donne, the metaphysician, is, on the whole, pleasant, entertaining, and appreciating; but would it not be as well if not quite so many magazine-writers were on such uncommonly good terms with their readers? This trick of familiarity is borrowed from Mr. Thackeray, who is becoming so objectionable in this particular as to warn, not instigate, further imitation. The article on “Fires” is full of useful and practical suggestions, and there is a capitally-told and true story of an attempt at deception of the Kaspar Hauser kind, under the title “A Real German Mystery.” There are also a description of life “In the Mining Districts” and two or three short stories.



Thorvaldsen and his English Critics
published in The Fortnightly Review (No. 2, 1 June, 1865.)


The Hampshire Advertiser (10 June, 1865 - p.7)


     We may congratulate the editor, Mr. George Henry Lewes, as well as the publishers, Messrs. Chapman and Hall, on so far a completely successful undertaking. Besides Mr. Lewes’s work, the present number contains articles by Anthony Trollope, Lord Edward St. Maur, Professor Beesly, Robert Buchanan, Sheldon Amos, and George Meredith, as well as a review of public affairs during the last fortnight, and some notices of new books by W. M. Call and John Dennis. Mr. Anthony Trollope gives another instalment of the story, “The Belton Estate,” which commenced in the first number and promises to be in its pure, simple way as attractive as any of his former works. He also makes his appearance in the character of a reviewer, taking for his subject the poems of Henry Taylor, for whom he has, as is natural, a vast respect and admiration.

. . .

     Another article, which will probably be read by the majority with equal pleasure, is that by Mr. R. Buchanan, on “Thorswalden and his English Critics.” The writer protests with much energy and some show of reason against the “goody” style of criticism which estimates a man of genius from a very small standing-point, and without any species of dramatic power. Mr. George Meredith’s verses, “Martin’s Puzzle,” have that peculiar flavour of rural life which is now-  a-days found only in perfection in the writings of the author. The review of public affairs and the article on “Democracy in England,” by Mr. Sheldon Amos, are written in much the same key, that which is commonly termed “Advanced Liberalism.” We believe that we have already named the fact that Mr. Lewes is, or was at least, not long since, one of the reviewers of new books for the Times.



Immorality in Authorship
published in The Fortnightly Review (15 September, 1866.)


The Saturday Review (29 September, 1866 - Vol. XXII, pp. 386-387)


AN essay on “Immorality in Authorship,” by Mr. Robert Buchanan, in the last number of the Fortnightly Review, would be worth examining if only for its quaint illustration of that passion for symmetry which exercises such resistless influence over certain minds. There are people whose appreciation of a truth seems to depend upon its capability of being neatly rounded off and closely packed in a convenient formula. To subject it to any conditions or limitations is, in their estimation, to spoil its portability and shape. It must be, like Aristotle’s wise man, a “blameless cube,” smooth and polished on all sides, offering no irregular angularities awkward for the pocket or unpleasant to the eye. And as, unluckily for these passionate lovers of symmetry, truth is not always thus conveniently compressible, they are occasionally driven to treat it after a somewhat tyrannical Procrustean fashion, and get rid of angularities by a rough-and-ready process of rubbing them off. How far the truth is improved by the process depends upon what standard of perfection you take. From one point of view, no doubt, a few touches of the scissors would vastly improve a daddy-longlegs; from being straggling and incompressible it would become at once neat and rotund. Not that these followers of Procrustes are, like him, conscious of their tyranny. They would probably say that they are not clipping truth but condensing it—reducing it to its very marrow and essence until it attains that simplicity which has been declared to be the soul of philosophy, and which makes it as easily and universally applicable as a patent pill, or the skilfully-prepared beef-lozenge which enables the traveller to carry an ox in his waistcoat pocket.
     All who admire dexterous manipulation of this kind will be charmed with the essay of Mr. Buchanan; and even those who are not gifted with his “philosophical hankering after unity,” and who consider symmetry on the whole less important than accuracy, will owe him gratitude for the courage and clearness with which he has put forward a theory of criticism that peculiarly needs to be impressed upon this generation. The theory, if not altogether new, is at any rate so out of keeping with current traditions that it has for the present age all the value of novelty; and it is moreover so calculated to startle and scandalize many worthy people, even in its mildest form, that Mr. Buchanan deserves great credit for the intrepidity with which he has carried it out to what he considers its legitimate lengths. In its milder and, as we consider, its only tenable form, the theory briefly is that “sincerity” is the true test of literary morality; that, however sound and salutary in itself may be the view which an author undertakes to enforce, his book, so far from possessing in virtue of this fact any claim to be considered moral, is not only not moral, but is positively immoral, if his treatment is “insincere.” If there are any to whom Mr. Buchanan’s doctrine thus nakedly put looks somewhat like a truism, let them reflect upon the multitude of books which in these days are unhesitatingly classed under the head of “moral,” but which this doctrine at once condemns; and whether they agree with it or not, they will at least appreciate the importance and novelty of the conclusions to which it leads. There is scarcely one of the so-called religious novels of the present day which it does not condemn, since, in nearly all, the author, instead of taking facts as he finds them, deliberately shapes them to suit a preconceived end. He starts with the intention of inculcating some particular creed, and he naturally makes this creed the touchstone by which to choose, reject, or modify the facts which come in his way. We instance the religious novel, partly because its author is under peculiar temptations to be thus “insincere,” and partly because it brings out into strongest relief the contrast between Mr. Buchanan’s standard of literary morality and the conventional standard of the day. There are few pious people who would not readily pardon an author for deliberately taking an exaggerated or distorted view of life—for being, that is, guilty of “insincerity”—provided this view subserved a religious end. Most of our readers must have somewhere met a very popular and would-be pious little tract about a good naval lieutenant, who, when his wife is frightened at a storm, recalls her to a sense of her impious distrust in Providence by suddenly dragging her on deck and brandishing a naked sword at her breast. She displays no alarm at this melodramatic proceeding, and explains her fearlessness by saying that she knows her husband loves her far too well to hurt her; whereupon the good lieutenant lowers the sword, and asks if her husband’s love for her is equal to that of God. Nothing could well be more untrue to life, and therefore more insincere—especially as it is usually related as a “fact ”—than this good little story; and yet many worthy people have been greatly edified by it, and have never for a moment thought of questioning, far less condemning, its glaring neglect of conformity to truth, simply because they heartily approve of the doctrine it was invented to enforce. We admit that we have taken a case exceptional in its extreme absurdity, but the vicious and “immoral” treatment which it serves to illustrate pervades in greater or less degree the whole class of religious novels. Even in such novels as the best of Miss Yonge’s—novels in many respects so admirable—it is impossible not to feel that the author’s treatment is, from Mr. Buchanan's point of view, too frequently insincere. The actual aspects of real life are painfully discoloured, in order to bring out in the strongest light some pet moral. The welfare of nations is made to depend mainly on the due observance of, let us say, the fifth commandment and a young lady who conceals a love affair from her parents is held up to as much abhorrence, and visited with as much misery, as if she were a parricide. It thunders whenever a Jew eats pork, and raging lions devour the naughty boy who tears his little sister’s pinafore. The intention of these so-called moral writers may be thoroughly honest and good; the theory they wish to convey may be in the highest degree salutary; but nevertheless they are guilty of immorality whenever, in works the proper and professed object of which is to represent life, they represent life, not as it is, but as they think it ought to be, and as they would like it to be.
     But though the religious novel supplies perhaps the most frequent and most conspicuous violation of Mr. Buchanan’s theory, offenders are to be found in all professions and ranks. “A shower of immoral books pours out yearly; many of them are read by religious societies, and praised by bishops, and by far the larger number of them find favour with Mr. Mudie.” “The immorality I complain of in modern books is their untruth in matters affecting private conduct, their false estimates of character, the false impressions they convey concerning modern life in general, and especially with regard to the relations between the sexes.” The illustration which Mr. Buchanan gives of this “immorality” is at once humorous and apt. He cites the rage for ugly heroes and heroines which the popularity of Jane Eyre introduced. To make your hero systematically ugly merely because preceding novelists have systematically made him handsome, is not only untrue to nature, but it further substitutes, deliberately and immorally, for life itself a purely conventional mode of viewing life. Charlotte Brontë set the example in precisely the same spirit as that which prompts a. sectarian writer to improve upon whatever in life seems dangerous, and give undue prominence to whatever seems safe and good to be taught. She thought it “wicked” to make the heroes and heroines of a novel necessarily handsome, and thus originated the still more indefensible theory that they ought to be ugly—a theory which no less violates probability, and further, as Mr. Buchanan points out, implicitly “lies against a natural truth that mere beauty is finer than mere ugliness, that nobility of nature with beauty of form and feature is finer than nobility of nature without such beauty.” Charlotte Brontë’s intention was harmless enough, but, inasmuch as she was consciously untrue to nature, it does not matter, so far as the charge of insincerity is concerned, whether her intention was good or bad. Insincerity is, under all circumstances, in itself sufficient proof of literary immorality.
     So far we are heartily agreed with Mr. Buchanan, and we welcome this unfamiliar and elevated standard of literary morality as an immense improvement upon the standard by which books are nowadays usually classified into moral or immoral. But when, not content with showing that nothing is moral that is insincere, Mr. Buchanan argues that nothing is immoral that is sincere, we must confess that we find ourselves utterly at a loss even to comprehend him. No doubt this symmetrical antithesis rounds off his theory to a perfection of polish and neatness, making sincerity as easy and applicable a test in all cases of literary immorality as a patent pill in all cases of disease. But these advantages seem to us to be purchased rather dearly. We should be very sorry to do Mr. Buchanan any injustice, and we therefore honestly confess that, if he has wrought out in his own mind a clear and consistent conception of what he means when he maintains that sincerity protects a book from being immoral, from exercising an injurious effect upon the moral mind, we have completely failed to grasp it. Nearly all his illustrations only serve to bewilder us, and to make us suspect that he uses the word “sincerity” in a sense which involves him, not merely in the strangest confusion of thought, but even in downright self-contradiction. He places Petronius Arbiter and Juvenal, for instance, side by side—apparently because they were both satirists—and declares that they have not an immoral effect upon the moral mind, because they were both sincere; as if there were any sort of comparison, on moral grounds, between the sincerity of a writer who enjoys and shares the immorality which he satirizes, and the sincerity of a writer who stands aloof from and abhors it. The former is the sincerity, if Mr. Buchanan likes so to term it, of the artist who, in conscientious devotion to his art, produces a picture in harmony with truth; and, even where the subject treated is impure, the treatment may be so artistic as to awaken, in the highly cultivated mind, a sense of beauty that puts all impure associations to flight. A scholar may possibly derive so much pure intellectual pleasure from the grace and sparkle of Petronius as to lose sight altogether of his indecency. This is, in fact, the only meaning we can, despite our utmost efforts, extract from all that Mr. Buchanan says about sincere writing producing no immoral effect upon the moral mind. But, in the first place, it seems to us a strange abuse of language, amounting almost to cant, to attribute this effect upon the mind to the artist’s sincerity, which, so far from being its essential cause, may exist in full force without producing it. An artist may be thoroughly sincere, and yet may fail from sheer want of power, from an infirmity that is strictly intellectual, not moral, to produce a picture perfect enough to awaken that sense of beauty which purifies an immoral subject. Mr. Buchanan, with curious inconsistency, concedes this point, and thus implicitly contradicts himself, when he says that “a well-meaning and conscientious man will not unfrequently disseminate immoral ideas through deficiency of insight.” If there is any sense in words, a well-meaning and conscientious man is surely sincere; and hence sincerity, by Mr. Buchanan’s own showing, is no safeguard against immorality. In the second place, what conceivable connection is there between this so-called sincerity of the writer who works in the region of art, and the genuine sincerity of him who works in the region of morals? It is an odd confusion of thought to suppose that Juvenal is not immoral because he is sincere in the sense in which an artist, who succeeds in producing a picture faithful to nature, is styled by Mr. Buchanan sincere. Juvenal is moral as a satirist, not as an artist. He must be judged not by what he does, but by what he intends, and his intention might have been equally good though his picture of Roman life had been ever so inartistic and poor. Mr. Buchanan is guilty of a still graver confusion of thought when he declares that, if a man advocates the legalization of prostitution, his work produces no immoral effect on the mind unless he is insincere. We are here in the domain, not of imagination, but of reason. Mr. Buchanan can scarcely mean that even the magical virtue of sincerity can enable a man so to conduct an argument about prostitution as to make it a work of art, awakening ideas of beauty that ennoble and refine the subject which it treats. If it does accomplish this object, then it misses its legitimate object—namely, that of appealing to the reason, not the imagination. If it does not accomplish this object, then there is no more similarity between the sincerity which, according to Mr. Buchanan, saves Petronius Arbiter, La Fontaine, and George Sand from being immoral, and the sincerity of the honest advocate of legalized prostitution, than there is between the sincerity of Petronius and that of Juvenal. In the domain of imagination, sincerity—although it is not, as Mr. Buchanan holds, necessarily an effectual safeguard against immorality—is nevertheless such a safeguard usually, since it is a guarantee that the artist will conscientiously consult the interests of his art; and the more he does this the more likely is he to produce a work that will exercise a purifying influence upon the whole mind. But in the domain of reason, the more sincere a writer is, the more likely he is to carry conviction, whether his doctrines be moral or immoral. We can only account for this incongruous jumble of ideas which cannot, in such an inquiry as this, be kept too distinct, by supposing that Mr. Buchanan has been confused by his abuse of the word sincerity.
     If space permitted, it would be amusing to follow out this fanciful doctrine of Mr. Buchanan’s into some of its natural consequences. They are startling enough to astonish the most strong-minded reader. If, for instance, we understand him rightly, Catullus was an immoral writer because he was a “man of splendid instincts.” “There is sufficient evidence in the purer portions (of what he wrote) to show that he was insincere in the fouler portions.” If so, it would seem to follow, first, that his “splendid instincts” make his writings immoral; and, secondly, that had the “purer portions” by some unlucky accident been lost, Mr. Robert Buchanan, having only the “fouler portions” to judge from, might at this moment in all innocence be extolling the immoral Catullus as a writer no less moral than Petronius Arbiter or George Sand. Elsewhere we are told that Miss Braddon has not done harm, “partly because she is not sufficiently sincere.” We must assuredly have done Mr. Buchanan’s “sincerity” theory gross injustice when we compared it to a patent pill, for no pill that we ever heard of professes to create or cure, according to the taste and fancy of the artist, the same disease. Yet the want of sincerity, it seems, makes one writer safe and another dangerous. However, it is scarcely worth while to follow this Protean theory any further. It is to be regretted that Mr. Buchanan, in the effort to produce a theory at once symmetrical and original, should have marred the effect of the valuable truth which his essay contains by mixing up with it so much which despite the vigorous and pointed language in which it is clothed, bears a most suspicious resemblance to nonsense, and that too of a kind calculated to produce a decidedly immoral effect even upon the moral mind.



published in The Broadway (May 1869.)


Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (16 May, 1869 - p.8)

     In the Broadway, “Stretton” progresses apace, while Minnie Thomas’s “False Colours” gets worse and worse. Miss Phœbe Cary’s poem is graceful and pathetic. Miss Cary’s genius is so well known, however, that it needs no comment. We can afford space for the first half of “Amy’s Love-Letter:”

. . .

Robert Buchanan has contributed a clever criticism of Emerson, which contrasts strongly with a certain illiberal review of Tennyson, of which we have already written. Buchanan treats his subject tenderly and thoughtfully; perceiving the failings of the man he criticises, and perceiving and making much of the good side of the character and works which, he says, possess a vast influence over a “big and boisterous people.” “The Follies of Fashion,” professedly written by a woman, is, we are confident, the production of masculine genius. From the first of this series, we have always suspected the signature “A Woman,” to be a false one; and this last essay on the “Follies of Fashion,” to our mind, settles the question. G. M. Hoppin gives a delightful description of the Adirondac Lakes, and we long for a glimpse of the forests, afire with the glow of the reddened foliage. A learned paper on heraldry—as forming hieroglyphics of history—is the final one in this excellent number of Broadway.



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


Glasgow Herald (4 March, 1871)

     In Good Words Mr Robert Buchanan introduces to the general public the poems of George Heath, the Moorland Poet. Heath was born at Gratton, a hamlet in the moorlands of Staffordshire, on the 9th of March, 1844. He was born of poor parents, and, after learning to read and write, was apprenticed to a carpenter. He died in 1869 of consumption, in which he lingered for four years. Mr Buchanan, as becomes a brother poet, gives us a very loving sketch of poor Heath, in whose fate and genius he finds a striking resemblance to David Gray, the author of the “Luggie.” Among other specimens of the “Moorland” muse we have the following:—


Sad are the shivering dank dead leaves
     To one who lost love from his heart unweaves,
Who dreams he has gathered his life’s last sheaves,
     And must find a grave under wintry eaves!

Dead! dead! ’mongst the winter’s dearth,
     Gone where the shadows of all things go,
Stretch me full length in the folding earth,
     Wind me up in the drifting snow;

None of the people will heed it or say,
     “He was a singer who fainted there,
One who could leaven with fire, or sway
     Men’s hearts to trembling unaware.”

No one will think of the dream-days lost,
     Of the ardours fierce that were damped too soon;
Of the bud that was nipped by the morning’s frost,
     And shrivelled to dust in the sun ere noon.

No one will raise me a marble, wrought
     With meaning symbol, and apt device,
To link my name with a noble thought,
     A generous deed, or a new-found voice.

My life will go on to the limitless tides,
     Leaving no trace of its current-flow,
Like a stream that starts when the tempest rides,
     And is lost again in the evening’s glow.

The glories will gather and change as of yore,
     And the human currents pass panting by,
The ages will gather their wrinkles more,
     And others will sing for a day and die.

But thou, who art dearer than words can say,
     My more than all other of earth could be;
Such a joy! that the Giver I thank alway
     With a glowing heart, that He gave me thee.

I shall want thee to dream me my dream all through—
     To think me the gifted, the Poet still,
To crown me, whatever the world may do,
     Though my songs die out upon air and hill.

And, Edith, come thou in the blooming time—
     Thy world will not miss thee for just one hour;
I’d like it best when the low Bells chime,
     And the earth is full of the sunset’s power,—

And bend by the silently settling heap,
     While the Nature we loved is a May all round,
While God broods low on the blue arched sweep,
     And the musical air is athrill with sound;

And look in thy heart circled up in the past,
     And if I am perfectly graven there,
Unshaded by aught, save the anguish cast
     By the parting clasp, and the death despair;

Encirqued with the light of the pale regret,
     Of a “might have been,” all of a day-dream lent,
With a constant hope of a meeting yet,—
     Oh! I shall not want for a Monument.

This month’s number is more than usually readable. We are glad to notice another sketch of Scottish life and manners from the graphic pen of the author of “Peasant Life in the North.”



Mr. John Morley’s Essays
published in The Contemporary Review (June 1871.)


The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (6 June, 1871 - p.3)

     The Contemporary opens with a very interesting and significant article by Mazzini on the Commune, in which he briefly discusses its aims and proceedings.
. . .

Mr. Robert Buchanan has a vigorous paper on Mr. John Morley’s Essays, which is made very remarkable by a scathing, we had almost said savage, censure of Carlyle, which he seizes an opportunity to introduce in the course of it. The article indeed abounds in hard words and knocks dealt out straight from the shoulder on all sides. In discussing Mr. Morley’s essay on Byron, which he considers as perhaps the best ever written on the subject, he declares it “flawed, because the writer, who has just recommended a severe handling of the criminal classes, seems unconscious that he is dealing with a great criminal’s life and character. Scientific criticism, so sharp to the anti-social outcasts, might be less merciful to the outcast whose hand was lifted against every man’s life and reputation, and who was consciously unjust, tyrannous, selfish, false, and anti-social.” “We do not agree,” says Mr. Buchanan, “with Mr. Morley that the public has nothing to do with Byron’s private life. The man invited confidence for the sake of blasting the fair fame of others; and the lie of his teaching is only to be counteracted by the living lie of his identity. If revolters and criminals are to be gibbeted, then we claim in the name of Justice the highest gibbet for Byron.” The Contemporary also contains a very delightful attempt by the Rev. James Davies to re-habilitate those sweet idyllists, Bion and Moschus, and rescue them from the shadow of their great master, Theocritus, which teems with charming quotations; a short essay on the “Range of Intellectual Conception,” by Mr. Ruskin, and several other contributions of the widely catholic character for which this able monthly is celebrated.



The Examiner (7 October, 1871)

     Mr Ruskin says in the new number of his Fors Clavigera, “There was an article—I believe it got in by mistake, but the editor, of course, won’t say so—in the ‘Contemporary Review,’ two months back, on Mr Morley’s Essays, by a Mr Buchanan, with an incidental page on Carlyle in it, unmatchable (to the length of my poor knowledge) for obliquitous platitude, in the mud-walks of literature.” Many will be disposed to say nearly the same of an article in this month’s ‘Contemporary,’ by a Mr Thomas Maitland, who commences a series of strictures on “The Fleshly School of Poetry,” with seventeen pages about Mr Dante Rossetti.



The Fleshly School Of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti
published in The Contemporary Review (October 1871.)


Reviews of Buchanan’s original article are available in the Fleshly School Controversy section of the site.



The “Good Genie” of Fiction
published in The Saint Pauls Magazine (February 1872.)


Glasgow Herald (10 February, 1872)


     Saint Pauls.—In the continuation of the late Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Romance of Immortality,” there is some excellent writing, with the faint cropping up of a new tragic element in the double form of incompatibility in the temperament of the two lovers, and of a mysterious document which will probably turn out to contain directions for the attainment of immortality on this earth. There is a capital article by Mr Robert Buchanan on Dickens, who is happily designated “The ‘Good Genie’ of Fiction.” There is a poem entitled “Supreme Love,” by John Banks, who, if we mistake not, is also Robert Buchanan. Again, “The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,” although unsigned, is wonderfully like a coin of Mr Buchanan’s mintage. We have also a clever and characteristic poem by the author of “St Abe and his Seven Wives.” Henry Holbeach and Matthew Browne have each an article a piece. These apparent two are one and the same person, whose real name, however, is neither Holbeach nor Browne. Mr Buchanan makes some strong statements regarding Dickens. “The world,” he says,” has decided long ago that Dickens was beyond all parallel the greatest imaginative creator of this generation, and that his poetry (the best of it), although written in unrhymed speech, is worth more, and will probably last longer, than all the verse-poetry of this age, splendid as some of that poetry has been.” This is decidedly generous on the part of the critic, but we should doubt if it is altogether an accurate prophecy. Of Mr Buchanan’s criticisms on Dickens’ humour we quote one passage:—

     “Shakespeare’s humour, even more than Chaucer’s, is of the very essence of divine quiddity. Between Shakespeare and Dickens, only one humorist of the truly divine sort arose, fluted magically for a moment, and passed away, leaving the Primrose family as his legacy to posterity. Swift’s humour was of the earth, earthy; Gay’s was shrill and wicked; Fielding’s was judicial, with flashes of heavenlike promise; Smollett’s was cumbrous and not spiritualising; Sterne’s was a mockery and a lie (shades of Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman, forgive us, but it is true!); and, not to catalogue till the reader is breathless, Scott’s was feudal, with all the feudal limitations, in spite of his magnificent scope and depth. Entirely without hesitation we affirm that there is more true humour, and, consequently, more helpful love, in the pages of Dickens than in all the writers we have mentioned put together; and that, in quality, the humour of Dickens is richer, if less harmonious, than that of Aristophanes; truer and more human than that of Rabelais, Swift, or Sterne; more distinctly unctuous than even that of Chaucer, in some respects the finest humorist of all; a head and shoulders over Thackeray’s, because Thackeray’s satire was radically unpoetic; certainly inferior to that of Shakespeare only, and inferior to his in only one respect—that of humorous pathos. It is needless to say that in the last-named quality Shakespeare towers supreme, almost solitary. Falstaff’s death-bed scene is, taken relatively to the preceding life, and history, and rich unction of Sir John, the most wonderful blending of comic humour and divine tenderness to be found in any book—infinite in its suggestion, tremendous in its quaint truth, penetrating to the very depths of life, while never disturbing the first strange smile on the spectator’s face. Yes; and therefore overflowing with unutterable love.”

Mr Holbeach continues his articles on “Literary Statesmen.” His present subject is the Duke of Argyll, whom he describes as being “in politics and sociology a Conservative-Liberal; and if that phrase were admissible in another sphere, it would be applicable to the Duke as a thinker in theology and philosophy. His intellect moves with great caution, and not without something of the spirit which expresses itself in the proverbial saying—‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’” The writer says of his Grace that “there is no speculative knight-errantry about him. He feels his way in every subject that he touches, and even with a degree of punctiliousness which has an effect not quite cheerful.” “There was,” continues Mr Holbeach, “a Scotch Professor of Logic who, being urged to go and fight a duel with a man who called him a liar, said, with perfect bonhomie—‘What for fight him? Let ’em pruv it, sir; let ’em pruv it.’ It is the same in all his writings.” These indicated features of the Duke’s character as a thinker Mr Holbeach proceeds to illustrate in a very happy manner, and the whole article, we may say, is as well written as it is interesting. The ballad of “Judas Iscariot” is a curious, indeed, a fine production, the last three verses whereof will show what final fate the poet assigns to the man whom all the world regards as a traitor:—

“’Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
     And beckon’d, smiling sweet;
’Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
     Stole in, and fell at his feet.

‘The Holy Supper is spread within,
     And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
     Before I poured the wine!’

The supper wine is poured at last,
     The lights burn bright and fair;
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom’s feet,
     And dries them with his hair.”



Criticism as One of the Fine Arts
published in The Saint Pauls Magazine (April 1872.)


The Nonconformist (3 April, 1872)

     The other magazines of Messrs. Strahan and Co. may be noticed in a single paragraph. St. Paul’s is good, but wants relief. Hawthorne’s “Septimus” is subtle, but unfinished and unsatisfactory, becoming, indeed, more and more so as we go on. Miss Ingelow’s story is more enjoyable. Walter Hutcheson surely has some arrière pensée in “Criticism as a Fine Art,” which, however, is clever; but why does he not cite Mr. Matthew Browne among the critics, whose personality is frequently communicated with peculiar strength! The “Saint Abe” ballad is not so good as we should expect; it wants local colouring.



Glasgow Herald (9 April, 1872)

     Saint Pauls.—Hawthorne’s “Septimus: a Romance of Immortality,” winds slowly and curiously along.

. . .

“B.”—Mr Robert Buchanan, we presume—has an able and characteristic poem on Mazzini. Mr Walter Hutcheson writes a sort of clever, snappy, happy-go-lucky sort of paper on “Criticism as One of the Fine Arts.” He declares that “scientific criticism is fudge—as sheer fudge as scientific poetry, as scientific painting; but criticism does belong to the fine arts; and, for that reason, its future prospects are positively unlimited.” “Criticism now-a-days,” he says, “simply means (it is doubtful whether at any time it has meant much more) the impression produced on certain minds by certain products.” Listen to how certain things and persons impress Mr Walter Hutcheson:—


     “It is great fun—fun given to poor mortality, alas! too seldom—to see the advent of some outrageous genius, some


prodigy of the Euphocion order, starting up to the horror of criticism, and carrying all the masses before him by simple charm. Wonderful is that gift of producing on thousands of people precisely the same set of favourable impressions; wonderful is that gift, whether possessed by a Dickens, a Tennyson, or a Tupper. Fortunately the great mass of people are their own ‘tasters,’ judging for themselves at first hand, and they won’t be guided by the literary priests, however so wise; and it is simply delicious to observe how reputations grow, in spite of all the priesthood do to tramp them down. Let no man despair merely because the few who write abuse him. The abuse simply means that he is not wanted by Smith, Brown, and Jones; while all the time he is being eagerly waited for by all the legions of the Robinsons, to whom every word he drops is a revelation. Longfellow has ceased to be a favourite with reviewers, but he has his compensations. George Eliot is praised by every reviewer in the country, but the public knows, for all that, that she has never fulfilled her original promise. Dickens was abused by genteel journals, but what cared he?”


     “In England here, critics for the most part assume the editorial tone, and are proportionally uninteresting. To the long list of critics who write without edification, either because they decline self-revelation or are unpleasant when revealed, may be added, in modern times, the names of Mr. Lewes, late editor of the Fortnightly Review, and the Duke of  Argyll. These gentlemen sign their articles, but utterly fail to attract us—they are so thoroughly, so transparently, editorial. Critics of the higher class, on the other hand, may be found in Mr. Arthur Helps, Mr. Matthew Arnold, and (with a strong editorial leaven) in Mr. R. H. Hutton, who has recently published two volumes of essays. Mr. Arnold may or may not be an interesting being, but he never for a moment represents himself as what he is not. We know him as thoroughly as if we had been to school with him. We do not get angry with what he says, so much as with his insufferable manner of saying it. Mr. Helps is, once and for ever, the optimist man of the world. Mr. R H. Hutton shows us, as in a mirror, his deep-seated prejudice, his quick sympathy with ideas as distinguished from literary clothing, and his genial love of microscopic délicatesse. We know at once that this last critic will pass Hugo by and adore Tennyson; that he will find great pleasure in the poetry of Mr. Keble; and that his sympathy with revolt will take no more violent form than a predilection for the critical poems of Mr. Arnold! And just in so far as they tell us so much, just in so far as they suffer us to see their prejudices and their limitations, are these gentlemen good critics—critics rapidly advancing their profession to a place among the fine arts. Let them come!—the more the merrier! We would sooner take the opinion of Mr. Hutton, or Mr. Helps, or Mr. Arnold, or even Mr. Sala,—any of these gentlemen individually—than that of any unknown oracle, from the Times downwards. Besides, unknown oracles can be bought; but to buy clever men is not so easy.”

“Seraphina Snowe” is the title of a poem by the author of “St. Abe and his Seven Wives.” The present production is clever, but it seems to increase the already existing suspicion that the author is not an American but an Englishman, if not a Scotchman. The article on “Our Dinners” is worthy of being carefully studied by all who are in the habit of giving dinners or of eating them.



Pity the Poor Drama!
published in The Saint Pauls Magazine (May 1872.)


Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (18 May, 1872 - p.2)

     ST. PAUL’S has altered its outside garb, but in our judgment the alteration is not an improvement. It apes the ancient style of covers, and looks old fashioned. “Child-life as seen by the poets,” is a charming paper, one of the most perfect illustrations of the motto of the magazine. “A neat repast, light and choice, of Attic taste.” “Body and Character,” is a scrappy bit of writing on the relation of the mind and body, a subject treated very fully in one of the older numbers of the Quarterly. A single paragraph in that paper contained more stuff than the four pages of Henry Holbeach’s meandering gossip. Walter Hutcheson writes a pathetic paper, sadly too true, under the dolorous plaint, “Pity the poor Drama!” How low dramatic writing has fallen, who does not know? but still let every lover of the legitimate drama read this lament for himself. “Love in Heaven,” will have its readers; but the “Funeral of Mr. Maurice,” will win for itself a wider circle of attraction. The poetry of the number is by Robert Buchanan, and the author of “St. Abe and his Seven Wives.” Buchanan’s “Faces on the Wall,” consists of a beautiful series of sonnets. Miss Ingelow’s tale grows in fascination, and Septimius grows in weirdness. Aunt Kezia dies, despite her elixir of life; and Septimius is more than ever bent on discovering the one lacking ingredient to make it potent to ward off death.



The Era (23 June, 1872)

     AND, while on the subject of the wilful propagation of error, we may possibly call attention to the scurrilous abuse of the English Stage, its artists, actors, actresses, and critics, published in the May number of the St. Paul’s Magazine, and signed by Mr. Walter Hutcheson. We need scarcely add that the magazine is no longer edited by Mr. Anthony Trollope. We have nothing to do with the opinions of the young man. We deal merely with his facts, and when he boldly and unblushingly tells the public that the “actors of the present day are unable to parse an ordinary speech in Shakespeare; that they do not know French and German; that they have the manners of strolling players and cockney clerks; that actresses cannot look like women of gentle breeding, and, with rare exceptions, are not virtuous; that the gentlemen engaged to review new plays for the various newspapers are ignorant, ill-educated, and are not generally striking in appearance, save for a certain tendency to wear false shirt-fronts, and to smell of mysterious liquors;” we tell Mr. Hutcheson that his impertinence is only excused by his ignorance. He has libelled wantonly and extravagantly a Profession of eminence and distinction; he has put on record facts which he must know are utterly untrue; and he has dashed off what he may call a spirited article, but one which from henceforth will deny him that very title of “gentleman” which he is so anxious to secure for the Stage. It is the fashion of the day to say that such poor and illiterate stuff as that poured out in the columns of the St. Paul’s Magazine, slanderous and wicked as it is, should be treated with the contempt it deserves. Newfoundlands and retrievers do the same for puppy-dogs; but when the puppy takes to biting as well as barking measures somewhat stronger are required. When a gentleman so far forgets himself as to deny virtue to honest and hard-working women, and call an honourable and equally hard-worked set of men drunken—without a shadow of justification for either statement—he should be ordered to hold his tongue, with an alternative which possibly might not be pleasant even to such a manly personage as Mr. Walter Hutcheson.



Prose and Verse
published in The Saint Paul’s Magazine (September 1872.)


Glasgow Herald (10 September, 1872)

     Saint Pauls.—Miss Jean Ingelow’s story, “Off the Skelligs,” moves rather slowly and unsensationally along. The weakness of the tale seems to be its superabundance of talk and its poverty of incident. The strange adventures in El Dorado of “John Mardon, Mariner,” by the author of “St. Abe,” has advanced into the second part, but is not yet finished. There is some quaint and curious versification in the poem, and the local colouring is pretty true to South America, though here and there perhaps slightly overdone. We have next a slight sketch of the Italian Poet Filicaia, with a fine and faithful, rather than a brilliant analysis of his poetry. Then comes a portion of “An Old Letter,” containing a brief but keenly and cunningly wrought effort of storyology, by Catherine Saunders. Under the title “Head Dresses,” M. E. Haweis supplies a singularly interesting paper on colour, which might be perused with advantage by readers of both sexes. We shall just give a taste of it by quoting a couple of passages:—

. . .

Mr Walter Hutcheson discourses on “Prose and Verse” with good sense and some acuteness. One passage will show partly what he means:—


     “A truly great poet is not he who wearies us with eternally sweet numbers; is not Pope, is not Poe, is not even Keats. It is he who is master of all speech, and uses all speech fitly; able, like Shakespeare, to chop the prosiest of prose with Polonius and the Clowns, as well as to sing the sweetest of songs with Ariel and the outlaws ‘under the greenwood tree.’ It is not Hawthorne, because his exquisite speech never once rose to pure song; it is Dickens, because (as could be easily shown, had we space) he was a great master of melody as well as a great workaday humorist. It is not Thackeray, because he never reached that subtle modulation which comes of imaginative creation; and it is not Shelley, because he was essentially a singer, and many of the profoundest and delightfullest things absolutely refuse to be sung. It is Shakespeare par excellence, and it is Goethe par hasard. Historically speaking, however, it may be observed that the greatest poets have not been those men who have used verse habitually and necessarily; and if we glance over the names of living men of genius, we shall perhaps not count those most poetic who call their productions openly “poems.” Meanwhile, we wait on for the miracle-worker who never comes—the poet. We fail as yet to catch the tones of his voice; but we have no hesitation in deciding that his first proof of ministry will be dissatisfaction with the limitations of verse as at present written.”

Mr Henry Holbeach includes Sir John Lubbock in his “Literary Statesmen,” and gives a somewhat sketchy sketch of the scientific baronet.



The Character of Goethe
published in The New Quarterly Magazine (October 1874.)


Pall Mall Gazette (7 October, 1874 - pp.9-10)


WE hear a great deal in these days of the function of “the seer.” England has at the present moment a tolerable supply of this interesting class. Mr. Carlyle’s example in raving at nearly every judgment the mass of men have formed is largely followed. We have among us, however, one “seer” whose achievements promise to outdo those of all rivals—Mr. Robert Buchanan. Most writers, however dogmatic in particular departments of thought, have a certain moderation in others. They recognize that one small brain can scarcely include all knowledge, and that no doctor can pronounce conclusively on all questions. Mr. Buchanan is above such scruples. He has the grand manner of one to whom every subject is equally familiar. In an offhand way he decides on the constitution of the universe or the latest school of poetry. The accepted estimate of famous writers he brushes aside with contempt; settling by a phrase the position of men like Sterne, Thackeray, or Carlyle. The writer he has last honoured with his notice is Goethe. Hitherto Goethe has been regarded as a man of lofty genius; his name has been supposed to mark an important epoch in the forward movement not only of German but of European literature. Mr. Buchanan has obtained fresh insight in these matters, and in an elaborate article in the New Quarterly Magazine takes the world into his confidence. And it seems that we have all been wrong in our conceptions of the author of “Faust” and “Wilhelm Meister.” There will be no excuse for mankind if they retain the old delusions. Mr. Buchanan has spoken.
     Perhaps the most amazing thing about Mr. Buchanan’s article is the insolence of its tone. He thinks Goethe “would have made an excellent business man, a first-class artist, a tolerable parson, a successful actor, or a good dancing master.” “Forsaking the bourgeoisie for ever, he became a member of the society of Weimar, selling his birthright of genius for a place at the Duke’s table and a share of the Duke’s pleasures.” Mr. Robert Buchanan has yet to earn the right to discuss in language like that the foremost literary man of the present age. In poetry Mr. Buchanan may, and apparently does, rank himself with Shakspeare, in criticism with Lessing. But even if he had written “Hamlet” and “Laocoon,” he would not be justified in judging other writers with vulgar flippancy. The crudeness of Mr. Buchanan’s thought is as striking as his rudeness. In his first sentence he talks of “constantly doubting, in spite of oneself, whether Nature in the beginning really meant Goethe for a genius at all.” He distinguishes “Shakspeare’s and Richter’s divine humour” from “Fielding’s and Molière’s earthly humour.” In a delicious paragraph he says “the school of Condillac” “apotheosized Locke’s criterion of sensation,” and Berkeley “turned the doctrine of experience inside out.” We know what to think of a man who writes in this way.
     It is, however, with the matter of Mr. Buchanan’s thought rather than its form that we have to do; and the one is as unsatisfactory as the other. One of his chief aims is to define the conditions of Goethe’s intellectual activity. On this point he has a brilliant theory. Goethe, he believes, was never moved by grand ideas. He had no inward impulse, compelling him to shape his thought in forms of undying beauty. One fact alone explains his work, from the highest to the lowest—“the mystery of sex.” “God could not move Goethe,” says this profound critic, “nor could nature, nor revolution, nor aspiration, nor intellectual love. None of these could directly move him; but put him in the society of a fair woman—of the Fraulein (sic) Stein, of Fraulein (sic) Schönemann, of Frederika Briou—titillate him ever so slightly by sensuous means, and Goethe moved at once, expanded, soared, found a thousand ways of expending his activity on the world at large.” It must be remembered that Goethe was quite as truly a man of science as a poet. Was it titillation be sensuous means that led him to he researches in botany, osteology, and optics? Even Mr. Buchanan will hardly say so; and it is not less ridiculous to offer this mean explanation of the production of Goethe’s literary masterpieces. We are from denying the profound influence exerted on his thought and feeling by the love affairs which played so prominent a part in his life. But they formed part of the material he pressed into the service of art; they were not the impulse that determined him to create. That he could be “moved” in only one way will scarcely be believed on Mr. Buchanan’s bare assertion. No man was ever more keenly touched than Goethe by the order, the charm of the world. And if God, in Mr. Buchanan’s sense of the term, did not “move” him, it does not follow that the idea of God, in another and perhaps not less true sense, was without influence.
     Goethe is accused by Mr. Buchanan of being “theatrical.” It is difficult to understand a vague charge of this kind; but, if it means that his works are untrue representations of life, no one who really understands Goethe is likely to agree with his critic. We do not, of course, pretend that Goethe never struck a false note. In a vast list of works like his, it would be strange if some were not comparative failures. But as to those works in which Goethe is at his best, their truth to nature is one of the chief sources of their charm. Lili, Ottilie, Gretchen, Lotte, Clärchen, Mignon, Dorothea—they touch our deepest sympathies; we turn to them with renewing interest, and ever find in their sayings, their acts, their personality, a more profound significance. Goethe’s power of conceiving types of life, and informing them with subtle grace and meaning, was his most marked characteristic. He did not, indeed, attempt to interpret every side of human life; but in the strict limits within which Goethe worked as an artist lies one of the greatest lessons English writers have to learn from him. Philosophy may be interested in what Mr. Buchanan sentimentally calls “the lovely significance of all life;” but it cannot be too often urged that art has no such wide sphere. All forms of life are not equally adapted for artistic representation. The function of the artist—sculptor, painter, and poet alike, each after his fashion, and obeying the laws applicable to his work—is to select from life such elements as eternally interest mankind, and such as are capable of being combined, under the influence of a controlling thought, into a harmonious whole. beauty, interpreted in a wide sense, is the end of art; and whatever defeats that end, or fails to subserve it, is rejected by the poet who understands his true mission. It has always been the tendency of German and English authors to forget this fact—to run riot, so to speak, among the phenomena of the world. Hence the vast number of works in both languages displaying uncommon, sometimes even grand, energy, but leaving the mind dissatisfied. M. Taine would have the world believe that Shakspeare was deficient in this respect. In reality, however, Shakspeare is as true to the highest laws of art as Sophocles, only the life he interprets is infinitely more complex than that which a Greek could conceived. The harmony, therefore, of “Hamlet” or “King Lear” is infinitely more subtle than that of the “Antigone,” and must be detected amid many seeming discords. Goethe was the first in Germany—at any rate, the first after Lessing—to apply the method which has produced all truly “classic” literature. And, whatever Mr. Buchanan may think of the result, the facts are not altered by his failure to perceive them.
     The old accusation of coldness, selfishness, and indifference to the great interests of humanity is, of course, repeated by Mr. Buchanan, and repeated with as much solemnity as if he were the first to discover a reason for the charge. To prove how much went on in the world that might have agitated Goethe, Mr. Buchanan gives the strangest account probably ever written of the political and philosophical movements at the end of last and the beginning of the present century. If his theory of the French Revolution exhausted the subject, even he could hardly be surprised that Goethe watched its progress without enthusiasm. What he has to say of philosophic thought may be judged partly from the phrases already quoted respecting Berkeley and “the school of Condillac,” but still better from his statement that Fichte “completed” Kant’s “Gigantic system of ‘categories’”—an assertion which, to say the least, requires some explanation. If Goethe did not share Schiller’s enthusiasm for speculative ideas, he is not to be blamed. He had his own work to do, and it did not lie in the direction of the philosophers. His mind moved more freely among concrete than among abstract subjects, preferring the healthy region of positive knowledge to the dim metaphysical world, in which shadowy figures are for ever slaying one another and starting into fresh life. Even with respect to philosophy, however, Goethe’s close study of Spinoza is a fact of deep significance. As to the political uprisings of his time, it must be borne in mind that he altogether objected to the revolutionary method. He believed it was by the enlightenment of the individual, not by violent outward change, that humanity could rise to richer life. It is notorious that he deplored even the Reformation. A grand movement had already been started—under the influence, in Germany, of Reuchlin, Erasmus, and Ulrich von Hutten—which in his opinion, had Luther not appeared as a disturbing force, would have resulted in a harmonious evolution, though which humanity would have passed peacefully into a new and higher civilization. It may be conceded that Goethe failed to perceive the real meaning of the great revolutionary forces. His whole philosophy of progress may have been wrong. But why should he be branded as selfish, and caring only for personal ends, because he did not encourage hopes which he considered delusive? Even if his opinions had been different, it would still be possible to justify him for deliberately avoiding whatever disturbed the even flow of his thought. His function was that of a poet and scientific thinker. To work effectively he may well have found it necessary to maintain inward calm. Fierce passions might have destroyed his energy by misdirecting it. If so, then surely he was right to accept and conform to the conditions under which alone he could slowly realize his ideals. It would be a misfortune were every one to regulate his life on a like principle; but every one is not Goethe. And if Goethe believed that by helping, through scientific research, to enlarge man’s conceptions of the world, by creating works of art which should add to the highest wealth of mankind, by striving to evolve the true laws of criticism, he was conferring greater benefits than by any amount of political aspiration and utterance, he did not stand alone in his belief. Least of all should we in this age, who have learned by bitter experience the futility of much which was once to “regenerate” the species, condemn him. We have better reason now to applaud his method than the most sympathetic of his contemporaries.
     We have touched on some of the points included in Mr. Buchanan’s paper. To deal with those he omits, but which no one writing on “the character of Goethe” has a right to omit, would be impossible. Of the depth of Goethe’s insight into many forms of life; of that catholicity of culture which enabled him to penetrate into the deepest meanings of Christianity while his leading sympathies were entirely pagan, and to express with equal ease, in “Götz von Berlichingen” the agitation and violence which marked the transition of the Middle Ages to the modern time, in “Faust” the strife and sorrow of our own day, and in the “West-östlicher Divan” the barbaric luxury of the East; of Goethe’s strength and “magic,” the unutterable grace as well as grandeur of his conceptions—of all this, and much else, Mr. Buchanan shows no symptom that he knows anything. Yet his carping will probably be accepted by a considerable class of readers as “criticism.”



Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (25 October, 1874)


     The New Quarterly Magazine, which has acquired already much popularity among the more thoughtful and serious readers of modern periodical literature, thoroughly deserves the success it has achieved. The men and women who contribute to its solid pages, are writers whose opinions are worth studying and remembering. It seems to us that the great fault of most of the magazine literature with which England is afflicted at the present time is, that there is so little worth remembering or recalling. How few of the “padding” sketches and articles and novelettes which appear month after month, would bear a second reading! It would seem that the English people have a special taste for this poor literature; it is certain that it flourishes in no other country in the same degree. The Americans have their periodicals, it is true; but few of us would complain if we could boast a Scribner’s Monthly, and Atlantic Monthly, as average specimens of popular reading.
     To return to the New Quarterly, however—the October part of which has reached us—we must observe that we can find no fault with the style or intention of the authors who figure therein. The principal point of interest in the list of contents for the quarter just opened will undoubtedly be Robert Buchanan’s estimate of the character of Goethe—an estimate which is on the whole fairly formed and modestly stated. The picture put before the young generation of the great German poet is one that will surprise many. In this self-sufficient age, when interest in great men and curiosity respecting their lives, are very lukewarm, well-educated men know the broad outline of Goethe’s character, but few will have mastered the disheartening details which Mr. Buchanan has set before us. Goethe’s superb selfishness is certainly no new feature in his character; it is recognised by his most fervent students and worshippers. But it is brought perhaps more vividly to light in this minute examination of Goethe’s character than we have been wont to think of it, and the theatrical affectation which accompanied this unworthy trait, does not render it more excusable. He had few real friends, and these were disappointed in him. Witness the following passage from Mr. Buchanan’s essay:—

     His habit of cold impassiveness and stately reserve grew upon him at Weimar; and repelled many of his friends, who were not slow to express their irritation in words. “Outside relations,” he said, “make our existence, and at the same time devastate it; nevertheless, one must withdraw oneself occasionally from study, for I don’t think it healthy to be completely isolated like Wieland.” Schiller, faithful to him as he was faithful in all things, was rewarded by a certain amount of confidence, much the same as Goethe would have vouchsafed to a clinging mistress, Lili or Frederika; and when Schiller died, the blow went straight home to Goethe’s heart. When the aged and noble-minded Klopstock thought fit to remonstrate on the disorderly living encouraged by Goethe at Weimar, the “privy councillor’s” reply was cold and keen as ice. He solicited no confidence and he tolerated no interference. His affectations—for they were affectations— alienated his best friends. “What the devil possesses this Wolfgang!” cried Mark, a friend of his childhood; “why on earth will he play the courtier and the valet-de-chambre? Has he nothing better to do?” And the same excitable person said to Goethe himself, “Look here, Goethe! when I compare what you are with what you might have been, all that you have written seems to me contemptible!” But his most troublesome relations appear to have been with Herder. The great ideal philosopher and the great poetic image-former possessed a strange attraction for each other, by virtue of the individual strength of each; yet they never perfectly comprehended one another, and on one side, at least, there was a great deal of irritation. They met for the first time at Strasburg, when Herder was twenty-two years of age, and Goethe seventeen. This was in 1766. Twenty years afterwards, when both were at the zenith of fame, when Goethe’s name was a household word with young Germany, and Herder’s gigantic “Ule” was delighting all philosophers of the old school, Herder had not yet abandoned the air of patronage which he had affected to his junior student, and Goethe, on his side, had not forgotten Herder’s epigram on his name—

Thou! descendant of Gods, or of Goths, or of Gutters!

There was no love lost between the two; and their mode of intercourse was rather that of two rival swordsmen than of affectionate friends. On the whole, Goethe seemed rather afraid of Herder’s mighty mind, knowing well that its great scheme of the Universal Idea, with all its practical tendencies towards Optimism and the regeneration of Humanity, was exactly the scheme which refused admittance to so shallow and slight a theory as that of mere self-culture and “pyramid building.” “It is doubtful,” Herder once cried passionately, apropos of Goethe’s cold-bloodedness and affectation—“it is doubtful if a man has any right to raise himself to a sphere where all suffering, true or false, real or merely imaginary, becomes equal to him; where he ceases to be a Man, if he does not cease to be an Artist; and whether this right, once admitted, does not imply the absolute negation of human character. No one cares to envy the gods their eternal tranquillity; they may regard everything on earth as a mere game the chances of which they direct as they please. But we are men, men subject to all human wants, and we do not care to be amused for ever with theatrical attitudes. You study nature in all her phenomena from the hyssop to the cedar of Lebanon. But I should not like you, for all that, to conceal from me the most beautiful phenomena of them all—Man, in his natural and moral grandeur.” To the same effect, though with less success, protested others—Wieland, Jacobi, even Schiller. But Goethe, though the criticism struck home, was not to be moved. Affectation and indifference, two elements quite contrary in themselves, had blended together to form the one pose that he kept for the rest of his life: a pose thoroughly theatrical, as Herder’s keen eye at once detected, but so long used as to become natural at second hand. An earthquake would not have changed it. The statue stood, in courtier’s costume, calm, holding a microscope. A thunderbolt might have dashed the statue to the ground; but it would have altered nothing. To alter Goethe now, God would have had to obliterate him altogether.

     The picture we have of Goethe elaborating his “Theory of Colour” in the Duke’s gardens at Weimar, unmoved by the mighty throes of the great French Revolution, uninterested in its leaders, indifferent to anything that did not immediately concern himself—is by no means a pleasant one; and most persons will leave Mr. Buchanan’s paper with a regret that so great a mind should have been combined with various peculiarities of temperament that cloud the works left behind in his name. Goethe’s dying words, “More light,” should have been his rallying cry through life!
     We have given so much consideration to Robert Buchanan’s able article that we have little space to devote to other subjects of interest that are intelligently and thoughtfully discussed in the course of the New Quarterly Magazine. A paper on “Small Farms,” by Richard Jefferies, will be found excessively useful to readers of an agricultural turn of mind.
. . .



Thomas Love Peacock: A Personal Reminiscence
published in The New Quarterly Magazine (April 1875.)


The Examiner (10 April, 1875)

     In Mr. Robert Buchanan’s “Personal Reminiscence” of Thomas Love Peacock, in the New Quarterly Magazine, the most interesting point is that, on a certain sunshiny day, several years ago, Mr. Robert Buchanan might have been seen “going on pilgrimage” to Lower Halliford, with “youth in his limbs, reverence in his heart, a pipe in his mouth, and the tiny Pickering edition of Catullus (a veritable lepidum libellum, but, alas! far from novum) in his waistcoat pocket.” Mr. Buchanan does not tell us what he had for breakfast before he started; but he communicates the equally interesting fact that, though Mr. Peacock had a horror of tobacco, and he had made a solemn promise not to smoke within five hundred yards of Mr. Peacock’s house, he is ashamed to say that he “violated the arrangement,” and “well remembers one night stealthily opening the bedroom window in the house at Halliford and ‘blowing a cloud’ out into the summer night.” Some people will be surprised to hear that there was perfect agreement between Mr. Peacock and Mr. Buchanan, except on the subject of tobacco-smoke. This, Mr. Buchanan says, proved “the one dark cloud of misunderstanding between  them.”



The Modern Stage
published in The New Quarterly Magazine (July 1875.)


The Glasgow Herald (8 July, 1875 - p.2)


     The New Quarterly Magazine opens with a thoughtful, discriminating paper on De Quincey, by the editor. ...

     The article which is likely to attract most attention is the somewhat splenetic dissertation on the shortcomings of “The Modern Stage,” by Mr Robert Buchanan. Like most people who have given any thought to the subject, Mr Buchanan finds in theatrical affairs much to blame and condemn; but fortunately some things meet with favour in his sight, and he occasionally bestows a considerable measure of praise, of the lofty patronising kind, which some very modest people would perhaps prefer to have exchanged for a little wholesome abuse. The keynote of much that follows is struck in what seems to us a quite unnecessarily violent assault upon the Lord Chamberlain’s office of censor. We quote the passage as one which shows how heedlessly unjust Mr Buchanan can be, apparently for no other reason than in the interests of a well-rounded sentence:—

     “The present writer will certainly not be suspected of a love for l’école brutale, as a certain class of dramatic literature is called in Paris, but he would rather see that school flourish on every stage from London to Aberdeen than suffer the spokesman of an illiterate and irresponsible court, dressed in a little brief authority, to dictate on what terms and under what restrictions the enjoyments of the public are to be admissible. Such interference is another phase of that oppressive legislation which appears elsewhere in the form of a Contagious Diseases Act; it is intolerable in itself; but that a functionary who incarnates the most degraded superstitions of society, and who presides, so to speak, over the open indecency of a levée crush, when the rank and beauty of our land are transformed like Circe’s swine, under the ignoble pressure of degraded ambition—that such a functionary should play Petronius to our pleasures is a hideous farce, a monstrosity, a scandal.”

     It is this much-abused official who is to blame because dramatic art in this country suffers from “a conspiracy on the part of authors, managers, and actors to emasculate and conventionalise all their productions.”

     “But recent experience has shown that people who go to the play possess, with all their ignorance, a fair share of human enthusiasm, and that a few touches of that nature which makes all the world kin will reconcile them even to pretty stiff attacks on their prejudices. They had a prejudice against ‘sensational’ death-scenes, which Mr. Irving conquered in a night. They had another ridiculous prejudice in favour of ‘happy endings,’ which Mr. W. S. Gilbert has successfully violated over and over again. They disliked the ‘poetical’ drama, but Mr. Wills has taught them to tolerate it. They had an aversion to ‘Irish’ pieces, but were instantaneously converted by the ‘Colleen Bawn.’ In a word, they are adolescent, ready to accept any decent education the enlightened may offer them. Education they want; who is to undertake the task of supplying it to them?”

     Mr Buchanan has no hope of this education coming from the managers, and though we have some actors—“none perhaps great, but a few admirable”—they are at the mercy of their employers, and must also be passed by. This brings Mr Buchanan to the authors and the critics, the former of whom are taken in hand at once, and the latter are, so to speak, returned to the lock-up, the trial of their case being reserved to the last. “The Lady of Lyons” is first examined, and is summarily dismissed, being declared “worthless as literature, worthless even as a vehicle of good acting;” but a “commonplace and interesting play.” As to Sheridan Knowles, “his characters are simply marionettes, admirably dressed and excellently managed,” Dr Westland Marston “possesses a true poetical instinct,” Mr Wills is highly spoken of, and so, with some qualifications, is Mr Tom Taylor. Mr Buchanan is quite lavish in his praise of Mr Gilbert, whose “Happy Land” he considers “the primest political satire of this generation;” but it is amusing to find him, after censuring managers, actors, and authors alike for their attempts to meet the wants of Mr Podsnap’s “young person,” condemning a certain passage in “Pygmalion and Galatea” as “simply nasty,” and calling upon the Lord Chamberlain to be consistent and suppress it as well as the “Demimonde.” We have not space to follow Mr Buchanan through his criticism of the modern dramatists, much of which seems to us perfectly just and reasonable. We prefer to go on to the end, where, we imagine, is to be found (perhaps unconsciously to the writer) the raison d’être of the whole article. Mr Buchanan appears somehow to have a feud with the critics, especially the dramatic critics, and he devotes the last pages of his article to their vivisection, “not because they are worth consideration in themselves, but because they arrogate pretensions, and try to adjudicate claims.” It is, it seems, a misconception to suppose that the dramatic critics of the London press are to any great extent “disappointed dramatic authors.” They have not “sufficient literary calibre for the production of any sort of play at all,” but “for the most part are small authors of Cockaigne, as nameless as they are incompetent, who, for a pittance, undertake work which few authors of position could be persuaded to do for an income.” After this tirade the reader will perhaps expect some cases in point, but he will be disappointed. Mr Buchanan names five London papers—the first being the Times, to whose theatrical critic he gives a page of rather vulgar abuse, saying, however, at the same time that he is assured “that he does his work with as little prejudice as possible.” In regard to the other four, the critic of one “is a worthy and unprejudiced gentleman, his only dramatic works being the admirable yearly pantomime at Drury Lane;” of other two he knows nothing save their names, while the fourth “is so distinguished as a novelist and a writer of choice English, that it is extraordinary to find him among theatrical critics at all.” Of the critics in the weekly journals, Mr Buchanan tells us he knows nothing, and then proceeds to relate some cock-and-bull story about somebody who is in the habit of writing theatrical notices for “at least three newspapers—and evening daily, a literary weekly, and a semi-sporting weekly.” And this is all he has to give in support of his sweeping charges of incompetence against a whole class of men who, for aught he has shown to the contrary, may be as able and conscientious as Mr Buchanan himself. But even Mr Buchanan seems to admit that the critics have some slight elements of goodness left, for

     “Despite all the faults of their incompetence, have recently shown a disposition to encourage poetic work, or work which they consider poetical, and to recognise the claims of such authors as endeavour to elevate the drama. Their knowledge may be inadequate, and their taste questionable, but they seem trying with all their might to discover what is best, and if the managers paid them more respect and the public placed more confidence in them, they might really be of some service in preaching the cause of the higher drama.”

     The stage is not likely to benefit much by this last essay of Mr Buchanan, and we should be sorry if any thoughtless person is led by it to suppose that the author of “The Madcap prince” is a “disappointed dramatic author” who has fallen back upon dramatic criticism either for a “pittance” or for an “income.”



The Graphic (10 July, 1875 - p.16)

     In the New Quarterly we have for the price of half-a-crown some 300 pages of excellent reading. Mr. Robert Buchanan’s paper on “The Modern Stage” contains a great deal of sound sense, but his plain speaking will probably give offence in certain quarters, especially among managers, playwrights, and dramatic critics. Most of the latter, he says, are small authors of Cockaigne, who are not, as somebody alleged, disappointed dramatic authors, for they do not possess sufficient literary calibre for the production of any sort of play at all.



The Examiner (10 July 1875 - pp.21-22)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan’s article on “The Modern Stage” in the New Quarterly is very clever and amusing, none the less so that it is enlivened by a strong spice of personality. Personal criticism by a dramatist who has failed, but who is not without literary ability, must always be lively reading, and Mr. Buchanan deserves credit for putting his name to such a performance. In this respect Mr. Buchanan’s attack upon brother dramatists is more worthy than his similar attack some years ago upon brother poets. We must say we should have enjoyed the article more if we had not remembered a drama produced for one night only at the Haymarket last year—a drama not less remarkable for the indecency of certain of its scenes than for its shameless pandering to vulgar king-worship, written as it was by a man who had appeared before the world as a reprover of sensuality and a passionate Republican. To our criticism of that play Mr. Buchanan now replies that his object was not to express Royalist opinions, but to represent dramatically the romantic (and he might have added the indecent) side of royalty as it existed. The distinction is more verbal than real, but the drama has deservedly been allowed to die, and its life was so short that its birth is forgotten, so that we need not recur to it. Apart from that, the article is lively and clever enough. Mr. Buchanan’s notion of Mr. Irving in “Charles I.,” as the Knight of the Rueful Visage clad in a tin meat-jack, and his picture of the popular actor “with lean and quivering fingers scratching the shoulders of Miss Isabel Bateman in the anguish of his last farewell,” are really vigorous caricatures. Fairness we do not look for in Mr. Buchanan’s criticisms. His praise and his blame of actors, authors, and managers are partial, one-sided, and wrong-headed to a degree, but they are stimulating and amusing. We assure Mr. Buchanan that we bear him no personal malice, though he seems to suspect that we do. We have always done justice to his powers; and they are his best friends who try to cure him of his ill-conditioned eccentricities. Having spoken unfavourably of two articles in the New Quarterly, we ought to add that the novelettes which seem to be its special feature are strikingly good. Mrs. Lynn Linton’s ‘By the Law,’ is in her most powerful manner; rather sombre in colour, and cynical in characterisation, but strongly written, and quite original and unconventional.



The Bradford Observer (10 July, 1875 - p.6)

The New Quarterly Magazine, July. London: Ward, Lock & Tyler.

. . .

Mr. Robert Buchanan, whom we confess we like better as a poet than as a critic, has a paper on “The Modern Stage.” Of course, it contains many observations and opinions that are original and suggestive, but the writer is only now and then to be depended upon as to correctness of judgment. With respect to our actors, Mr. Buchanan allows that there is some merit in almost all the dramatic food that they provide us with, but, for all that, the whole thing is very poor. Even Mr. Burnand’s burlesques have had merit of one kind or another, Mr. Buchanan thinks, but, “amid the chaos of London theatres,” we are “blinded by the flash of tinsel and spangle, and deafened by the noise of semi-nude incapables.” He attacks the Lord Chamberlain for inconsistency, and very rightly too; he considers our actors much more intelligent than our managers; and he deprecates playwrights pretty generally. The Lady of Lyons he considers both worthless as literature and worthless as a vehicle for good acting; and Sheridan Knowles he styles as the Chadband of dramatists, the Moody of the defunct classical school. At the head of living dramatists he places Mr. Wills, and he has a moderately good word to say for Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Tom Taylor, Mr. Albery, and one or two others. He hits Mr. Boucicault hard; he christens the late T. W. Robertson the Trollope of the stage; he says the best feature of Mr. Byron’s pieces is their innocence of all intent; their worst, their vulgarity; and he concludes with a merciless attack upon the London dramatic critics, Mr. Oxenford, the Times’ critic, in particular. For all that, Mr. Buchanan speaks hopefully of the future of the stage, and he looks for its regeneration from the customary quarter—education. His concluding words are, “Let a genuine critical interest in dramatic art be manifested, and the modern stage may recover the respect of philosophy, and secure once more a place in the hearts of men.”



[Buchanan’s article also prompted a couple of responses in the pages of London Society. Volume 28 of which is available at the Hathi Trust.]

London Society (September, 1875 - Vol. 28, pp. 215-220)

From ‘The Modern Stage, And Some Of Its Critics’ by ‘BUSYBODY’.

... One of the poets of the period, Mr. Robert Buchanan, has recently, in the pages of the ‘New Quarterly Magazine,’ made the world aware of what he thinks about the modern stage. He tells us that, if poets and philosophers glance ‘contemptuously at the theatre,’ the ‘real fault lies with the intellectual barrenness of this generation.’ It does not lie, he explains, with the modern actors and the modern public, but in the fact that we have no great dramatist. ‘Let a great dramatist arise, and he will find great actors, and perhaps a great manager.’ A ‘great manager,’ in Mr. Buchanan’s sense, would be truly a portent in these days, and we hardly know where we are to look for him, unless we are to have a Minister of Dramatic Entertainments, and even then we doubt if he would be much superior to Messrs. Hollingshead and Chatterton, of whom Mr. Buchanan speaks in terms of undisguised reproach. In truth Mr. Buchanan’s position should be reversed; let the great actors arise, and he may be sure that the dramatist and the manager will not be wanting. Ask any dramatist of the present day if his heart has not been almost broken, and his whole energies discouraged, by the way in which his characters are cast, and the. wretched incompetence of the actors who have to fill all but the two leading parts. Is it not well known to those initiated into green-room mysteries that actors in taking engagements are expected to play under Mr. So-and-So, that is that they are to subordinate their conceptions and their talents to the ‘leading’ gentleman or lady of the theatre? Has not one part to be ‘cut down’ and another part to be ‘written up’ to suit the scale of art in each particular dramatic temple? Will Othello 216 suffer Iago to divide the honours with him? In point of fact, has not the actor too often to play according to his salary? And further, are not the fortunes of a theatre made to depend generally upon the excellences of one or two performers, and not upon the merits of the company as a whole? It is true that in theatres where the broadest humour is made the backbone of the entertainment, care is taken that all the actors shall be funny alike; but then the comic actor depends so much upon being played up to, and if the audience once loses its sense of merriment it naturally becomes depressed, and the comedian has very uphill work to bring the broad grins back again, when once they have given place to yawns. In short, it is folly to talk of ‘intellectual barrenness’ in days like these. Shakespeare, we know, was not for an age, but for all time, and for stage purposes he is still alive. But where are the actors? Mr. Irving must be sufficiently satiated with adulation, and it is not necessary here to sicken him with further praise, but let the two hundred audiences who assisted at the unexampled run of ‘Hamlet’—no such very marvellous achievement, after all—bear witness how painfully mediocre were all the representations of the other characters. King, Ghost, Polonius, Horatio, Laertes, were wearisomely commonplace. Each might have played the other’s part, and the play would have proceeded just the same. There was not the slightest individuality about them—no attempt at conception—no attempt at acting—no attempt at anything save due recitation of the words assigned. And if the greatest dramatist that the world has ever seen is thus treated, what encouragement is there, in England, at all events, for literary and inventive genius to turn its attention to the stage?
     Mr. Buchanan is wrong. It is not ‘intellectual barrenness’ in this time of extraordinary literary activity that can be cited as a reason why the theatre is regarded contemptuously by ‘poets and philosophers.’ Even these gifted persons are not altogether independent of publishers—excepting always Mr. Ruskin—and they must not forget that the coming ‘great manager’ will probably have an eye to the receipts. How the commercial side of the matter may be treated we shall consider farther on when we return to Mr. Neville, but we have a few more words to say with reference to Mr. Buchanan’s contribution to theatrical controversy.
     From a foot-note in his article in the ‘New Quarterly Magazine,’ it would seem that Mr. Buchanan has some reason to be dissatisfied with the newspaper critics for the way in which they wrote about his comedy ‘A Madcap Prince.’ Indeed, he is very hard upon them altogether. He tells us that ‘dramatic critics, for the most part, are small authors of Cockaigne, as nameless as they are incompetent, who, for a pittance, undertake work which few authors of position could be persuaded to do for an income.’ Really, we were not aware that the post of dramatic critic was such a low one that an ‘author of position’ should regard it with such supreme contempt. Mr. Buchanan is himself an ‘author of position’; but, good heavens! what does he call his article on the Modern Stage, with its slashing comments upon playwrights, actors, and managers, but criticism of the keenest kind? Poor Mr. Oxenford, the ‘Times’ critic, will be surprised at being told that he ‘floods the stage with 217 vulgar farces and dramas adapted from the French.’ Mr. Dutton Cook, the dramatic representative of the ‘Pall Mall Gazette,’ may not altogether relish the faint praise that is awarded to him, when he sees that Mr. Buchanan’s principal presumption in his favour is that he writes en amateur. Mr. Buchanan seems to consider it a lamentable thing that the critics do not lead the public. Surely it would be a most undesirable thing that they should do so. If they did, their power would be simply intolerable. Their business is to record faithfully what they have seen, and to state their general impressions, giving, at the same time, their reasons for the conclusion they arrive at as to the intrinsic merits of the play and the performers. That there are ‘some mad, abandoned critics’ is perfectly true, but, as a rule, they do their work honestly, although they may not do it brilliantly; and we have only to refer to Mr. Buchanan’s own criticisms on the late Mr. Robertson, which are very just and truthful, and place the reputation of the lamented author on its proper level. A great writer Mr. Robertson never could have become; a great idea probably never entered his brain. The plays with which his name is associated are amusing caricatures of domestic life, and when well acted are extremely amusing. It can hardly be said that they will ever take a prominent position in the literature of the library. A writer in the ‘Temple Bar’ magazine for June, who evidently admires Mr. Robertson ‘not wisely, but too well,’ goes so far as to say that ‘he will one day stand, not with Sheridan or Goldsmith, who wrote two or three good comedies of human nature, leaving no school, but rather with Molière and Gluck, who left behind them a theatrical revolution.’ Assertions of this kind damage the memory they are intended to sustain. Mr. Byron’s comedy ‘Our Boys’ is quite as good as any piece of Mr. Robertson’s, but, probably, Mr. Byron does not aspire to found a school, any more than he anticipates being placed with Sheridan.
     There is another remark made by Mr. Buchanan, which has a considerable amount of truth in it, and it is this: ‘The one great obstacle to anything like high dramatic art in England is a conspiracy on the part of authors, managers, and actors to emasculate and conventionalise all their productions by a constant tacit reference to Mr. Podsnap’s “young person.” Plays must be simple in structure and succinct in plot to suit the comprehension of the “young person.”’ Without thinking it necessary to endorse Mr. Buchanan’s description of the Lord Chamberlain as the ‘spokesman of an illiterate Court,’ and as a ‘scented courtling,’ we may entirely admit that the censorial logic that permits the vulgarities of opera-bouffe, and the inverted morality of ‘The New Magdalen,’ is somewhat questionable when it disallows the representation of some of the finest of the French dramas because they show the social misery that ensues from breaches of the seventh commandment. If a modern writer had compiled ‘Othello,’ and Shakespeare’s play had not survived, would it have been licensed? Undoubtedly not. To speak plainly, is adultery less fit for the motive principle of a play than murder, forgery, and lying? Is society so pure that such a vice does not need to be held up to public reprobation? It is a well-known fact that when ‘Les Filles de Marbre’ was first produced in 218 Paris it produced such an effect that the demi-monde made a frantic effort to hiss it down. The same piece has been naturalised upon the English stage under the name of ‘The Marble Heart,’ and, in order to conform to the puerile standard of the censorship, its true moral has been wholly and entirely lost. Why, dramatic authors may ask in justice, is there no censorship over novels? Circulating libraries and railway bookstalls are choked with indecent romances which can do no more than suggest prurient ideas. Why may not the stage deal with social vices which, cancer-like, devour the very heart-life of the community? Is it, one is tempted to ask, that the State critic fears to wound the feelings of the actresses that might be called upon to play parts which might be to them personally distasteful? The annals of the Divorce Court published in the daily papers, the veiled histories of moral depravity which are hinted at during five-o’clock tea gossip, and more openly canvassed in club smoking-rooms, are social sores that need the knife of public cauterisation. The stage is the place of all others where social crimes should be held up to public hatred, contempt, and ridicule. It is emphatically to assist at its degradation to regard it merely as a mechanical device for creating laughter and after-dinner amusement. It is true that the world loves pleasure—more, perhaps, now than ever—and seeks, after its daily toil, nothing but recreation; but pleasure and recreation are of the truest kind when they leave an impression behind them which can be afterwards thought of with a sensation of delight, and with a feeling that the temporary enjoyment has left behind a charm and food for thought which in their turn may prove prolific of good. The theatre ought to be the highest intellectual recreation we possess, and it is the duty of actors and authors to regard it in this light. Neither need be afraid that their salaries or emoluments will suffer from nobler notions than those which now so generally obtain. Shakespeare is still the best-loved author, and those actors are the greatest favourites who best interpret his mighty characters. It may seem paradoxical to say that it is both a national disgrace and a national triumph that Signor Salvini should have played, in London, Othello and Hamlet in Italian with such magnificent success. Ah! if he were ours altogether!
     In the July number of ‘Temple Bar’ Lady Pollock has contributed an article on ‘The Poet and the Stage,’ which, though it is written in somewhat high-flown language, is not without its merits as sensible and suggestive. Her Ladyship condemns, with reason, the modern practice of ‘long runs,’ but it is obvious that, as a theatre is expected to pay, ‘long runs’ must be the ambition of managers and actors, and it is not easy to see how the conflicting ends of business and art are to be reconciled. Modern painters feel the dilemma, and it is to be feared that they not unfrequently sacrifice their sense of art when orders crowd upon them. Lady Pollock concludes her article by saying: ‘All that can be suggested here is the significant fact, that those German and French theatres which wholly abjure the continuous representations of one piece are rendered independent, in a great measure, of pecuniary loss by subsidies granted to them either by the government of the country or the corporations of great cities. Some such support seems needed for the establishment in England of a 219 great poetical drama, offering to the people high subjects of interest, and an entertainment which rouses and exalts the imagination.’
     It is only right to say at once, and plainly, to persons who write and talk about a national subsidy for a national theatre, that if they want to do any practical good for the stage, the sooner they get over such dreams and delusions the better. In the first place, no sane Chancellor of the Exchequer would ever think of asking for a vote of ten thousand a-year for a national theatre, small as the sum might be. No analogy can be drawn from the cases of the British and South Kensington Museums. Such matters are sui generis, and are not subjected to public competition. But to expect the British tax-payer to permit any portion of the imposts he discharges with so much grumbling to go to the State subvention of a theatre!—a wilder notion can hardly be conceived. No doubt it would be a nice little thing for the Lord Chamberlain, the ‘scented courtling,’ as Mr. Buchanan poetically styles Lord Hertford. Such an arrangement would give a delicious amount of patronage. Why, the prompter’s box would change its occupant with every change of Government; the manager would fall with the First Lord of the Treasury, and the company would go out with the Ministry. Members of Parliament would put pressure in the right direction to get some dramatic constituent’s pieces produced, and questions would be asked in the House of Commons as to the fees charged for playbills and footstools, and the refreshment would be let through political jobbery; and the probabilities are that such a national theatre, as some people dream of, would shortly become the worst in London. In such a case the Government could not possibly compete with private enterprise.
     Mr. Neville’s scheme is far more possible and practical. It is ‘to make the stage a national institution—to make it that of which a nation may be proud—to give it the rank of a public institution—to provide for it an academy, a discipleship, a home—to erect a tribunal to which its professors may appeal, by which merit may be awarded and demerit swept away into the oblivion it deserves—a tribunal from which spangled nudity and tinselled impudence may shrink abashed, and before which genius may lift its dejected head, and receive the laurels of a nation’s praise’!
     Something of this kind might undoubtedly be done; nay, it ought to be done. To establish an Academy of Dramatic Art would be an effort worthy of some of those wealthy patrons of fine arts who find no difficulty whatever in giving a thousand pounds and more for a single picture; and their money would be well spent, as far as humanity is concerned, for it would be distributed over a wider area, and be productive of far more general good. It is said that two-and-twenty thousand pounds were actually spent before the curtain rose upon the fairy spectacle of ‘Babil and Bijou’ at the Covent Garden Theatre, some two or three years ago. This may be, and we fervently hope it is, an exaggeration; for what might not such a sum have accomplished towards the founding of such an academy as has been mentioned, with a theatre at its back? What is wanted is a really intelligent manager, of good education and professional experience, with substantial capital, who can afford to engage a company competent all round, every actor being bound by contract to serve for a 220 certain time at a fixed salary, and to do his best with any part for which he may be cast; constant change of programme, and a curtailment of the present over-luxurious and unnecessarily expensive mise en scène. In short, why should not the principles upon which the Opera is conducted be applied to some one theatre? The acted drama appeals to truer and more powerful instincts than music, and deserves a higher recognition. Let the actor’s art be placed among the liberal professions; let society discard at once and for ever the grovelling notion that the actor’s calling is an unworthy one for an educated gentleman or lady to follow, and Mr. Buchanan may rest assured that his ‘great dramatist and great manager’ will not be wanting; Lady Pollock’s dreams will be realised; Mr. Neville’s aspirations will reach the climax of their satisfaction; and the theatre will become what Nature and Art have intended that it should be— the highest form of social instruction and intellectual recreation that a noble and educated humanity can desire.




London Society (October, 1875 - Vol. 28, pp. 378-379)

From ‘How The World Wags’ by ‘RAPIER’.

     With reference to those poor critics, I see that Mr. Robert Buchanan, of all people in the world, has been penning what he probably imagines to be a scathing satire. According to this ‘poet,’ they live on a pittance, and are about as vicious as their small intelligence permits them to be; and indeed it is probable that Mr. Buchanan thinks a useful lesson might be taught to journalists and writers generally if a few of these miserable wretches—the critics—were taken and hanged pour encourager les autres. How Mr. Buchanan comes to know the private income of gentlemen with whom he has no acquaintance he omits to state. Criticism by itself may not be a very remunerative profession; but if the writer were acquainted with his subject he would be aware that critics do not live by criticism alone. When the editor of a newspaper wants a critic he does not go into the byways of the East-End and ask the first dishonest-looking stranger he meets to come and write about the drama; on the contrary, the post is, I believe, offered to some one on the staff of the paper, who is known to have a knowledge of things dramatic, or else to some journalist of reputation. There is probably no critic on an important paper who, besides attending the theatres, does not write leaders, or novels, or essays, or articles of some sort—and very likely a little of all—for his own paper and for several others. That the critics did not like Mr. Buchanan’s play, ‘A Madcap Prince,’ may or may not have proved their bias and want of intellect. The attack, however, comes very badly from Mr. Buchanan; and though 379 raking up old scandals is not an agreeable task, it is well that readers should be reminded of that scarcely creditable episode in Mr. Buchanan’s career with reference to his attack on Messrs. Swinburne, Rossetti, and others. Writing under the name of Robert Maitland, he proceeded to the annihilation of his contemporaries, holding up as a bright example to them the glowing talents and perfect taste of a certain Mr. Robert Buchanan. Unless I am very greatly in error, he denied the authorship of the article just about the time that, unluckily for his reputation, his publishers admitted it.



Lucretius and Modern Materialism
published in The New Quarterly Magazine (April 1876.)


The Nonconformist (12 April, 1876)

     The New Quarterly Magazine is determined to maintain its well-earned reputation for freshness and vigour. Mr. Robert Buchanan opens the present number with a paper on “Lucretius and Modern Materialism,” which one would have thought was not altogether in Mr. Buchanan’s way, but it is now difficult to say what is not easy to him in the way of literature. The article is clever, but just a little flippant. “Primæval Packing of the Middle Ages” is a curious exhumation of dead leaves and flowers of an olden time. Mr. John Dangerfield has given a good story in “Alex Fairford.” The description of the characteristics of the Fairford family is a specimen of fine literary art. Mr. Drummond gives some exceedingly interesting incidents of African travel in an article with that title, which every reader will wish had been longer. Mr. Crawford writes with critical and scholarly knowledge on “Ancient and Mediæval Music,” and there is an appreciative estimate of Artemus Ward and the humourists of America in an article, with capital illustrations, by Mr. Matthew Turner. Mr. Turner might, however, have traced this singular humour to its source in the old Puritans—of whom all these new writers are descendants. A pleasant little tale by Mr. Marston, and the “Current Literature and Current Criticism,” completes this number. Of the last we have to say that it is marked by sound breadth and intimate knowledge, and has none of the drawbacks to which we felt compelled to make reference in January. It is a thoroughly interesting and exceedingly well-executed literary review, more interesting, even to old reviewers, and more happily done than we should have conceived to be possible.



Sydney Dobell
published in Temple Bar (May 1879.)


The Examiner (10 May, 1879)

     The chief feature of Temple Bar is an admirable personal sketch of the late Sidney Dobbell, by Mr. Robert Buchanan. Let us hope it will bring readers to the comparatively neglected poems, “Balder” and “The Roman,” which contain passages unsurpassed in beauty and vigour by anything that has been written for the last fifty years. The problematical task of making the rather slippery memoirs of Captain D’Artagnan, one of the heroes of Dumas’ “Three Musketeers,” the basis of a magazine article intended for popular reading in the reign of Queen Victoria is cleverly solved.



Free Thought in America
published in The North American Review (April 1885.)


The Graphic (4 April, 1885)

     In the North American Review, “Free Thought in America” contains Mr. Robert Buchanan’s views on the teachings of Colonel Robert Ingersoll, and of Mr. Frothingham. Of the first he says that he represents the natural reaction of American Bohemianism against the Puritanism of Boston and the overstrained Transcendentalism of Brook Farm. The vice of America accentuated in Colonel Ingersoll is “its materialism,” and, says Mr. Buchanan, “we owe much to the gods, but for them Europe would have been Americanised long ago,” and he goes on to show what a bad thing this would be for us. With Mr. Frothingham he is less severe; but misses in him “the charm of those fairy stories of God which will continue to add to human happiness so long as the heart of man is as a child’s, and some glimpses of a heavenly dream remain.”—Mr. Charles D. Warner’s “A Study of Prison Management” is descriptive of the system in vogue in Elmira Reformatory, and supplies suggestive reading for members of Social Science Congresses.



Next: Robert Buchanan and the Magazines: Essays - continued

or back to Robert Buchanan and the Magazines: List








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search