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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search



Although there is no published ‘Collected Letters of Robert Buchanan’, I occasionally come across letters which have been included in the collections of other writers, or the memoirs of his contemporaries. I have placed these here. (I also must thank Beverley Rilett for the Whitman and Eliot entries.)

It should also be noted that another major source of ‘published letters’ is Harriett Jay’s 1903 biography of Robert Buchanan, which includes several complete letters as well as extracts from others, and is available on this site. Two letters from the biography (one to Roden Noel from August 1868 and one to W. E. H. Lecky from May 1888) were also reprinted in Letters of Literary Men (Vol. 2 The Nineteenth Century) edited by Frank Arthur Mumby (London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd. 1906).



From Study and Stimulants; or, the Use of Intoxicants and Narcotics in Relation to Intellectual Life, as Illustrated by Personal Communications on the Subject, from Men or Letters and of Science edited by A. Arthur Reade (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., Manchester: Abel Heywood and Son, 1883 - p.26)



     I am myself no authority on the subject concerning which you write. I drink myself, but not during the hours of work; and I smoke—pretty habitually. My own experience and belief is, that both alcohol and tobacco, like most blessings, can be turned into curses by habitual self-indulgence. Physiologically speaking, I believe them both to be invaluable to humankind. The cases of dire disease generated by total abstinence from liquor are even more terrible than those caused by excess. With regard to tobacco, I have a notion that it is only dangerous where the vital organism, and particularly the nervous system, is badly nourished.

                                                                                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     March 7, 1882.



From Albert Chevalier, a Record by Himself by Albert Chevalier (Biographical and other Chapters by Brian Daly) (London: John Macqueen, 1895 - pp. 149-150)

     Chevalier first sang “My Old Dutch” at the Alhambra, in Brighton, and the late David James having heard it, suggested that the song would bear a fourth verse, which was afterwards written.
     Upon its production at the London Tivoli, in November, 1892, it proved once and for all that the singer was not limited by conventionality, and that his art was of wider range, and fuller of subtle sympathy than even his warmest admirers may have deemed. There was no false note, no exaggerated sentiment, no “new” emotion; it was that simple, earnest, human yearning which calls forth a loving response from the hearts of all good men and women.
     The Press united in its praise, and Chevalier’s performance elicited from that fine poet and litterateur, Robert Buchanan, the following letter:

“Jan. 17th, 1893.


                   “May I congratulate you on your new song, “The Dear Old Dutch,” which I heard you sing on Saturday evening. It is infinitely sweet and beautiful—a breath of pure human tenderness which ennobles the atmosphere of even a Music Hall. The feeling and the expression are alike perfect, and taken with the rest of the work you are doing, a precious boon to the public. I think your songs unique in ballad literature, and your own art in rendering them something to admire and envy. I am glad to see that the public responds so enthusiastically to such admirable work. You are doing more good than perhaps you realise, and you deserve all the success that can possibly come to you.
     “Forgive my sending this poor testimony of appreciation—it is meant as something far more than a mere compliment—and believe me, with kind regards,
                                                     “Yours truly,
                                                                 “ROBERT BUCHANAN.



I have no more information about the following letter, mentioned in a news item of 1896, no idea who the recipient was, or whether it still exists - I have found no letter with that date in the list of any archive or collection. But, given the fact that the brief extract reveals Buchanan’s attitude to Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton) and his Preface to David Gray’s  The Luggie, and other poems (published May, 1862), I thought it worth noting here.


The Sheffield Evening Telegraph and Star (20 June, 1896 - p.2)


     An autograph letter of Robert Buchanan’s, dated February 6, 1862, is advertised for sale in a catalogue. It contains the following reference to David Grey:—“You have heard of dear Grey’s death. It is a mockery for Milnes, whose silent coldness made the poor boy’s last days miserable, to write a preface to the poems. It is the old story—pæans are too late now.”



From Hall Caine, the Man and the Novelist by Charles Frederick Kenyon (London: Greening & Co., Ltd., 1901 - pp. 79-80)


     Before I leave Rossetti and turn to the novels of the subject of this monograph, I should like to give a letter of the late Mr Robert Buchanan, addressed by him to Mr Caine after reading the latter’s obituary notice of his friend in the Academy. To all who know anything of the life of Rossetti, it will prove of exceptional interest, for it bears directly upon one of the causes of his premature death, and throws fresh light on one of the most widely-discussed episodes of nineteenth-century literature.

“FRANCE, May 18 [1882].

     “DEAR SIR,—I have read with deep interest your memorial of poor Rossetti, and been particularly moved by your passing allusion to myself. I don’t know if your intention was to heap ‘coals of fire’ on my head, but whether or not you have succeeded. I have often regretted my old criticism on your friend, not so much because it was stupid, but because, after all, I doubt one poet’s right to criticise another. For the rest, I have long been of opinion that Rossetti was a great spirit; and in that belief I inscribed to him my ‘God and the Man.’
     “I suppose it was lack of courage which kept me from putting his name boldly on the preprint of my book; but had I dreamed he was ill or ailing, how eagerly would I not have done so! Still, I cannot conceive anyone mistaking the words of that dedication. Some people have been foolish enough to take it as addressed to Swinburne; but every line of it is against that supposition. I wonder now, if Rossetti himself knew of, and understood, that inscription? Perhaps you could tell me, and to ask you I write this letter. It would be a sincere satisfaction to me to know that he did read it, and accepted it in the spirit in which it was written.
     “I am here on my way to Paris, but after this week my address will be uncertain. A letter sent to 30 Queen Anne St., Cavendish Square, will always find me.—I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,
                                                                                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     “T. HALL CAINE, Esq.”



In Hall Caine’s autobiography, My Story (London: William Heinemann, 1908), this letter is ‘dramatised’ as Caine’s first meeting with Buchanan. He then writes:

“A few days afterwards he wrote a long letter, which was intended to explain the motive which had led him to make his unjust attack:
     “In perfect frankness, let me say a few words concerning our old quarrel. While admitting freely that my article in the Contemporary Review was unjust to Rossetti’s claims as a poet, I have ever held, and still hold, that it contained nothing to warrant the manner in which it was received by the poet and his circle. At the time it was written the newspapers were full of panegyric; mine was a mere drop of gall in an ocean of eau sucrée. That it could have had on any man the effect you describe I can scarcely believe, indeed, I think that no living man had so little to complain of as Rossetti on the score of criticism. Well, my protest was received in a way which turned irritation into wrath, wrath into violence; and then ensued the paper war which lasted for years. If you compare what I have written of Rossetti with what his admirers have written of myself, I think you will admit that there has been some cause for me to complain, to shun society, to feel bitter against the world; but, happily, I have a thick epidermis, and the courage of an approving conscience.
     “I was unjust, as I have said; most unjust when I impugned the purity and misconceived the passion of writings too hurriedly read and reviewed currente calamo; but I was at least honest and fearless, and wrote with no personal malignity. Save for the action of the literary defence, if I may so term it, my article would have been as ephemeral as the mood which induced its composition. I make full admission of Rossetti’s claims to the purest kind of literary renown, and if I were to criticise his poems now, I should write very differently. But nothing will shake my conviction that the cruelty, the unfairness, the pusillanimity has been on the other side, not on mine. The amende of my dedication in ‘God and the Man’ was a sacred thing— between his spirit and mine; not between my character and the cowards who have attacked it. I thought he would understand—which would have been, and indeed is sufficient. I cried, and cry no truce with the horde of slanderers who hid themselves within his shadow. That is all. But, when all is said, there still remains the pity that our quarrel should ever have been. Our little lives are too short for such animosities. Your friend is at peace with God—that God who will justify and cherish him, who has dried his tears, and who will turn the shadow of his life-dream into full sunshine. My only regret now is that we did not meet—that I did not take him by the hand; but I am old- fashioned enough to believe that this world is only a prelude, and that our meeting may take place—even yet.”

This letter was also included (as a footnote to pp. 71-72) by Hall Caine in his Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Elliot Stock, 1882).



From Among My Autographs by George R. Sims (London: Chatto & Windus, 1904.)

[Note: For the context in which these letters, please refer to in the Biography section of the site. The second letter is Buchanan’s first approach regarding collaboration with Sims on an Adelphi drama and so probably dates from 1890. The third letter (sent from the country residence of the Marquess of Ailesbury) was probably written during the period of their collaboration which lasted from 1890 to 1893.]


5 Larkhall Rise,
Clapham, December 5, 1880.

     Dear Sir,
                   Permit a disinterested reader to tell you how much he has been surprised and touched by some of your “Ballads of Babylon.” I know by experience that such testimonies, when they come unexpectedly, sometimes convey pleasure; and it is also in my mind that long ago, when “I” also wrote poems of Babylon, a generous-hearted friend of yours, the late Mr. Tom Hood, wrote out of the fulness of his heart such words as gave me great content.
     Be that as it may, I feel the strength and courage of your poems so much that I send you this hasty brief. One ballad—in which you tell the story of the poor outcast who rescues the clergyman she once branded— is to me indescribably noble and affecting, and worth all the æsthetic jargon of the period.
     I write thus to you, and I believe I shall have an opportunity of writing to the public also, before long, on the same theme.
                   Faithfully yours,
                             Robert Buchanan.
Geo. R. Sims, Esq.



     Dear Mr. Sims,
                   Can call on you to-morrow or Thursday before 12, or between 3 and 5—morning preferred. Or glad to see you here after 5 to-morrow, or on Thursday morning. Will you kindly wire your choice? It seems urgent that we should forgather at once, as you are going away so soon.
         With kind regards
               Truly yours
                   Robert Buchanan.
G. R. Sims, Esq.
         How the deuce am I to collaborate with you in Jericho?!



Savernake Forest,
         Oct. 28.

Dear George,
                   I enclosed you a bit of scenario. I shall be up to-morrow (Saturday) and we can then put our wits together. I like the idea more and more.
     Awful weather! Just going out to get wet thro’
                   The Bard



From With Walt Whitman in Camden Vol. 1 (March 28-July 14, 1888) by Horace Traubel (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906).

[Note: The complete With Walt Whitman in Camden is available at The Walt Whitman Archive. As well as this letter of Buchanan’s, Vol. 1 also includes a copy of a letter from Whitman to Buchanan which I thought worth including here. The second volume of With Walt Whitman in Camden includes two more letters from Whitman to Buchanan. Buchanan’s original letter to the Daily News of 13th March, 1876, drawing attention to the economic plight of Whitman, is available in the Letters to the Press section.]


(pp. 1-3)

Wednesday, March 28, 1888.

. . .

     W. handed me a leaf from The Christian Union containing an article by Munger on Personal Purity, in which this is said: “Do not suffer yourself to be caught by the Walt Whitman fallacy that all nature and all processes of nature are sacred and may therefore be talked about. Walt Whitman is not a true poet in this respect, or he would have scanned nature more accurately. Nature is silent and shy where he is loud and bold.” “Now,” W. quietly remarked, “Munger is all right, but he is also all wrong. If Munger had written Leaves of Grass that's what nature would have written through Munger. But nature was writing through Walt Whitman. And that is where nature got herself into trouble.” And after a quiet little laugh he pushed his forefinger among some papers on the table and pulled out a black-ribbed envelope which he reached to me: “Read this. You will see by it how that point staggers my friends as well as my enemies. We have got in the habit of thinking Buchanan is not afraid of anything—is a sort of medieval knight militant going heedlessly about doing good.  But Buchanan, who is not afraid of anything, is afraid of Children of Adam.”

                                                                                     16 UP. GLOUCESTER PLACE, DORSET SQUARE,
                                                                                                                               LONDON, Jan 8, 1877.

     Dear Walt Whitman:     Pray forgive my long silence. I have been deep in troubles of my own. All the books have arrived and been safely transmitted. Many thanks.
     You have doubtless heard about affairs in England. The tone adopted by certain of your friends here became so unpleasant that I requested all subscriptions etc. to be paid over to Rossetti, and received no more myself. During a certain lawsuit against the Examiner, your admirers—notably Mr. Swinburne—pleaded against me that I had praised 
you, cited your words against me in court etc. I never was so shocked and astonished, for I would not have believed human beings capable of such iniquity.
     As I think I told you before, I shall ever regret the insertion of certain passages in your books (Children of Adam etc). I do not believe them necessary or defensible. These passages are quoted as being the work of an immoral writer, and, altho' I tried to show they were part of a system of philosophy, it would not do. I know the purity and righteousness of your meaning, but that does not alter my regret.
     I think your reputation is growing here, and I am sure it deserves to grow. But your fatal obstacle to general influence is the obnoxious passages. I wish you would make up your mind to excise them with your own hand.
     God bless you!—May your trouble lift, and may happy days be in store for you!—Let me know about your affairs. I may soon be in a position to help you more definitely.
                   Yours ever,
                                         ROBT. BUCHANAN.

W. watched me as I read the letter and when he saw I was through resumed: “Children of Adam stumps the worst and the best: I have even tried hard to see if it might not as I grow older or experience new moods stump me: I have even almost deliberately tried to retreat. But it would not do. When I tried to take those pieces out of the scheme the whole scheme came down about my ears. I turned Buchanan’s letter up today in a heap of nothings and somethings. I guess Buchanan and Munger would not agree about lots of the subsidiary things but here the preacher and the radical come together: though as for that there is a difference between them even in this thing: for while Munger talks of the ‘fallacy’ as though it was fundamental to Buchanan I am only guilty of a lack of taste. Well—there are the pieces, to sink or swim with the book: and here is Walt Whitman to sink or swim likewise.”



(pp. 368-370)

Friday, June 22, 1888.

. . .

     Reminded of an old affair by the draft of a letter W. to Robert Buchanan (1876) which we turned up on the table while looking for something else, W. said to me: “There was a great rattling of dry bones over there and here that time about my poverty—whether I was starving to death or wasn’t—whether the Americans deserted me or didn’t desert me: Conway particularly seemed to take it particularly hard that America should be supposed to have neglected me. It was during that period that I wrote Buchanan several letters—this is one of them—in which I tried to calm the waters even while frankly confessing my financial disabilities. But you will see for yourself what I mean: you have other documents relating to the same incident. I think a little blood was spilled but no one was really hurt. If a man sells goods—well, selling them seems all right: but if he sells poems, selling is degrading, wrong. When I confessed to those Englishmen that I had written and written and no one—or almost no one—here wanted what I wrote—said so honestly to the few on the other side who did care a little for me—accepted their help here and there, when I needed it (I often gave help where help was needed) I was regarded as a beggar, charged with misrepresenting America, and so on, and so on. What I said was true, true, every word of it. I didn’t blame America for not wanting me—I only remarked it. Maybe it was America that was right and England that was wrong: I do not know. But you will read the Buchanan letter—now I am tired: let’s say good-night.” He took my hand. “You are sensitive—I know you well, well, so you must believe me when I say that my good-night is not a dismissal—it is only good-night! A good-night and a God bless you!” He kissed me. I did not read the letter until I got home. W. certainly was very clear tonight. Speech very slow, hard, but straight—noway confused. Baker says he is rather mixed up when he first comes out of his sleep in the morning but that he seems afterwards rational enough however physically depressed.
     The Buchanan letter is in a very decrepit condition—written on sheets of very thin and now attenuated paper of irregular sizes and texture and color pinned together. It is dated May 16, 1876, and starts off with this memorandum:
“(must have gone 17th by Scotia from N.Y.”)

     “Your two letters including the cheque for £25 reached me, for which accept deepest thanks. I have already written you my approval of your three communications in L. D. News and saying that in my opinion (and now with fullest deliberation reaffirming it) all the points assumed as facts on which your letter of March 13 is grounded are substantially true and most of them are true to the minutest particular as far as could be stated in a one column letter.
     “Then let me quite definitely explain myself about one or two things. I should not have instigated this English move, and if I had been consulted should have peremptorily stopped it—but now that it has started and grown, and under the circumstances, and by the person, and in the spirit, (and especially as I can and will give, to each generous donor, my book, portrait, autograph, myself as it were) I am determined to respond to it in the same spirit in which it has risen—to accept most thankfully, cordially and unhesitatingly all that my friends feel to convey to me, which determination I here deliberately express once for all. This you are at liberty to make known to all who feel any interest in the matter.
     “The situation at present may be briefly and candidly told. I am, and have for three years during my paralysis, been boarding here with a relative, comfortable and nice enough, but steadily paying just the same as at an inn,—and the whole affair in precisely the same business spirit. My means would by this time have entirely given out but that have been temporarily replenished from sales of my new edition and as now by this most welcome present and purchase—the £25 herein acknowledged.
     “Though without employment, means or income you augur truly that I am not in what may be called pinching want—nor do I anticipate it.
     “My object I may say farther has lately been and still is to build a cheap little three or four room house on a little lot I own in a rural skirt of this town—for a nook, where I can haul in and eke out in a sort of independent economy and comfort and as satisfactorily as may be the rest of my years—for I may live several of them yet.—To attain this would be quite a triumph, and I feel assured I could then live very nicely indeed on the income from my books.
     “I shall (as I see now) continue to be my own publisher and bookseller. Accept all subscriptions to the New Edition. All will be supplied upon remittance. There are Two Volumes. Leaves of Grass, 384 pages, $5, has two portraits. Then Two Rivulets, poems and prose, (including Memoranda of the War) with photos, 359 pages—also $5. Each book has my autograph. The Two Volumes are my complete works, $10 the set.
     “I wish the particular address of each generous friend given, so as he or she can be reach’d by mail or express— either with the autographic volume Two Rivulets or a complete set of my works in Two Volumes, with autograph and portraits, or some other of my books.
     “It may be some while before the books arrive but they will arrive in time.”

     A marked out passage in the letter was this: “There is doubtless a point of view from which Mr. Conway’s statement of April 4th might hold technically—but essentially, and under the circumstances—” There was no more.



From With Walt Whitman in Camden Vol. 2 (July 16, 1888 - October 31, 1888) by Horace Traubel (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1915).


(pp. 326-327)

Saturday, September 15th, 1888.

. . .

W. handed me some drafts of letters pinned together: “You may put them away or throw them away just as you think best. They will give you a little biographical data, maybe—and that would be some excuse for keeping them. Before you came around I used to burn most of such stuff up: you are responsible for the idea that there is a reason for preserving   it.” The letters were to Freiligrath, Buchanan (two), Carlyle and John Morley. I will put them here in the order in which they were pinned together. On the back of the second Buchanan letter W. wrote: “Sent B the N Y letter of July 4 '78 (to Olean, Scotland).” On the back of the Carlyle letter he had written: “To Carlyle with Dem Vistas & Am Inst. poem.” On the reverse of the Morley letter was this: “letter to Mr. Morley reach'd London probably New Year’s day.”

. . .

Sept. 4 ’76.

     I forward you by Express today same address as this letter the package of Books (see list on other side)—I wish Tennyson to have a set and have enclosed one, and would ask you to do me the favor of seeing that it is safely transmitted to him. Notwithstanding the disclaimer in yours of April 23 I also send a set for Richard Bentley in response to his kindness and generosity: (if anything I know not of prevents its reaching him, I wish you to keep it for yourself.)
     Please see that the photograph is given to the School of Art, with my affectionate respects.
     Trusting to your kindness to see that they are carefully sent to the subscribers.


                                                                                                     431 STEVENS ST COR WEST
                                                                                                         CAMDEN N JERSEY U S AMERICA
                                                                                                                                               April 4 ’76


     My dear friend—I merely want to say that I have read your letter in the London Daily News—all your three letters—and that I deeply appreciate them, and do not hesitate to accept and respond to them in the same spirit in which they were surely impelled and written.
         May God bless you and yours,
                   WALT WHITMAN.



From Recollections by David Christie Murray (London: John Long, 1908 - pp.306-309)

[Note: Although David Christie Murray (elder brother of Buchanan’s friend and collaborator, Henry Murray) does not mention Buchanan in his autobiographical works, he does include two letters from Buchanan in Recollections, preceded by the letter from Joseph Hocking. In March, 1896 there was a heated exchange of letters between Christie Murray and Buchanan in The Era concerning plagiarism charges.]


Copy of Letter to David Christie Murray,
9th Sept. 1897.

148 Todmorden Road,
Burnley, Lancs.

     MY DEAR SIR, — Will you kindly excuse the liberty I take in writing? I have just bought and read your new book My Contemporaries in Fiction, and feel that I must thank you. The task you assumed was, I think, necessary, and your estimate of the various writers just, and on the whole generous. I know my opinion is of little value, but I have long felt that several of our modern novelists were appraised miles beyond their merits, and I have often wished that some man of position, one who could speak candidly without fear of being accused of being envious, would give to the world a fair and fearless criticism of the works of novelists about whom some so-called critics rave. Thousands will be glad that you have done this, and I hope your book will have the success it deserves.
     It will be a matter for thankfulness, too, that you have tried to do justice to George Macdonald, and to give him the place he deserves. To read the fulsome stuff which is so often written about Crockett, and then to think that Macdonald is quietly shelved, is enough to make one sick at heart. Certainly, I shall do all that lies in my power to make your work known.
     I do wish, however that you had devoted a few pages to one who, a few years ago, loomed large in the literary horizon. I mean Robert Buchanan. I know that during these last few years he has poured out a great deal of drivel, but I cannot forget books like The New Abelard, and especially, God and the Man. It is a matter of surprise and regret that one of Buchanan’s undoubted powers should have thrown himself away as he has done. All the same, the man who wrote God and the Man and The Shadow of the Sword, hysterical as the latter may be, deserves a place in such a book as yours, and an honest criticism, such as I am sure you could give, might lead him, even yet, to give us a work worthy of the promise of years ago.
     I am afraid you will regard this letter as presumptuous, nevertheless, I am prompted by sincere admiration. Years ago I read Joseph’s Coat and Aunt Rachel, and still think the latter to be one of the tenderest and most beautiful things in fiction. I also remember the simple scene which gave the title to the book called A Bit of Human Nature, and shall never cease to admire what seems to me a flash of real genius. Consequently, when I stood close by you at a “Vagabond’s” dinner, on the ladies’ night some months ago, I was strongly impelled to ask for an introduction, but lacked the necessary audacity to carry out my one time determination.
     Again thanking you for a book which has afforded me a genuine pleasure to read, besides giving me much mental stimulus, — I am, dear sir, yours very truly,
                   (Sgd.) JOSEPH HOCKING.



Copy of Letter to David Christie Murray,
17th June 1897.

     DEAR MURRAY,—I am getting so weary of controversy that I must decline to take part, directly or indirectly, in any more. Possibly, in the heat of annoyance, I may have said harsh things about Mr Scott, but if so, I have forgotten them, and I think all harsh things are better forgotten. I am sorry, therefore, to hear that you are on the war-path, and wish I could persuade you to turn back to the paths of peace. You are too valuable to be wasted in this sort of warfare. I daresay you will smile at such advice from me, of all men, but believe me, I speak from sad experience.
     I was sorry to hear about the fate of your play, but ’tis the fortune of war, and I hope it will only stir you to another effort which may possess, not more merit, possibly, but better luck, which now-a-days counts more than merit.—With all good wishes, I am, yours truly,
                   (Sgd.) ROBERT BUCHANAN.



Copy of Letter to David Christie Murray,
1st. [1891]

“Merkland,” 25 Maresfield Gardens,
South Hampstead, N.W.

     DEAR CHRISTIE MURRAY,—I thank you for your kind breath of encouragement, and am very glad that my Outcast contains anything to awaken a response in so fine a nature as your own. It was very good of you to think of writing to me on the subject at all.
     I can’t help thinking that men who still hold to the old traditions should stick together and form some kind of a phalanx. I was not sorry, therefore, to hear that you had expressed yourself freely about the craze of a noisy minority for formlessness and ugliness in realistic literature. Ibsen’s style, regarded merely as style, bears the same relation to good writing that the Star newspaper does to a Greek statue. I don’t myself much mind what morals a man teaches, so long as he preserves the morality of beautiful form, but at the rate we are now going, literature seems likely to become a series of causes célèbres chronicled in the language of the penny-a-liner. And over and above this is the dirty habit, growing upon many able men, of examining their secretions, always an evident sign of hypochondria.
     I am awaiting with much interest your further steps on the plane dramatic. Meantime, I hope I shall see more of you and yours. With kind regards.—Truly yours,
                   (Sgd.) ROBERT BUCHANAN.



From Life and Art of Richard Mansfield: with selections from his letters, Volume 1 by William Winter (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1910 - pp. 108-110)

     Among the many personal tributes that Mansfield received, on the occasion of his performance of Richard the Third, two letters from the poet Robert Buchanan gave him much gratification. The author of such poems as “Two Sons,” “The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,” and “The Vision of the Man Accurst” was a person whose praise was worth having. He is dead now, and in his death a fine genius perished. Buchanan’s first letter, a copy of which was sent to me by Mansfield, was first published in “The New York Tribune,” April 9, 1889.

                                                                                                                           London, March 26, 1889.
My Dear Sir:—
     Outside praise is of little value to one who works from his own point of insight, but, knowing from experience that a friendly wish may be pleasure, I venture to tell you how much I was impressed by your Richard the Third.
     Your Shakespearean work seems to me about as fine as it could well be. I do not understand those critics who, while praising it, say that it is not Richard. To me it seems an absolute realization of that demoniac creature.
     You have one unusual gift, in addition to your subtler ones,—that of music in the voice, which makes a poor devil of a poet hunger to have his lines delivered by such an organ.
     I went, prepared to see an excellent piece of acting: I found a masterpiece of characterization. And what a delight it is at last to find an actor who is thoroughly alive, who is perfectly fearless in his intellectual agility, and never falters one moment in his execution of a daring conception.
     I just write these few words of congratulation. Later I may have an opportunity of writing to the public also.
                                                                                                                       Yours truly,
                                                                                                                                 ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     To Richard Mansfield, Esq.


                                                                                                   “Leyland,” Arkwright Road,
                                                                                                           Hampstead, N.W., March 27, 1889.
Dear Mr. Mansfield:—
     This road is at the top of St. John’s Avenue, and about ten minutes from the Swiss Cottage. My man can look after your fiery steed when you call, but, as I am somewhat uncertain in my movements, you might let me have a line, or a wire, to announce your advent. I wouldn’t like to miss the pleasure of seeing you. Would Friday or Saturday next suit you? If so, I’ll await your message.
     Pray believe me when I say that I seldom go out of my way to write letters of compliment, and that my message to you was a most unusual one, for me. I at the same time sent a line of congratulation to the sweet child who played the Prince. I mention this as there are some idiots who are always writing letters, and you might fancy me a “gusher.” Indeed, when I think of it, I can hardly remember ever having done such a thing before,—from which you may gather at least one thing, that I was strongly and deeply moved.
     There are mean souls who bend down only to the sun in its meridian. I turn to the splendor of the dawn! If you possess pathos in any proportion to your power, I believe you will move mountains. I saw strange possibilities of pathos in several of your scenes, notably that with Lady Anne, when your face became wonderfully tender and spiritual—but your greatest conjuration will come out of your vitality: it is indeed a pleasure to find an actor so splendidly alive.
                                                                               With all good wishes,
                                                                                           Yours very truly,
                                                                                                             ROBERT BUCHANAN.
     Richard Mansfield, Esq.


[From The New-York Daily Tribune (April 9, 1889 - p.6).]

[Note: The address of Buchanan’s second letter to Mansfield is interesting. “Leyland,” Arkwright Road, Hampstead was the residence of Mona Caird. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

“Caird [née Alison], (Alice) Mona (1854–1932), writer, was born on 24 May 1854 at 34 Pier Street, Ryde, Isle of Wight, to John Alison, an inventor from Midlothian, and Matilda Ann Jane, née Hector. As a child she wrote plays and stories. On 19 December 1877 she married James Alexander Caird (d. 1921), son of Sir James Caird, at Christ Church, Paddington, London. The couple resided at Leyland, Arkwright Road, Hampstead, London, for the remainder of their forty-four-year marriage. Their only child, Alison James Caird, was born at Leyland on 22 March 1884.”]



From Sixty-Eight Years on the Stage by Mrs. Charles Calvert (London: Mills & Boon, 1911 - pp.131-133)

[Note: Buchanan lived at Rossport Lodge between 1873 and 1877.]


     During the last three or four years that we lived in Manchester I was engaged by the committee of the Royal British Institution to give readings from the poets, in their lecture room, on Wednesday afternoons during the winter session. As there were three of these readings in the year, and each one embraced some nine or ten items, it follows that they required a considerable amount of research (for I very seldom repeated anything), and I had to scamper through dozens of volumes to obtain the requisite material.
     I received one day the following letter—

Rossport Lodge,
         County Mayo,
         December 20.


                   A friend writes to tell me that you have been publicly reading some of my poems, and that you have actually read, successfully too, the “Ballad of Judas Iscariot,”—which last piece of news is to me so astonishing that I am tempted to ask particulars at the fountain head. That you should have faced an audience with such a poem, strikes me as singularly original and courageous, but that you should have moved that audience with it, in defiance of popular prejudice, is a proof of extraordinary genius. Do tell me all about it, if I am not rude in asking the favour. I fervently believe that one who could do so much with “Judas Iscariot” could read even “The Vision of the Man Accurst” with overwhelming effect. Do you know the last-named poem?
     Forgive this abrupt note, and believe me fully conscious of the honour you do me and the help such interpretation gives me.
                   Yours most truly,
                             ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     I was compelled to reply that, intensely as I admired the poem, I was afraid to include it in my programme. Many of the lines in the “Vision of the Man Accurst” were supposed to be spoken by the First Person of the Trinity, and, as my audiences usually included schools, it might be regarded by the teachers as savouring of profanity.
     I included several of Buchanan’s poems, however, in my readings—“Langley Lane,” “Lord Ronald’s Wife,” and that stirring ballad of the Covenanters, “The Battle of Drumliemoor.”
     I always felt that Robert Buchanan was a man greatly underrated. His “Ballad of Judas Iscariot,” and the “Vision of the Man Accurst,” seemed to me to rise to absolute grandeur. His novel, God and the Man, was powerful in the extreme, and his “Ode to David in Heaven” (a young lad, who died of consumption, and who was Buchanan’s companion through years of poverty and misfortune) touches the very soul and essence of poetry. But his bitter diatribe against “The Fleshly School,” published in the Saturday Review, and hurled chiefly against Swinburne and Rossetti, raised up against him many powerful enemies, and their adverse influences combined to check his career, and keep him from the goal.
     He rests in the little churchyard at Southend, where Mr. T. P. O’Connor, a few years ago, unveiled a memorial over his grave.



From My Life: Sixty Years’ Recollections of Bohemian London by George R. Sims (London: Eveleigh Nash Company Ltd., 1917.)

[Note: Sims dates this letter as shortly after the annual banquet of the Royal Academy of Arts, at which Mr. W. E. H. Lecky praised Buchanan’s A City of Dream. However, this took place on 5th May, 1888 and their first collaboration for the Adelphi, The English Rose, did not appear till September 1890, which would suggest this letter is later. The passage in which this letter appears is available in the Biography section of the site.]


     Dear Sims,
                   Thanks for your letter. Now that you realize exactly what I mean, and feel that it implies no forgetfulness of our friendship, I’m sure you’ll help me. I should feel so free for stage purposes if I worked under a pseudonym, and it wouldn’t matter at all whether or not the public knew it to be such (as they would)—it would keep the two kinds of work completely distinct. And after all it is your name, not mine, which attracts to the Adelphi, for you are a popular writer, and I a d—d unpopular one.
     I should work with ten times the heart if my dramatic work were kept altogether apart from my poetical, so far as my name is concerned. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to be a poet only—I wish I could, for poetry alone gives me real happiness, not for any reward it yields in pence or praise, but solely because it was my first love and is my last.
     Nor have I any scorn for the stage. On the contrary, I honour and delight in it, and as for you, I’ve always held you to be one of the choicest spirits of the time, far higher in thought and power than many of us poets. Dramatic work falls justly and finely into your broad sympathy with life for life’s sake. I, on the other hand, am a dreamer, a whiner after the Unknown and Unknowable. I was ‘built that way.’
     You’ve given me many, many happy days. I love you personally, and would do anything in the world to bring you happiness and honour. So you mustn’t, mustn’t misconceive me! Set me down as a fool if you like, but never doubt the friendship which makes me subscribe myself, yours always,
                   ROBERT BUCHANAN.



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

[Note: The essay is available in the Fleshly School section of the site.]

38 Queen Anne St
Cavendish Square
Nov. 6 [1881]

Dear Mr. Furnivall,

     I have to thank you heartily for the Browning circular; and I take the opportunity to send you a copy of my new prose poem, ‘God & the Man.’ I know that you will apprehend its spirit & its purport, & I trust that it may secure for me ‘one more friend.’ Like Browning himself, I have suffered for years from the persecution of a literary Inquisition; and as it is such men as you that scatter light & fight on the side of minorities, I would gladly secure your sympathy in more or less measure.
     I see that you quote some of my poor criticism from the Athenæum. It is not without a certain pain that I see my name connected in any way with a journal which, to my mind, is a synonym for nepotism & cowardly malignity. The only protection against such a publication is the large & free influence of the British press generally.
     With my best wishes that your good works may prosper, & your independent spirit get fair play, believe me

                   Yours cordially,
                   Robert Buchanan



2 Devereux Terrace
Nov. 10 [1881]

Dear Mr. Furnivall,

     I thought to be in Queen Anne St temporarily this week, but on Monday night my beloved wife died here. While this great darkness is upon me, I cannot respond to your kindness as I could wish; but I look forward to seeing you some day soon. With kind regards

                   Yours faithfully
                   Robert Buchanan



From The George Eliot Letters. Vol. 9. 1871-1881. Ed. Gordon Sherman Haight (Yale University Press. 1978.)


9th December, 1878


Dear Mrs. Lewes,

                   I wrote the enclosed in the Examiner, and it fairly expresses my feeling on the subject. I wish I could send you any comfort; I cannot—only my warmest prayers.
         I don’t know to this hour what caused the estrangement between Mr. Lewes and myself, nor do I now wish to know. In the shadow of the grave, nothing but love should dwell, and there is only love in my heart. I believe this—that your husband had no more affectionate admirer than myself.
         Forgive this line, and accept the assurance of my deepest sympathy and respect.

                   Most truly yours,
                   Robert Buchanan


The piece from The Examiner is presumably this anonymous ‘In Memoriam’ which was published in that paper on 7th December, 1878 (p.15).]



From Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research by Ian Small (ELT Press, 1993) (p.81.)


ALS Robert [Williams] Buchanan to Wilde

MS Wilde, O. Recip.

25, Maresfield Gardens
South Hampstead
Aug. 5. 1891

My dear Oscar Wilde,

                   I ought to have thanked you thus for your present of Dorian Gray, but I was hoping to return the compliment by sending you a work of my own: this I shall do in a very few days. You are quite right as to our divergence, which is temperamental. I cannot accept yours as a serious criticism of life. You seem to me like a holiday maker throwing pebbles into the sea, or viewing the great ocean from under the awning of a bathing machine. I quite see, however, that this is only your “fun,” & that your very indolence of gaiety is paradoxical, like your utterances. If I judged you by what you deny in print, I should fear that [you] were somewhat heartless. Having seen & spoken with you, I conceive that you are just as poor & self-tormenting a creature as any of the rest of us, and that you are simply joking at your own expense.
         Don’t think me rude in saying that Dorian Gray is very very clever. It is more—it is suggestive & stimulating, and has (tho’ you only outlined it) the anxiety of a human Soul in it. You care far less about Art, or any other word spelt with a capital, than you are willing to admit, and [therein?] lies your salvation, as you will presently discover. Though here and there in your pages you parade the magnificence of the Disraeli waistcoat, that article of wardrobe fails to disguise you. One catches you constantly in puris naturalibus, and then the Man is worth observing.

         With thanks & all kind wishes
         Yours truly
         Robert Buchanan

Oscar Wilde Esq.



This letter is described on pages 70-71 as follows:

     ‘The kind of insights which such snippets provide is better illustrated by another unpublished letter in the HRHRC collection—from Robert Buchanan to Wilde:

My dear Oscar Wilde,

     I ought to have thanked you thus for your present of Dorian Gray, but I was hoping to return the compliment by sending you a work of my own: this I shall do in a very few days. You are quite right as to our divergence, which is temperamental. I cannot accept yours as a serious criticism of life. You seem to me like a holiday maker throwing pebbles into the sea, or viewing the great ocean from under the awning of a bathing machine. I quite see, however, that this is only your “fun,” & that your very indolence of gaiety is paradoxical, like your utterances.

Buchanan was a controversial figure who had made a reputation as a virulent critic of most of the values Wilde stood for. To discover Wilde initiating a friendly exchange of books and letters with Buchanan is therefore interesting. Of course, attempts by Wilde to curry favour with potential reviewers by sending them complimentary copies of his work was not unusual. Rather it is the reputation of Buchanan which makes this letter noteworthy.
     Twenty years earlier Buchanan had become notorious for his vituperative journalism attacking what he saw as a vicious and degenerate trend in contemporary literature. The targets of his invective on that occasion were Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne in particular, and the embryonic Aesthetic Movement in general. A decade later, following the publication of Rossetti’s
Ballads and Sonnets and the revised Poems, Buchanan’s arguments were revived by a number of like-minded critics.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was a novel which, in the eyes of those critics, seemed to fulfill Buchanan’s warnings. It was a book hardly likely to appeal to a man of Buchanan’s sensibilities, and Wilde’s approach to him is therefore very engaging. It might be seen to be an act of uncharacteristic naïveté, but a much more likely explanation is that Wilde, ever the opportunist, was simply attempting to enlist an ally, or at the very least attempting to forestall overt criticism from a potential opponent. The practice of mutual log-rolling—that is, of averting hostile criticism by enlisting one’s friends as potential and therefore favourable reviewers—was well known among late nineteenth-century authors, and Wilde himself often indulged in it. Here, however, Wilde is taking the process one step further by attempting to make a friend of an enemy.’


[Note: The location of the letter is given as ‘HRHRC’, which is the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas and I’m assuming this is the letter referred to on the List of Locations of Buchanan’s Letters and Related Material page.]


Back to Letters








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search