ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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BESANT AND BUCHANAN OBITUARIES - continued

 

The Church Weekly (14 June, 1901)

Deaths of Two Victorian Authors.

     Two figures, dissimilar in character and in fortune, have been called to end their part in the world’s stage almost simultaneously. Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan, widely different in every other respect, were alike in this—that they both loved and wrote for their suffering fellow-men. The former died somewhat suddenly on June 9th, at his Hampstead residence, Frognal End, from a complication of internal ailments.
     Like Charles Dickens, Sir Walter was born at Portsmouth, and also like his great predecessor he died on June 9th. Born in 1836, the son of a well-to-do merchant, he was educated at King’s College, London, and Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he won distinction as a mathematical scholar. From 1861 to 1867 he was professor of Mathematics at the Royal College of Mauritius, and while there wrote his first novel.
     His meeting with James Rice was an epoch in his career, and began one of the most complete and successful literary partnerships ever formed. The death of Rice dissolved it in 1882, and in the same year Sir Walter published in his own name his most famous book, “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” which showed his deep interest in the social conditions of the “submerged tenth,” and was the direct cause of the building of the People’s Palace in Mile End-road, which ever will be connected with his name. This work was followed by “Children of Gibeon” and “Katherine Regina,” in 1887; “The Inner House,” in 1888; “For Faith and Freedom” and “The Bell of St. Paul’s,” in 1889; “A History of London,” in 1893; “Beyond the Dreams of Avarice,” in 1894, &c. Sir Walter also contributed very largely to the periodical literature of his time, and wrote very much in the Daily News on social questions, in which he always took the keenest interest. Sir Walter also, for a quarter-of-a-century, took great interest in the Palestine explorations, was secretary of the fund for several years, and wrote in conjunction with professor Palmer a history of Jerusalem. Much of his energy was devoted to securing the rights of authorship versus publishers. He received the dignity of knighthood in May, 1895. Lady Besant, to whom he was married in 1874, survives him.
     In sad contrast to this smooth and prosperous career stands that of Robert Buchanan, poet, dramatist, and journalist, who, after a lingering illness, died at eight a.m. on June 10th, at 90, Lewin-road, Streatham, the residence of his sister-in- law, Miss Harriet Jay. Born in 1841, at Cavarsham, Staffordshire, he was the son of a journalist and socialist lecturer, and after working for a short time with his father he set out for London, at the age of 17, with a friend, David Gray, dreaming of poetical fame. Visions soon faded before the dim reality of terrible privations, to which young Gray, a delicate lad, quickly succumbed, but Robert Buchanan was of sterner stuff, mental and physical, and it required a long course of semi-starvation to shake his conviction that he was the destined successor of Tennyson.
     He gradually got work on the Athenæum, the Literary Gazette, and Household Words, then edited by Charles Dickens, who was his hero. “Two or three times a week,” he wrote, “walking, black bag in hand, from Charing Cross Station to the office of All the Year Round in Wellington-street, came the good, the only Dickens. From that good genius the poor straggler from Fairyland got solid help and sympathy.” Buchanan’s combative nature and sarcastic style frequently got him into hot water with his contemporaries and literary rivals, but his attacks were generally directed against those whom he considered as comprising what he termed “The fleshly school of writers,” his own writings being marked by high-toned morality. Much of the poetry he wrote is decidedly good, but opinions are divided as to the excellence of his novels. They are all interesting, but most of them will probably be forgotten before many years have passed.

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The Northampton Mercury (14 June, 1901 - p.5)

OBITUARY.     The death of Lord Wantage, V.C., which occurred on Monday of this week at Lockinge, his home in Berkshire, is dealt with in our local columns, and it only remains to note briefly that by his death another of the Crimean heroes (Lord Wantage won his V.C. in the Crimea) has joined the great majority. On the same day on which this sad event was announced—Monday—the passing away of two well-known men in the literary world was also reported. A remarkable contrast is that between Sir Walter Besant and Mr. Robert Buchanan. They were excellent examples of two opposite tendencies in Victorian literature. The one was pleasing useful, and decorous; the other an Ishmael, whose hand was raised against all convention. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the careers of two men. Sir Walter Besant moved in a calm and somewhat stately course; Robert Buchanan began in storm and struggle, and went on in stormy conflict with his generation till his health broke down. Neither of them can be called really great, and Sir Walter’s graphic histories will be read probably when his romances are forgotten. In pleasant novel or in picturesque local history, Sir Walter had found his true vocation. Mr. Buchanan, trying too many things, never obtained solid footing in any. His vocation was literature; but his power was wasted in beating his wings against his cage in his struggles to reach a wider environment than his powers equipped him for.

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The Academy (15 June, 1901 - No. 1519, p.515-516)

Two Writers.

LAST Monday the news placards announced the deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Mr. Robert Buchanan. It is not often that death mows down two such writers in one sweep, and there was probably not a literary man in London who was not solemnised by the news. It seemed strange, too, that these men, who, though near to each other by profession, were by temperament so far apart, should be thus bracketted. “Success, and failure,” “kindliness, and bitterness,” were the words one heard. Even stronger comparisons were made between the two writers, who, both in their sixties, in one day lay dead. Reflection must soften such comparisons. The success and happiness of Sir Walter Besant and the comparative failure and unhappiness of Robert Buchanan are not explained by the crude application of copy-book maxims. Sir Walter Besant was universally known as one who loved his fellow men; Robert Buchanan, with all his strife, was assuredly a warm-hearted and unselfish man, profoundly touched by and interested in the human lot. They differed in training and temperament. There was the greatest possible difference between the well-balanced, rather professional, correctness and benevolence of Sir Walter Besant and the alternating volcanic energy and Bohemian easy-goingness of Mr. Buchanan. In abilities Mr. Buchanan had the advantage. He was a far greater literary artist than Sir Walter Besant, and could do a greater number of things, and do them better. He was concerned with deeper subjects, and he had learned life in the more thorough school of suffering. He studied life in the nude while Sir Walter Besant arranged its draperies. Partly because he lived deeper than his brother in letters he lived less happily. He was ill-organised to weather the storms he raised; and as years went on, and the storms continued, he began to get the worst of the fight and to know bitter hours of defeat, perhaps of jealousy. One came to think of him with a special mingling of respect and pity, feeling that he was a right good fellow and a great nuisance. That his heart was really cankered by care and disappointment one cannot believe. His hatreds, though fierce, were not implacable. It would be unjust to think so in face of his curious and sincere repentance of his attack on Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the famous article on “The Fleshy School of Poetry.” This diatribe in the Contemporary Review clouded and shortened Rossetti’s life. Buchanan recanted ten years later, and never ceased to recant, and to touch tenderly on Rossetti’s memory. To the poet he had maligned he dedicated his romance called God and the Man, inscribing it “To An Old Enemy.” In his other onslaughts on literary reputations Buchanan was, we think, far more fierce in action than in his after-reflections. Once when he had written a characteristically unsparing attack on a literary woman, the present writer, speaking with him, was surprised to find how his controversial muscles had relaxed after the tension of attack, and how a disposition to joke the matter down to its true proportions alone occupied his mind.
     Buchanan’s mind had to be interpreted to some extent by his early days of literary hardship. He was one of five young fellows who came up to London from Glasgow. Among these was William Black the novelist. Another was David Gray, Buchanan’s particular friend, a sensitive and consumptive poet who began the literary life by sleeping one night in the open air in Hyde Park, an eighteenth-century proceeding, that laid him on his death-bed in Buchanan’s lodgings at No. 66, Stamford-street. Hither came Lord Houghton, Laurence Oliphant, and others to whom the dying poet had become known. Left alone in London, Buchanan had a very hard time, mitigated by his youth. In after years he exclaimed on these days: “What did my isolation matter when I had all the gods in Greece for company, to say nothing of the fays and trolls of Scottish Fairyland? Pallas and Aphrodite haunted that old garret; and on Waterloo Bridge, night after night, I saw Selene and all her nymphs; and when my heart sank low, the Fairies of Scotland sang me lullabies! It was a happy time. Sometimes, for a fortnight together, I never had a dinner—save, perhaps, on Sunday, when the good- natured Hebe would bring me covertly a slice from the landlord’s joint. My favourite place of refreshment was the Caledonian Coffee House in Covent Garden. Here, for a few coppers, I could feast on coffee and muffins—muffins saturated with butter, and worthy of the gods! Then, issuing forth, full-fed, glowing, oleaginous, I would light my pipe and wander out into the lighted streets.” There are youths in northern towns to-day whose hearts would leap at the prospect of such a life with its miseries and chances. It is certain that an acquaintance with the hungry end of London life is an education if only it come early and not late. But it may leave an ineradicable feeling of homelessness, and restlessness, not to say an overdone wariness. It made Buchanan a militant Bohemian all his life. No one should attempt a judgment of Buchanan who has not read his early “London Poems,” described by one critic as “Idylls of the gallows and the gutter, and songs of costermongers and their trulls.” The stories of “The Little Milliner,” “Nell,” and “Jane Lewson,” show how intimately Buchanan knew the lights and shades of everyday London life in the ’sixties. In “The Little Milliner” he sets the bright young shop-girl against all that is dark and solitary in London life:

Oft would she stand and watch with laughter sweet
The Punch and Judy in the quiet street;
Or look and listen while soft minuets
Play’d the street organ with the marionettes.

But in “Liz” the background is not so black as the future of the poor flower-girl, who dies on the morning of her child’s birth, and discloses, as she talks to the parson, that even she had known a little happiness in her attic:

Yet, Parson, there were pleasures fresh and fair,
To make the time pass happily up there:
A steamboat going past upon the tide,
     A pigeon lighting on the roof close by,
     The sparrows teaching little ones to fly,
The small white moving clouds, that we espied
     And thought were living, in the bit of sky—
     With sights like these right glad were Ned and I.

It is hard to believe that the heart which broke into poetry for the milliner and the flower-girl, and Barbara Gray and her dwarf lover, and Kitty Kemble, gay in her youth, “The brightest wonder human eye could see In good old Comedy,” and then “A worn and wanton woman, not yet sage Nor wearied out, tho’ sixty years of age,” ever grew very morose or deeply vindictive. In “The City Asleep” we have a reflective poem on London and its river:

Each day with sounds of strife and death
     The waters rise and call;
Each midnight, conquer’d by God’s breath,
     To this dead calm they fall.

Out of His heart the fountains flow,
     The brook, the running river,
He marks them strangely come and go,
     For ever and for ever.

Till darker, deeper, one by one,
     After a weary quest,
They, from the light of moon and sun,
     Flow back, into His breast.

Love, hold my hand! be of good cheer!
     For His would be the cost,
If, out of all the waters here,
     One little drop were lost.

Heaven’s eyes above the waters dumb
     Innumerably yearn;
Out of His heart each drop hath come,
     And thither must return.

Here we have sight of Buchanan’s creed of pity, his passionate belief in human love as the anchor of life. Unfortunately, such feelings did not prevent him from making Sunday morning a terror to his foes and bugbears in a weekly newspaper. Against the creed and convictions of Buchanan, wrought out of his heart by the stress of life, we can put nothing of the like character from Sir Walter Besant’s writings. The conditions of his life were different. He was organised for prosperity. His love of humanity was that of a superior man in the crowd who rejoiced to lead and direct and arrange according to his ability. His cheerful, if rather pedagoguish, “Come along with me!” was willingly heard and obeyed. He offered kindly, masterful guidance to rather ordinary minds. His own mind was somewhat ordinary, though very strong and well furnished. His genius was social, and a little coarse of grain. He had, one thinks, few moods or feelings which embarrassed him with his readers, or divided them. His practical English heartiness, and love of order and freedom, were recognised at once, and they inspired confidence. His attitude to literature, though it issued in perplexed discussions, was perfectly simple and almost “City.” It is interesting, indeed, to compare it with Buchanan’s. After full experience of the literary life each of these men expressed himself on its conditions and chances.
     Sir Walter Besant wrote in his Pen and the Book, a guide to young writers:

     The Literary Life may be, I am firmly convinced, in spite of many dangers and drawbacks, by far the happiest life that the Lord has permitted mortal man to enjoy. I say this with the greatest confidence, and after considering the history of all these literary men—living and dead—whom I have known and of whom I have read.

Buchanan wrote at the age of fifty-two:

     For complete literary success among contemporaries it is imperative that a man should either have no real opinions, or be able to conceal such as he possesses, that he should have one eye on the market and the other on the public journals, that he should humbug himself into the delusion that bookwriting is the highest work in the universe, and that he should regulate his likes and dislikes by one law, that of expediency. If his nature is in arms against anything that is rotten in society or in literature itself he must be silent. Above all, he must lay this solemn truth to heart, that when the world speaks well of him, the world will demand the price of praise, and that price will possibly be his living soul.

     We will draw no contrast between Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan’s attitude to London, though this would not be an unserviceable task. It would help to define Sir Walter Besant’s curiously effective yet curiously incomplete report of London life. The success of his London books was deserved and easy to understand. Your plain Englishman likes his history well cooked and served. History as Shakespeare related it, simple and certain, is what he wants. Doubts and qualifications which break the cataract-fall of a rolling and picturesque paragraph he does not want. Sir Walter Besant handled London in the style of a very genial and clever schoolmaster whose speciality it was to make his lessons interesting. He brought the tit-bits and trappings of history to the front. He made his readers feel that if they had lived four hundred years ago they would have lived like that. He raised no difficulties, or raised them only to confirm his readers in their pious opinion that they were a nuisance, and had better be disregarded for the sake of the picture. To readers of any scholarship his London books were irritating in more ways than one. His magisterial neglect to quote authorities forhis highly fused and sometimes suspiciously ornamental statements was not to their liking. His books were excellent panoramas, but he never invited you to go behind the scenes. Perhaps there was not always room, as when he describes in his South London the trading life of Thorney, with its “long processions of caravans of merchants with merchandise carried by slaves—the most valuable part of their merchandise—and by packhorses and mules,” having previously assured us (quite correctly) that “no fragment of fact or tradition” exists which would enable us to inquire into the origin or development of the trade of Thorney. But Sir Walter Besant was passionately fond of civic progress, and where he could not trace it he was eager to imagine it. It was probably his delight in the idea of civic developments to come that led him to exaggerate the civic and social backwardness both of South London and East London. Exaggeration subtly informs all his topographical work, itself not subtle at all, but cheerfully, effectively, and compellingly interesting. His style was very helpful to his matter; its friendly and laborious lucidity bringing home the points and pictures which he had selected. But it must be said that his London books, often and justly pronounced as interesting as novels, were eminently suitable for novel readers who desired to receive vivid impressions and make an end, rather than for more inquiring minds that desired to find a door to further study. Nor did they offer to the one class of reader, or to the other, a varied fare. The kindly pedagogic mind and manner were always there, forging strongly ahead.
     It is curiously unimportant to distinguish between Sir Walter Besant’s topographies and novels. Both are thoroughly orderly and wholesome, and were produced in much the same spirit of research, organisation, and calculation. When writing a novel he would have a big card on his desk on which were written the names and relationships of all his characters, and synopses of chapters and scenes. From his novels one might extract a great deal of the matter which he afterwards drew together in his London books.
     While recognising the rightness of Sir Walter Besant’s efforts to improve the author’s relations to publishers, and accepting the value-for-money principle which he held so dear, we think that his view of literature was too professional; and that in his very eagerness to secure the dignity of letters he was, to some extent, defeating his own aims. Neither by his writings nor in his practical literary life did Sir Walter Besant add to the romance of letters; but he was in harmony with his age in bringing commercial common sense to bear on the literary life, and in seeking to widen the portals which lead to it. All his own work was sound, and nearly all of it had a high market value; and this gave him authority with younger writers, to whom his genuine kindliness and optimist views were a great encouragement. His death leaves a gap in the organised literary life of London which will not soon be filled, or filled so worthily. No such gap is created by the death of Robert Buchanan; but in the world of ideas, and in the literature of sincere but vexed spirits, his vacant place is very noticeable.

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The New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art (15 June, 1901)

KINDNESS IN LITERATURE.

     What is it that makes some authors beloved while others are only admired? It is not the subject matter of their work. Satire is the kind of writing that should make an author hated, even while he is admired. But Horace and Thackeray, who are two of the best loved of authors, are just as much satirists as Juvenal and Swift, for whom no reader can honestly say that he has any personal affection. “I should not like to have been the friend of Swift,” says Thackeray. And, indeed, he never had one, at least of his own sex. And it is inconceivable that Juvenal should have had any friends either, in whom, as in his English imitator, the “saeva indignatio” swallowed up all kindlier emotions.
     It is in fact for the temper of an author that we love him and not for his brains. Kindness begets kindness as surely on the part of a living reader toward a dead or unseen author as if they met in the flesh and face to face. Here we have a very fresh illustration, in the simultaneous deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan. Sir Walter’s will never be a great name in British letters, like the earlier Sir Walter’s. Say “a pleasant story teller,” and you have said it all. But how pleasant a story teller he was. “The impersonation of good nature,” Stevenson called him, not meaning to praise him either, but incidentally explaining why and how he made a friend of every reader, a friend even more than an admirer. His readers simply reciprocated his own good-will. His most famous novel, “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” was a mere outgiving of benevolence. And what a result it had. It resulted in the realization of the dream its author had depicted, and made him famous as a philanthropist as well as a novelist. It brought him his knighthood, which nobody grudged to him, however excessive it may have been as a recognition of his purely literary powers. The good-will which it embodied made him the head of the Authors’ Society, and all the good things to which his calling could lead it led to in his case.
     And now look at the other. The contrast is sharp. Nobody could have been more ill-natured than Robert Buchanan. He was the incarnation of malignity, and particularly of envious malignity. Every writer more famous and successful than himself was the object of his assault, often of his anonymous or pseudonymous assault. The result was that men of all sorts “took a pride to gird at him,” and he did not get credit for even what parts he had. Nobody was willing to praise him who was willing to praise nobody. The very labored invective of Swinburne’s “Under the Microscope” he very likely took as a compliment. At any rate it must have hurt him much less than the blunt brutality of Edmund Yates. “Buchanan is an ingrate to attack me,” said the editor of The London World. “When he came up to London, a poor Scotchman, I befriended him. I bought him bread for his stomach and sulphur for his back.” Even an author who had successfully cultivated thickness of skin could not be insensible to that. And he got no sympathy. Whenever he was in trouble everybody said that he was served right. And he was commonly in trouble.
     Such a contrast is useful for all persons to contemplate. But it is particularly instructive to writers.

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The Globe (15 June, 1901 - p.6)

LITERARY GOSSIP.

     By the deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Mr. Robert Buchanan two very prominent and dissimilar figures are removed from the literary arena. Sir Walter Besant was a prosperous literary man who wanted to see his profession better organised and even more populous than it is. Mr. Buchanan was a brilliant failure, and the life of letters seemed to him to be one that a young man should avoid. In his “Pen and the Book,” Sir Walter Besant’s cheerful creed found expression in cheery advice to young men and women with literary aspirations. With only such prudent reservations as they could make for themselves, he said “Come!” The literary life, he told them, might be “by far the happiest life that the Lord has permitted mortal man to enjoy.” Even writers who are prosperous, and who love their calling, may demur to such expressions. But Sir Walter Besant was sincere.

     Mr. Buchanan replied to this advice in an “open letter to its author,” in which he said, with equal sincerity:—
     “I say to you now, out of the fulness of my experience, that had I a Son who thought of turning to Literature as a means of livelihood, and whom I could not dower with independent means of keeping Barabbas and the markets at bay, I would elect, were the choice mine, to save that Son from future misery by striking him dead with my own hand. . . . For what I have seen I have seen, and what I have suffered I have suffered. The very stones of the street cry out and rebuke you, sir, when you invite the young and unwary, and above all the honestly inspired, to enter the blood-stained gates of this Inferno.”
Each opinion must be interpreted by the individuality of its utterer, and be judged by his and one’s own experience. That the men who thought and wrote thus about their profession should have died within a few hours of each other has greatly impressed the literary world. For they were both sons of Anak in their calling; they had both lived the writing life, and knew it thoroughly.

     It may be said that Sir Walter Besant brought too little emotion to his work and Mr. Buchanan too much. But such generalisations carry us a very little way. Only a real and yearning love of his fellow men, and a sense of the joy of life, could have given to Sir Walter Besant’s literary career that effective optimism which has its monuments in the People’s Palace and the Society of Authors. Buchanan’s emotions passed more visibly into his work, and, so far as they could, they helped to make him a literary artist of great promise. But a man must observe canons and boundaries. Buchanan over-ran them all, and became a veritable bull in the literary china shop, now sullen, now raging, though often interesting. he was poet, novelist, dramatist, and critic by turns, and a fighter always. Yet few could think ill of a man whose great abilities and core of generosity were so plain to see under all his noise.

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The Cheltenham Looker-On (15 June, 1901 - p.9)

     Sir Walter Besant was something more than the mere type of a successful author. The rashest of prophets would hesitate before pronouncing any of his novels immortal. However, he gave English letters the example of a partnership the only parallel to what is to be found in the Erckmann-Chatrian series, and, more important still, he succeeded in making the relations between authors and publishers more profitable to the former. It was his contention that the man of talent need not meekly submit to an unconscionable bargain on the part of his publisher, and in the Authors’ Society, and the Authors’ Club, he founded in the one case, and in the other was the mainstay of, institutions which, however much it is the custom to deride them in smart circles, have proved of benefit to the less fortunate scribblers of the day, and will probably be found in existence when Sir Walter Besant’s name must be struck off the list of authors whom we read.

     Robert Buchanan was a man of another mould altogether. With the fieryness of the Scot he combined no limit of his caution, whether in business matters or otherwise. A man of far more than ordinary talent, if he cannot quite be granted the designation of genius, he spoiled his chances of success through an unlucky knack of making enemies, which left him for the greater part of his life in the midst of a sort of literary football scrimmage. He might have had a hearing as a poet, if he had not gone out of his way to make a ferocious and most unnecessary attack on D. G. Rossetti. Readers of new poetry are few, and he could not afford to offend any of that circle. He had to turn to pot-boiling, and it must be admitted by his warmest admirers that his pot-boilers are execrable. There may be a revival in his verse, for he wrote much that should live. He was a notable man, but it is a thousand pities he was not, as he might have been, a great one.

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The Aberdeen People’s Journal (15 June, 1901 - p.6)

     The deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan within a few hours of each other throws into contrast two literary personalities who were only alike in their eminence. Robert Buchanan was born a poet, grew up a poet, and remained a poet to the end of his days. He had to the full the keen imagination, the fervid temperament—and the unpractical mind—of the poet. All of his best thought—and some of it the very highest of its kind—he put into his poems. Sir Walter Besant was the opposite of all this. He was a prose writer, with a very practical mind, gifted with strong common-sense. Though only for his magnificent novel, “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” which led to the formation of the London People’s Palace, he deserved the thanks of all lovers of their kind. But Sir Walter produced many excellent novels besides, and was successful as the world reads success. Buchanan with more genius, perhaps, cursed the day he took to literature, and warned all against its thorny paths. The one adapted himself to circumstances; the other attempted to storm the sky—and failed.

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The Edinburgh Evening News (17 June, 1901 - p.3)

EDINBURGH MINISTER ON ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     Referring, in the course of his sermon, in Christ Church, Morningside, last night, to the deaths of St Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan the Rev. C. M. Black said that for originality of thought and genius Besant was not to be compared with Buchanan. There were two things that helped to shape Buchanan’s life’s warfare against what he called the Faith, the first being the hard circumstances in which he was born, and the second the terrible nature of the Christian creed in which he was brought up—the Calvinistic conception of God, which made it possible to believe that God created mankind only to relegate it to endless torment. It was Calvinism that sapped all the moral strength and moral hope of Robert Buchanan, and yet it was strange how such a thoughtful man should have taken this narrow creed as the whole of Christianity. He never asked if it was possible that in searching after God man had got perverted and crude ideas of Him, and he never realised that when a man’s moral nature revolted against any conception of God as untrue the best thing was to stand by what was best in himself, for that was the reflection of God.

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Black and White (22 June, 1901)

Robert Buchanan
     It was while away that I learned of the death of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan. It was a tragic coincidence that two authors so utterly unlike in every characteristic should have quitted the stage of life within a few hours of each other.
     Curiously enough, Buchanan won the fifty pound prize offered by the Glasgow Corporation for an ode on the opening of the Exhibition of 1888; he was lying on his death-bed when the next Exhibition in the town was opened to the public. His ode contained some fine lines and some that were rather absurd. It has survived as a stock subject of sarcasm for Glasgow journalists.

Author—Publishers
     It is worthy of note, by the way, that both Besant and Buchanan issued books at their own risk—in the one case with success and in the other with failure. Sir Walter Besant made his arrangements through well-known publishing houses. Buchanan set up as a publisher himself, and failed, as I venture to say any other author would fail. A publisher’s name has often as much to do with the sale of a book as the name of its author. A book of which the author is avowedly the publisher starts out with a strong prejudice against it. Moreover, the organisation of an established publishing house is a most important factor in the placing of a book on the market. I believe I am right in saying that all the enormously successful books of the late Professor Henry Drummond, issued by Hodder and Stoughton, were only sent out by that firm on commission, Drummond doing all the bargaining with paper-makers, printers, and bookbinders.

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The Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) (23 June, 1901- p.22)
Reprinted from The Chicago Tribune (11 June, 1901)

DEATH OF TWO NOVELISTS.

     The death of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan removes two familiar figures from London literary circles. Both were men of more than average powers, though neither has left any permanent contribution to literature. The two men whose names are thus fortuitously coupled by death on the same day were curiously opposite in their characters and their work. One became a social favorite through his knack of saying pleasant things and doing helpful ones, while the other was noted for his slashing criticisms and his facility in the “gentle art of making enemies.”
     Sir Walter Besant was an industrious and prolific writer, equally ready as a journalist, a historian or a novelist. The twelve novels written in collaboration with James Rice contained much of his best work, and this literary partnership was further remarkable in that it was one of the few never marred by a quarrel. Mr. Besant’s genial personality was a part of a sincere desire to help his fellow-men, and his best monument is the People’s Palace in the East End of London, which is a concrete realization of the theories of his most noted novel, “All Sorts and Conditions of Men.” His chief limitation as a novelist was his lack of diversity and originality. There is a sameness about his books that detracts from their charm when more than one is read.
     Robert Buchanan’s last literary sensation—his savage attack upon Kipling as the literary “Hooligan”—is still fresh in the public mind. It is typical of his whole career as a savage and not always just critic. Early in his career he made enemies of Swinburne and Rossetti by similar attacks. He was a man of even more versatile talent than Besant, being at once a critic, poet, novelist, dramatist and humorist. He had a fair degree of success in all these lines, but his erratic taste and his irascible temperament were handicaps that kept him from attaining either popularity or the high literary rank that his acknowledged powers might otherwise have gained for him.—Chicago Tribune, June 11th.

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Brooklyn Eagle (24 June, 1901 - p.6)

CORRESPONDENT’S PLEA
FOR ROBERT BUCHANAN.

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Poet’s Peace Offering Just Before
Death of Dante Gabriel
Rossetti Recalled.

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KNEW HOW TO SAY “I AM SORRY”

Analysis of “God and the Man,” Which,
It Is Held, Redeemed Bitterness of
Buchanan’s Life.
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To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle:
     In your editorial headed “Two Busy Bees” you say that the death on the same day of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan illustrates vividly one of the strong contrasts in authorship, and also that neither has written a book likely to attain literary immortality. That this is a fact no one can deny, and while the writer does not wish in any way to depreciate the ability of Besant as a writer, he feels that Buchanan would have been considered his peer were it not for his jealous disposition, his truculent manner and his biting sarcasm to other writers which biased his readers in the commencement of his career, and left him embittered and militant for many years of his life. His controversy with Paul Potter, whom he accused of plagiarizing “Sheridan,” his “Voice of Hooligan” against Kipling, his aggressiveness to every one who crossed him in his opinions, and his famous literary encounter with Edmund Yates, who hacked and cut him so that he ran to cover and met with the most ignominious defeat of his life, are well known, but what is not generally known is that this man with all his aggressiveness, his word cuts, his taunting sarcasms, had at one time of his life the courage and manliness to say, “I am sorry.”
     Every reader a score of years ago remembered his great fight with Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and it is to this literary word encounter that the world is indebted for a work from Buchanan which, in the writer’s opinion, entitles him to rank with England’s great writers. When Rosetti was on his deathbed Buchanan’s better nature came to his rescue. He saw his hated enemy prostrate, his fallen foe weak and exhausted, and his own cutting words came back to him, and with sorrow and regret for his cruel thrusts he asked for and received pardon from Rosetti.
     That his repentance was sincere is known by his book, “God and the Man,” dedicated to Rosetti, with verses “To An Old Enemy,” two of which are given:

I would have snatched a bay leaf from thy brow,
     Wronging the chaplet on an honored head;
In peace and tenderness I bring thee now
     A lily flower instead.

Pure as thy purpose, blameless as thy song,
     Sweet as thy spirit, may this offering be:
Forget the bitter blame that did thee wrong,
     And take the gift from me.

     At the end of your editorial you say: “But Buchanan’s books are more thoroughly forgotten than Besant’s already, and nothing in the man or his life tends to keep them in remembrance.” The writer confesses his inability to appreciate the craze for the vacillating Janice Meredith, or the Joe Millerism of David Harum, or other literary crazes of the day; but he does appreciate this one act of Buchanan’s repentance and the grandeur of his peace offering, “God and the Man,” which will be read and reread in future years, when the crazes of the day are forgotten.
     In this romance Buchanan portrays himself as Christian Christianson, with revenge in his heart, and hate’s famine- sickness in his soul against his enemy, Richard Orchardson, and he prays to God to give this man to him.
     And now, on his 20th birthday, a figure of manly strength and beauty, he hears a clear, silvery voice, like that of a woman, and comes face to face with Priscilla Sefton, a girl of refinement and wealth, who, with her father, has devoted her life to relieving distress and following her Master, being a disciple of Wesley. No writer ever portrayed a sweeter, nobler character than Priscilla Sefton, and it is not surprising that Christian became fascinated with her and gave to her the greatest gift a girl can have—a boy’s pure, unselfish, unadulterated love. And now his enemy confronts him again, and he sees him, like a snake in the grass, trying to poison the mind of Priscilla against him, and his rage and hatred are described in verses by Buchanan in his proem after the dedication, a few of which the writer copies for the benefit of readers who have not read the romance:

All men, each one, beneath the sun,
     I hate, shall hate, till life is done;
But of Men one, till my race is run
     And all the rest for the sake of one!

If God stood there, revealed full bare
     I would laugh to scorn His love or care.
Nay, in despair, I would pray a prayer
     Which He needs must grant—if a God He were!

And the prayer would be, yield up to me
     This man alone of all men that see!
Give him to me, and to misery!
     Give me this man. If a God Thou be!

     And now Christian with curses and prayers, because God does not grant him his prayer, feels that there is no God, and cries:

The earth is dark and the clouds go by,
But there is no God to hear my cry.

     Priscilla and her father leave for America and Christian learns that his enemy has joined them. In despair he in disguise joins the ship as a sailor. The voyage, Christian mad with rage, hate, and jealousy, the ship on fire, the passengers and crew taking to the boats, the rescue by the Dutch brig are all graphically described by Buchanan.
     The brig encounters a storm of two days and nights and is swept in a northerly direction, and they find themselves in close proximity to ice fields. The gale continuing they are surrounded by ice, and a cry goes up from the terrified sailors, for the solid ribs of oak begin to crack and yield like the shell of a breaking egg. Christian helps with the others to lands the provisions on the ice. While thus engaged a storm with blinding snow burst upon them and they could not see each other or the outline of the brig. The men shrieked to each other in terror. Some threw themselves upon their faces to avoid being swept away, others clinging to each other. Richard Orchardson, struggling back toward the brig and seeing a white shape like the shape of a man, clutches it wildly, crying for help. Scarcely had he uttered the cry when he felt himself lifted and carried away rapidly over the ice as a lioness might carry off a child, or a polar bear a small seal. Then, sick with terror, he swooned away. When he opened his eyes the starlight shone faintly down, then a white face was pressed down close to his and a voice hissed these words: “At last!”
     Christian upbraids his enemy and they hear the faint report of a gun from the brig which has separated from the ice, and Richard in terror runs madly in its direction and as he does the loose ice crumbles under his feet and with a shriek he disappears. Christian in the dim light sees the head of Richard appear and hearing his shrieks for help answers with a horrible laugh, leaving his enemy to die. Christian takes shelter in a cave and collects the provisions. After certain days, to his horror he finds Richard faint and exhausted and spares his life, warning him not to go near the cave.
     In his record he says, “I was a fool! I cried to myself. I prayed to God to give him into my hands and God hath answered my prayer. I will go back and end it all, but I went not back.”
     At last Richard’s gaunt face softens him and he shares the cave with him, but does not speak until he sees that his enemy is dying. “There lay he,” he says, “who has embittered my life! whose death I had prayed for; whose life I had sought for with murderous hands. Yet now I would have given away the world if I could have raised him up, saying live, and be forgiven. At first I could not believe he was dead. There lay Richard Orchardson or what had once been he; his feeble frame, his haggard face, all changed. No longer old nor young, but beautiful even to terror; covered with peace as with a garment, clothed with the loveliness of Death, for Death crowns all alike.” The writer in closing begs space for the last verse in Buchanan’s proem:

The night is still; the waters sleep; the skies
Gaze down with bright, innumerable eyes;
A voice comes out of heaven and o’er the sea:
“I am; and I will give this man to thee!”

     Robert Buchanan had many faults, but his “God and the Man” has redeemed them. Let us hope that in his dying hour, power was given to him to recall his touching lines “To An Old Enemy”:

I never knew thee living, O my brother!
But on thy breast my lily of love now lies;
And by that token we shall know each other
When God’s voice saith, “Arise!”

                                                                                                                                                     W. D. H.

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The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (26 June, 1901 - p.3)

READERS & WRITERS

(By J. CUTHBERT HADDEN.)

     I hope it is not too late to say a word or two about the loss which the reading world has sustained by the deaths of Mr Robert Buchanan and Sir Walter Besant. It was a strange fate which brought these two together in the obituary list, for never were two men more sharply contrasted, alike in character and in literary product. Nevertheless, as a discerning critic has well remarked, in the animating spirit of their lives and work they had much in common.

_____

     Besant and Buchanan were alike in their ardent love of humanity and in their unflinching love of truth. The great mass of their work, and still more its quality, testify that they were hard workers. If not in the very first rank of the writers and thinkers of their time, they were at least prominent in the second file of modern English literature. They gave voice and form to characteristic moods and ideas of the Victorian era. Their intellectual activity covers almost exactly the same period of time—the last forty years of the nineteenth century—although Buchanan, the younger man but more precocious spirit, had made himself something of a celebrity before his contemporary had ventured into print. It might be rash to speak of either of them as endowed with genius, But each possessed, among other rare gifts, a singular combination of idealising fancy and realistic expression; and if none of their works is destined to immortality, at least they can claim the distinction of having given genuine pleasure to thousands of readers.

_____

     Opinionative, dogmatic, taciturn, and reserved as he was, Buchanan, in the midst of all his dreary early struggles in London, found some notable friends, who would doubtless have helped him more then they did if he had only allowed them. One day Miss Braddon unexpectedly arrived at his dingy attic lodging in Stamford Street, having learnt that Buchanan had just reviewed a volume of her verse—for it was as a poetess, strange to say, that Miss Braddon began her literary career. The object of her visit was to consult Buchanan about her first story, and it seems he was able to be of some assistance to her. Another lady who took an interest in him at that time was Dinah Mulock, the author of “John Halifax, Gentleman,” who used to carry him off to her retreat at Hampstead, and lend him piles of books.

_____

     Later on he was invited to the house of George Henry Lewes, where he met George Eliot, whose friendship he afterwards requited by calling her a “pragmatic rectangular prosaist,” whatever that may mean. Robert Browning, too, was one of his first friends, described by him as “pale and spruce, his eye like a skipper’s, cocked up at the weather.” Thomas Love Peacock, the friend of Shelley, also had his personal influence on the young writer. These were some of Buchanan’s early London friends. For the rest, when he was not in their company or toiling with his pen in “the old ghastly bankrupt garret” at 66 Stamford Street, he was mixing with the Bohemia he loved. “The faces under the gas, the painted women on the bridge, the actors in the theatre, the ragged groups at the stage door”—there were the interests of his leisure hours. In short, Buchanan was a born pagan, and never could be, never was, comfortable in any of the modern temples of the proprieties.

[The rest of this article, relating to Sir Walter Besant, is available here.]

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The New York Times (29 June, 1901)

LONDON LETTER.
_____

Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
WILLIAM L. ALDEN.

     LONDON, June. 18.—
     ... The same day saw the death of Sir Walter Besant and Robert Buchanan, the most kindly and the most truculent of novelists. Poor Buchanan had been dead to the world for many months, and his final release was a happy event for him and for all his friends. He was at heart a thoroughly kindly man, and his rough manner was merely the outside of him. In Sir Walter Besant many a young writer has lost a kind and helpful friend. He may not have been a great novelist, but he was a thoroughly good man, and his death will be universally mourned. I have yet to learn that he ever made an enemy, and even the publishers, whom he attacked with so much vigor, respected and liked the man. His People’s Palace will keep his name green when the names of many greater novelists will have been forgotten.

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The Literary Digest (29 June, 1901 - Vol. XXII, No. 26, p.785)

TWO ENGLISH MEN OF LETTERS.

BY the passing of two well-known English authors on the same day—Robert Buchanan and Sir Walter Besant, both of the older school of writers—England has lost two men who have done much for literature. Sir Walter Besant, especially, is regarded as one of the most industrious and worthy of English literary workers, and on account of his persistent and unselfish work in behalf of his brother authors he has long been regarded as a sort of dean of the literary corps. The literary life of Sir Walter Besant (who was born in 1838, in Portsmouth, and educated at King’s College, London) practically began in 1871, when he entered into partnership with Mr. James Rice in the writing of the well-known “Besant and Rice” novels. Among the best of these were “By Celia’s Arbour” and “The Golden Butterfly.” After Rice’s death, Besant wrote “All Sorts and Conditions of Men,” which attracted great public attention and ultimately led to the establishment of the People’s Palace in the East of London; besides this he wrote “Beyond the Dreams of Avarice,” and many other novels. He was also a high authority on the antiquities of London.

litdigbesant

     Robert Buchanan, who, tho Scotch by descent and education, was born in Staffordshire in 1841, is known as a poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. In the latter capacity his attack on Swinburne and Rossetti, written in 1872, attracted world-wide attention.
     Comparing the two men, The Evening Post gives the following editorial estimate:

     “The death of Sir Walter Besant and of Robert Williams Buchanan in one day can hardly be called a great loss to English letters, for neither man stood in the first rank. Nevertheless, each did a work worthy of consideration. Buchanan, the smaller figure of the two, was exceedingly facile and versatile, but he can not be regarded as one of the immortals. Altho he wrote many plays, poems, and novels, which he reviewed with entire seriousness, his name probably brings up to most minds his attack upon Swinburne, Rossetti, and their cult—‘The Fleshly School of Poetry.’ Buchanan as an author must rank below either Swinburne or Rossetti; and in all likelihood a century hence he may be remembered only because Swinburne and Rossetti are still read.”

litdigbuch

     Mr. Julian Hawthorne, who had some knowledge of the two authors in London, gives his impressions of them in the Philadelphia North American. Of Sir Walter Besant he says:

     “He chose wisely in choosing literature instead of the church as his profession. The pulpit would have been too circumscribed for his tendencies. He was deeply interested in people, in their social and economic aspects. No doubt his religion was orthodox, but it was the practical side of life that was the more significant to him. The novel—the typical English novel—was his precise vehicle and instrument, and he did a great deal of good with it. He became personally known in England, and in London especially—known and liked. His People’s Palace was a splendid advertisement, tho I am sure that nothing was further from his thoughts than any personal advantage in regard to it. He was content with himself, but he was not egotistic or selfish. The Queen did just right in making him Sir Walter. It is the fitting reward in England of middle-class merit among the middle-class folks. Sir Walter was not a great man, any more than he was a great writer. He was a good, honest man, and a fair writer. He had a right to be Sir Walter, and the fact that he was Sir Walter had the effect of enlarging his usefulness. He could not have done all he did toward advancing the cause of copyright and in helping his literary brethren in many other ways had he remained plain Mr. Besant. Such is human nature, at least in England. And for my own part, I think none the worse of it on that account. But I need not pretend that I esteem Besant, the novelist, nearly so much as I do Besant, the man, the faithful servant, who did the utmost he could with his talent. I was never able to read one of his novels through, tho I have dipped into several of them pleasurably enough. He belonged to another generation than this, and in the end his success was chiefly personal. I do not think he will be read much in the twentieth century.”

     Of Robert Buchanan Mr. Hawthorne says:

     “The Scotchman had the genius that the Englishman lacked, but he lacked the other’s winning human qualities. The fact was that Buchanan was born awry; he was cross-grained from the start; he was essentially irritable. He more easily made foes than friends, and he really seemed to get as much satisfaction out of his hostilities as he did out of his affections. He had a tongue as bitter and relentless as a shrew’s, and a pen to match it. In Yates he met a man quite as well equipped as himself in this respect, and with a vulgarity and petty spitefulness that Buchanan was free from. In their quarrel Yates, writing in his own paper, The World, fastened upon him the title of ‘The Scrofulous Scotch Poet.’ That was just the style that Yates thought proper in his warfare; a style impossible for a gentleman. Buchanan, however, was very exasperating and an excellent hater. Yates was a man one might legitimately hate; but when it came to fighting Rossetti, it was another story. He and Buchanan were both generous at bottom, and they were reconciled before the former’s death. Buchanan, with all his faults, was a fine fellow; and he wrote some poetry which was poetry in the full sense of the word. It will be read for a long time to come; it has its own native flavor and beauty. He wrote many novels too, or rather they were romances, and some of them came near being great. They were not quite great, and I do not think any of them were popular. Buchanan could stimulate the imagination more easily than he could touch the heart. He had lofty thoughts and high ambition, but he lacked patience and real knowledge of human nature, and life seems to have taught him little. He was never a happy man; he lived under a cloud that was self-impelled; he was prone to fancy that he was the victim of cabals and jealousies, and this conviction injured his work; he had not the dignity and the magnanimity to rise above personal consideration. Still, he had elements of greatness in him, and his death is even now an event to be noted.”

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The New York Times (6 July, 1901)

LONDON LETTER.
_____

Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
WILLIAM L. ALDEN.

     LONDON, June. 15.—Drawing morals is always a pleasant amusement, for it carries with it a sense of the superiority of the drawer. The deaths of Sir Walter Besant and of Mr. Robert Buchanan have been the occasion of a great deal of solemn comment on the lives of the two men. Every one knows that Sir Walter was a genial, cheerful man, and that Buchanan delighted in quarreling. Also it is generally admitted that while Buchanan had real genius Besant had none. Furthermore, Besant was remarkably successful in his profession, and Buchanan considered himself a failure—in which verdict most people will agree. Wherefore the moral is drawn, consciously or unconsciously, that if a man wishes to succeed in literature he should cultivate the commonplace, and depend for his popularity on his personal virtues rather than on the literary merits of his books.
     There is more or less truth in this, but I hardly think it does full justice either to Besant or Buchanan. The former certainly did excellent work, and it is absurd to say that because his heroines were puppets pulled by obvious wires he had no creative genius. Character drawing was not his strong point, but that he could draw men who were alive his “Gregory Shovel” would alone prove. But there is genius in the telling of a story as well as in the creation of character, and Sir Walter could tell a story as well as any man living. Certainly he had genius of a sort, and his books should have been popular on their own merits, as they undoubtedly were.
     Buchanan also had genius, for he could create. But I doubt if his order of genius was very much the superior of Besant’s. Suppose that he had been the genial optimist that Sir Walter was—a man who charmed all his friends and never made an enemy—except of course an occasional publisher, would his genius then have been rated higher than Besant’s? Buchanan’s poetry was sometimes admirable, but he wrote a great deal of worthless verse. His novels were so good that every one said it was a great pity that they were not better. I cannot see in what respect they were superior to those of Besant, and there were certainly many respects in which they were conspicuously inferior. Granting that Buchanan had genius—and I should be the last to deny it—I fail to see in what respect his genius was more abundant in quantity or finer in quality than that of Sir Walter Besant.
     Would it not be fair to say that the chief difference between the two men was not that the one had genius and the other had not, but that one was an optimist of the most pronounced character, and the other felt that everything in life was wrong, and his mission was to set everything right? Sir Walter admitted that there was a certain amount of misery in the east of London, but it could easily be set right if the public would read and follow the teachings given in his novels. He also admitted that publishers were not as a rule the very highest kind of angels, but he felt confident that his Society of Authors would in a comparatively short time convert even the most hardened publishers. With these exceptions “the world went very well” with Sir Walter—quite as well, in fact, as it went in the days of one of his best novels. It was a good world, a beautiful world, a world full of kindness and good tobacco, if you only looked for those commodities. Sir Walter was obviously a very happy and contented man. He was not happy merely because he was successful, but he was successful because he was happy. There was a kind and lovable spirit in his books which attracted people to them. He succeeded in literature not so much because he wrote well, but because he had the most fortunate of temperaments.
     Poor Buchanan was the very opposite of Besant in temperament. He was not intentionally unkind to any one, but to his vision most things were wrong and called for hearty denunciation. He may not have been an unhappy man, but his writings certainly gave that impression to the reader. It was Buchanan’s temperament that made his life an apparent failure and that made him fall far behind Besant in the race for popularity.
     If I too, may draw a moral, I should say that the lives of these two men show that success is more apt to attend the man who is happy than the man who is unhappy. It certainly does so far as the ordinary affairs of life are concerned, and there is good reason why the same cause should have the same effect in literature. The man who is bitter and misanthropic and sour is out of place in the world, and he fails, as he deserves to. Sir Walter Besant’s creed that this is an excellent world is the true creed. It is an admirable world, in spite of its faults, and when we treat it genially and lovingly it is very apt to treat us in the same way.
     There is one thing in regard to Besant that might be said. In England it is generally believed that his “Gilead P. Beck” is a faithful representation of the Yankee. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. Sir Walter tried to make Beck speak what he assumed to be the American dialect, but no American would recognize it. Like many other English writers, Sir Walter imagined that if he gave a man a Scriptural Christian name, and also a middle letter, and then made him use a few of the expressions that a time-honored superstition has called “American,” he had drawn a Yankee. Beck is thought to be one of Sir Walter’s most lifelike characters, but he is as preposterous a stage Yankee as ever walked the boards of Barnum’s old Park Row Museum.

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The Academy (7 December, 1901 - p.563)

JUNE.

...

     By the deaths of Sir Walter Besant and Mr. Robert Buchanan literature suffered two very dissimilar losses. The first left a gap in the organised and prosperous literary life of London; the second is remembered as a literary man of great and varied abilities, in whom volcanic energy and Bohemian easy-goingness alternated. The one had moderate abilities, a great and steady benevolence, and a well-balanced mind; the other had great abilities, much hidden kindliness, and a mercurial temperament. They represented opposite sides of the literary life, and their deaths were announced on the same day.

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Next: The Funeral of Robert Buchanan

 

[The Last Months of Robert Buchanan]    [Obituaries 1]    [Obituaries 2]

[Obituaries 3: Buchanan and Besant 1]    [Obituaries 4: Buchanan and Besant 2]

[The Funeral of Robert Buchanan]    [The Grave of Robert Buchanan]

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