ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
BOOK REVIEWS - POETRY (15)
Saint Abe and his Seven Wives (1872) - continued
The Pall Mall Gazette (25 January, 1872)
AMERICAN authors have had a happy time in England lately. Especially fortunate have been the poets of America, and they most lucky who have least deserved the good opinion of the world. There seems to be a constant necessity for the gratification of a savage taste in some shape: in dress, in domestic furniture, in house building, in the collection of all sorts of earthenware crudities and monstrosities. And, strangely enough, this perversion of taste, common amongst the common and in common things, appears with equal frequency amongst the devotees of poetry and the arts. Titania fondling the ass’s ears is a mere epitome of the way in which the favours of the public are bestowed sometimes—at any rate amongst the Gothic nations. Nothing but a prevalent literary madness, for instance, could have given a day’s reputation to such coarsely stupid compositions as the Breitman Ballads, the fun of which is never of a higher quality than is to be found at a country fair. According to our view of things, any man of sense would sooner be caught laughing at the contest for the pig with the soapy tail than at the humour of productions that read thus, when they are written in a plain and not in broken English.
Hans Breitmann gave a party;
Hans Breitmann gave a party,
But this poor nonsense—illumined by the fun of spelling “party” “barty,” “jump” “joomp,” and so forth—made for its author a considerable reputation in America and England; critics with characters to lose praised it as the language of a new peculiar and subtle kind of humour, and the booksellers sold it in amazing quantities.
And there sot Little Breeches and chirped,
The reflection of the good man who trained this interesting child is, that the angels have saved him; “they jest scooped down, and toted him to where it was safe and warm;” and, says the grateful parent in conclusion—
I think that saving a little child,
In these lines we have the gem and moral of the piece; it is this which has kindled admiration for the ballad of Little Breeches throughout the American Continent, and amongst religious and philosophical critics in Great Britain too:—the Spectator greatly approves it. “A damned sight better business than loafing around The Throne.” So charmingly audacious! so splendidly concrete!
If ever the Prairie Belle took fire,
A time came that should test the self-sacrifice of this heroic man. There appeared on the river a better boat, the Movastar; but Jim Bludso would not be passed. So he sent his boat tearing along in the night, “with a nigger”—(the noble Jim!)—“with a nigger squat on the safety valve,” and her furnace “crammed with rosin and pine.” She took fire, according to Bludso’s expectations; and then the tender noble nature of the man was manifested. He turned his boat to the shore, yelling out “through the hot black breath of the burning boat, I’ll hold her nozzle agin the bank till the last galoot’s ashore.” He kept his determination; all the passengers got off before the smoke-stack fell, but Jim lost his life—his own furnace being probably stimulated by like applications to those he had made to the engine fire. And then comes the moral-verse at the end—conceived in the same really religious though apparently indecent spirit that dictated the tag to Little Breeches:—
He wernt no saint, but at jedgment
Jim was sure of heaven; and we may expect another poem, in which he will acquaint his Maker that, hailing from an enlightened Republic, he is up to “a damned sight better business than loafing around The Throne.”
Maypole dance and Whitsun ale,
Thro’ the Mother-land I went,
Next we quote what seems to us remarkably good description. The poet (he calls himself the Stranger) visits Brother Abe in the City of the Saints. Abe has seven wives, and is so much in love with the last that he finally runs away with her, out of Mormondom.
With a tremulous wave of his hand, the Saint
Every face but one has been
Another and a longer extract we shall make from Brigham Young’s sermon in the synagogue.
Sisters and brothers who love the right,
Brother Shuttleworth’s seventeenth wife, . .
Out of Egypt hither we flew,
Isn’t Jedge Hawkins’s last a fright? . . .
That night, my lambs, in a wondrous dream,
Brigham’s sealed to another Bride. . . .
This is a tale so often told,
Heard about Sister Euphemia’s son? . .
I say just now what I used to say,
All very well, but as for me,
There in the gate of Paradise
Thought I should have gone mad that day
But I hear some awakening spirit cry,
The babby's growing black in the face!
A faithful vine at the door of the Lord,
The dramatic instinct in this extract is manifest; and it appears, of course, in a far stronger light in the whole and unbroken chapter from which we quote. The scene, and the man, and his sermon are borne in upon the mind as above all things faithfully rendered;—and there is a description of the going to the synagogue, and one of the arrival of a party of immigrants, which give the same strong and confident impressions though we see plainly enough that the grotesque is mixed in with the hardest and grittiest matter-of-fact detail. But, altogether, this book, though it is of little importance in itself, manifests everywhere some of the very best capabilities of literary workmanship, and some of the highest faculties of a mind that is literary by birth, and not simply by reading and exercise.
* “Saint Abe and his Seven Wives.” A Tale of Salt Lake City. (London: Strahan and Co. 1872.)
New York Herald (29 January, 1872 - p.10)
CRITICISMS OF NEW BOOKS.
SAINT ABE AND HIS SEVEN WIVES, A TALE OF SALT LAKE CITY. Routledge & Sons: New York. Octavo, pp. 169.
Dialect poetry is one of the features of the muse of the period, particularly that which conveys the terrible patois of the far West. To the novel of Indian adventure it is the sprightly successor; but it cannot be said that Cooper’s prose has been surpassed in the process of transferring the incidents of border life into verse. That dialect poetry is capable of expressing the sweetest thoughts in a direct natural form the name and fame of Robert Burns will testify as long as the English tongue survives. Tennyson, indeed, has done some fearful things with English dialect in his “Northern Farmer” without making it very attractive. Jean Ingelow has succeeded better, for the reason that she has had nothing very deep to say, and the dialects of the uncultivated are always so limited in vocabulary that, while they may be made to express forcible or delicate shades of feeling, they become incongruous nonsense in the expression of profound thought.
At last he stops for lack of wind,
Is this, we would ask, the sort of dirty rubbish for which we are called on to thank the gods and Chaucer? The Boss’ tale ended, the first glimpse of the great Valley of Salt Lake is caught as they “leave the green canyon at their back,” and this brings us to the story proper. We are now treated to a prefatory piece of description, which is really very beautiful and true to what it paints. It exhibits one regretable defect of the author, an ignorance or carelessness of rhythm, marring by a jar on the ear the few occasions when he rises above the jog-trot level of his dialect versification. It is a defect, however, on which the public is charitable to genius. The following is the passage:—
Oh, saints that shine around the heavenly seat
Abraham Clewson—or Saint Abe, as he is called—is, at the opening of the story, the victim to a surfeit of polygamy. A shining light in the Church, he was encouraged by Brigham in his “sealing” propensities, and at length finds himself a miserable hypocondriac with seven wives. Here they are:—
Sister Tabitha, thirty odd,
The first six of these, headed by Tabitha, are the terror of his existence, in spite of the weak attempts he makes at conciliation. The seventh and still blooming Sister Anne he is in love with, but is afraid to betray his affection. He ends it all like Goldsmith’s country parson, who, “since ’tis hard to combat, learns to fly.” He runs away, taking Sister Anne along with him, and is found at the end of five years happy on a New England form. The moral, if any, in the story is that polygamy is not suited to a man with a heart. In his valedictory to Brigham he says:—
The world of men divided is into two portions, brother,
What the effect can be of such a book in shaping the fate of polygamy in Utah we cannot tell; but it brings vividly forward the actual state of social and moral degradation in which the “saints” and sisters live there. There is a dash and vigor in the language which at the same time is rather ostentatious in the bold way it unearths the unseemly sides of the “relic of barbarism.” As a picture of life in Deseret it is by far the best which has appeared. Its defiance of conventionalisms of expression may make the untutored laugh; but in the face of so much real merit as is therein displayed, it cannot fail to make the judicious grieve, in spite of appeals to the kindred indecency to be found in “Old Dan Chaucer.”
The New York Times (26 January, 1872)
SAINT ABE AND HIS SEVEN WIVES. New York: GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS.
This is a poetical romance drawn from experiences of life at Salt Lake City. The characters are capitally sketched in a light but truthful manner, and the entire poem is literally mined with concealed humor, which, with slight penetration, produces the most startling mirth explosions. It may be urged by some in way of objection that the conclusion drawn from the sorrows and trials consequent to polygamy is not carried to its highest possible ground; but then every one knows what the deductions would be from a strictly moral standpoint, while it is both novel and gratifying to know that the condition is far from an agreeable one, even when judged by the easy cynical tests of a modern man of the world.
The Pall Mall Gazette (29 January, 1872)
To the EDITOR of the PALL MALL GAZETTE.
SIR,—Will your reviewer of “St. Abe” accept the most sincere thanks of an oppressed American? The incomprehensible, and to the minds of Many American students unjustifiable, pæans so numerously chanted in honour of some of the newest and most garish expressions of Americanism, such as Walt Whitman, Miller, Bret Harte, Hans Breitmann, and “Little Breeches,” have done more to lower the value of English criticism in America than all the sarcasms and depreciation of a quarter of a century.
[Advert for the Second Edition from The Pall Mall Gazette (2 February, 1872).]
Temple Bar (April, 1872 - p.118-121)
BY A READER.
THE title is only the expression of a desire. If the Muses had their rights, we should have our literature properly classified according to the seasons. Unfortunately we do not. We ought to have our books coming out like the flowers and the fruit, so as to suit our weather, withoutits uncertainty. Controversy should end with March; poetry come in with April; history after harvest time; fiction, of course, would go on all the year; ghost stories and sensation novels being reserved for the winter. One thing we do get, certainly: the best books in the year seem always to come out in the season which is the English spring. But I am afraid that is not through any poetical sympathies of publishers with green leaves and tender spring flowers. “In the sweet spring time,” I once read in a cookery book, “the heart of the gourmand fondly turns to his vernal puddings.” So the heart of the reader when he feels the first breath of spring longs for something fresh and new. Let us see if, among all the books of the last three months, I cannot find something to recommend to the readers of ‘Temple Bar.’
“Sister Tabitha, thirty odd,
I hardly think “mellow sunlight” is good. But let it stand. The poet goes on to describe the withered and faded appearance of the poor women. We see their spiteful and envious glances—who can blame them?—at Sister Ann, the young and loved. She, too, is not quite happy.
“Like a fountain in a shady place
We go to church and hear the Prophet preach. This is the end of his sermon:
“ ‘I hear some awakening spirit cry,
(Feminine whispers.) ‘Martha is growing a handsome gel. . . .
(The Prophet.) ‘Learning’s a shadow, and books a jest,
(Feminine whispers.) ‘The babby’s growing black in the face;
(The Prophet.) ‘A faithful vine at the door of the Lord,
It was after this discourse, beautiful and touching as it reads, that Saint Abe bolted. With him Sister Ann. The disconsolate six, headed by Tabitha, go down to the Prophet with the fatal news and a letter that he has left behind him:
“‘I don’t deserve a parting tear, nor even a malediction,
I cannot quote more, but it seems to me that this is poetry of a high order. Would that in England we had humorists who could write as well. But with Thackeray our last writer of humour left us.
The Westminster Review (American Edition) (April, 1872)
“Saint Abe and his Seven Wives” may lay claim to many rare qualities. In the first place the author possesses simplicity and directness. To this he adds genuine humour and intense dramatic power. Lastly he has contrived to give a local flavour, something of the salt of the Salt Lake to his characters, which enables us to thoroughly realize them. We shall endeavour to illustrate these characteristics. His simplicity, directness, and ease of style may all be seen in his Invocation to Chaucer. The first portion of the verses have the true ring of our best Elizabethan poets when they wrote in the same metre, or of Keats in such poems as “Ever let the Fancy roam,” “Souls of Poets dead and gone,” and his “Robin Hood.” Little could we expect such lines as these from America:—
“Maypole dance and Whitsun ale,
We must say with Keats, when writing on the same subject, “No, those days are gone away.” And he who now looks for Maypole dances, Whitsun Ales, and Bride Ales, might as well look for Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest. The change, however, from old English mirth to modern English sadness has been brought about in many ways. In the first place the Calendar has something to do with it. The first of May of our ancestors was thirteen days later than our own, which makes a great difference as far as out of door sports are concerned in a climate like ours. In the next place machinery has played an important part in reducing the element of fun. It is impossible to feel that enthusiasm over the labours of a steam-plough or a reaping-machine as over our own. The introduction, too, of such beverages as tea and coffee have not been without their effect. But we are inclined to think that this old English mirth and jollity has been greatly exaggerated. Certainly we find nothing to corroborate the accounts of recent sentimental historians, as to the happy social condition of the people in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth. Every contemporary work on the subject refutes the statement, and reveals an enormous amount of squalid misery, disease, and suffering among the lower orders. Generally speaking, too, as far as we have observed human nature, loud laughter and high spirits go hand in hand with a coarse and unreflecting mind, whilst sorrow has from the days of Solomon been associated with increase of knowledge. We are therefore very well content to accept the author’s concluding sneers, which we need not quote, as to our modern English sadness, and to reflect that had he thought a little more on the subject his verse might not have run quite so easily and so flippantly as it does. And here seems to be the author’s weakness and danger in the future. He writes with a fatal facility. “Saint Abe and his Seven Wives” is very unequal. There are charming passages, such as we have quoted, followed by the most prosaic bits. To pass on, however, to the author’s humour. His hits are particularly good. He knows how to point his barbs. Here is a piece worthy of the author of Tartuffe—Joe Wilson’s Mormon receipt for converting women:—
“Don’t talk of flesh and blood and feeling,
But what we have ventured to call the salt of the book lies in the picture which is given of Mormon life and views, expounded by the prophet and a chorus of wives. Generally speaking, Mormon views, like the flavour of the mango, will not bear exportation. It is difficult to write about Priapus in a decent Christian way. But the author has overcome this hitherto insuperable obstacle in a manner which is as dramatic as it is humorous. We will not spoil the admirable canto “Within the Synagogue” by any quotation, which, however long, cannot possibly do it justice. We will merely say that this one bit is worth the price of the whole book. In the author of “Saint Abe and his Seven Wives” we recognise a true poet, with an entirely original vein of humour.
The Nonconformist (8 May, 1872)
The author of the very remarkable satire, St. Abe and his Seven Wives (Strahan and Co.), has, in a third edition, added considerably. He has also supplied a very characteristic appendix, in which he gives the “opinions” of distinguished persons upon his production. These are done something after the manner of Carlyle’s opinions of “publisher” and “taster,” given in early editions of his Sartor; but they are inimitably quaint and original. The “distinguished persons” are easily recognisable, and their publicly-expressed sentiments are caricatured by being driven to extreme expression. A certain writer of polish regrets to find the author “something of a Philistine” in implicitly bearing so hard against polygamy; whilst another regards Brigham Young as “one of the most vigilant and clear-sighted of modern men, cosmic, a decided moral force,” &c. &c. Now and then the satire in this portion grazes, if it does not a little surpass, the line of allowable license; but the cleverness of the thing is undoubted, as is the fun of it. The new edition, too, has a clever frontispiece, representing St. Abe and his wives.
[Advert for the Third Edition from The Ladies (8 June, 1872).]
The North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette (15 June, 1872)
“Saint Abe and his Seven Wives: a Tale of Salt Lake City,” Strahan & Co., London, 1872.
The new school of American literature demands the attention of all those who are anxious to obtain an insight into the social and political life of the States. The writings of Bret Harte, the '”Castilian Days” and the rugged and fervid “Songs of the Sierras” are not to be passed over by any who are sincerely desirous of gaining a just idea of the varied influences that are now at work in the Republic. These new writers, it must be admitted, lack the purity of Longfellow and the scholarly grace of Irving. They have not a trace of the subtle and artistic qualities that characterize the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table; yet they are worthy of notice for many reasons. They are full of Power and Energy and Blood, and they essay to deal with many questions of morality and religion in a bold downright way which shocks men who pass for adventurous in the Old Country. The latest book of this class which we have seen, is the volume named at the head of this article. St. Abe and his Seven Wives—a tale of Salt Lake City, professes to represent the practical working of Mormonism; and it must be admitted that it paints the Saints and their doings in no favourable colours. The book consists of two parts, one called the “Boss’s Tale,” the other “The City of the Saints.” The former poem shows the arts by which one Hiram Higginson, a Mormon apostle, seduced a certain pretty Ciss from her loyalty to the narrator, and induced her to fly with him to Utah; and the latter production, which is by far the most elaborate, presents us with the history of St. Abe, and shows us how he became disgusted with his seven wives, and ended a contented monogamist.
“It ain’t a passionate flat like Abe can manage things in your way!
Several pages and cantos are occupied with developing various phases of Abe’s position, until we are introduced to the synagogue where the Prophet sermonizeth. The address of Brigham, interrupted by the muttered conversation of the audience, is by far the ablest portion of the poem. A small portion however must suffice:
Sisters and brothers who love the right,
Brother Shuttleworth’s seventeenth wife,
Out of Egypt hither we flew,
Isn’t Jedge Hawkins’s last a fright? . . . .
After the sermon, we have the Prophet holding a session; and in the midst of this the thunderbolt falls:
“In rushed one with voice that fluttered
He sends a letter, however, which explains his reasons for abandoning Mormondom. It seems that he was induced to take the step by the domestic complications of his hareem, by a really sincere affection for Annie his last wife, and primarily from a feeling of unworthiness of the privileges to which he had been admitted:
“I must and ever must subsist, labelled on every feature
The epilogue of the drama shows Abe in the retreat to which he had betaken himself, the contented and happy husband of Sister Annie. Such is the story, but a sketch does not fairly represent either its merits or its defects. Its special merit, in our judgement, is the breadth and power of the satire with which Mormonism is attacked. We have purposely avoided quoting certain passages in the last Epistle of St. Abe, as they are not perhaps in strict accordance with the requirements of English taste; still they are, we firmly believe, seasonable words; and the subject is one about which writers like Mr. Hepworth Dixon have wrapped so much mock sentiment, that a truth teller must be strong and clear in his utterances, to make any impression at all. Here, as everywhere in the pages of the Young American writers, we meet with inimitable descriptions of natural scenery—landscapes painted in a few lines that rival those of Hobbima himself; and unfortunately we find too frequently the old vice of coarseness in some of the expressions, and the tendency to mistake violence for strength. It may be said that, in the first canto of St. Abe, we have all the defects, and in the last all the beauties, of the New School.
Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (7 July, 1872 - p.5)
The third edition of “Saint Abe and his Seven Wives” has reached us. This tale of Salt Lake city has achieved a mervellous popularity, and not undeservedly. Its humour is powerful, and its satire keen. However, any criticism would now be superfluous, since the work has already reached its third edition. Messrs. Strahan and Co. are the publishers.
Pall Mall Gazette (25 July, 1872)
[From a review of Other Countries by Major William Morrison Bell (London: Chapman and Hall. 1872.]
... Thence a not unnatural association of ideas transports us to the shores of the Salt Lake, among the polygamous followers of the Mormon prophet. Major Bell attended a great gathering of the faithful in Brigham Young’s tabernacle at Salt Lake City, and we note his impressions because they so entirely harmonize with all we gather from that admirable poem, “St. Abe and his Seven Wives.” He says:— “The female part of the congregation struck me as being a lot of poor, plain, silly old women. Not to prove the rule by the exception, but to acknowledge that a poke-bonnet or a lack of crinoline may have induced me to judge harshly, I remember one exception, a young and nice-looking girl.” After reading “St. Abe,” we can understand only too well the wear and tear of mind and looks under the system of polygamy. But we should have thought the girls might have bloomed in youth with the other natural productions of the reclaimed desert, and kept their early freshness until they were transplanted into the cold shade of the harem. ...
The Dundee Evening Telegraph (18 January, 1898 - p.3)
ROBERT BUCHANAN AND DECEIVED CRITICS.
The issue of the cheap edition of “St Abe and His Seven Wives” gives its author, Mr Robert Buchanan, an opportunity for another dig at the critics. “St Abe” was written in 1870, “at a time when all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with sharpshooters on the lookout for the blank Scotchman who had dared to denounce log-rolling; and was published anonymously. Simultaneously “The Drama of Kings” appeared with the author’s name. “The Drama” was torn to shreds in every newspaper; the Satire, because no one suspected who had written it, was at once hailed as a masterpiece.” One paper avowed in one breath that Robert Buchanan was utterly devoid of dramatic power, while the author of “St Abe” was a man of dramatic genius. The general impression at the time was that the poem was written by James Russell Lowell. Some suggested Bret Harte. “No one,” adds Mr Buchanan, “suspected for one moment that the work was written by a Scotchman who, up to that date, had never even visited America. The Spectator devoted a long leading article to proving that the humour of this particular kind could have been produced only in the Far West, while a leading magazine bewailed the fact that we had no such humorists in England since ‘with Thackeray our last writer of humour left us.’” The present edition is the first which bears the author’s name on the title-page.
The Stage (20 January, 1898 - p.13)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, whose opinion of the publishing fraternity might almost be summed up in the historic phrase in which Barabbas is mentioned, has latterly set up in business for himself as publisher of his own works. He now sends for notice the first cheap edition (price 2s. 6d.) of his clever satire on the Mormon movement, “Saint Abe and His Seven Wives, a Tale of Salt Lake City,” which was published anonymously early in the seventies, and was then freely attributed to the author of “The Biglow Papers,” James Russell Lowell. This and much more Mr. Buchanan tells us in the caustically and characteristically written Bibliographical Note, which he appends to the present issue, together with reprints of some of the Press notices of the first edition, and of his semi-humorous “Anticipatory Criticisms” with which the satire was originally prefaced.
The Glasgow Herald (21 January, 1898)
Saint Abe and His Seven Wives; a Tale of Salt Lake City. With a Bibliographical Note. By Robert Buchanan. (London: Robert Buchanan, 36 Gerrard Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, W.)—This is the first cheap edition of a book which, on its original and anonymous publication in 1970, was hailed as a work of genius, and the general impression was that James Russell Lowell was the author. Some, however, thought it the work of Bret Harte. The chorus of praise was Mr Buchanan’s revenge, inflicted upon themselves by writers who had almost uniformly written him down. In his note he says that the satire of “St Abe” appeared “at a time when all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with sharpshooters on the lookout for ‘the d——d Scotchman’ who had dared to denounce Logrolling.” Part of the joke was that the poet’s “Drama of Kings” was published the same time as “Saint Abe,” but with the author’s name, and while the former was torn to shreds, the latter was at once hailed as a masterpiece. One London paper “avowed in one breath that Robert Buchanan was utterly devoid of dramatic power, while the author of ‘St Abe’ was a man of dramatic genius.” One of the best of the weekly reviews declared that humour of the kind shown in the poem “could have been produced only in the Far West;” while a leading magazine “bewailed the fact that we had no such humorists in England, since with Thackeray our last writer of humour had left us.” Mr Buchanan’s trap was a great success, and he ought now to let the matter rest. But he can’t; and he says, “I shall be quite prepared to hear now, on the authority of the newspapers, that the eulogy given to ‘St Abe’ on its first appearance was all a mistake, and that the writer possesses no humour whatsoever.” That is not likely. The poem is too good to be so treated by the new generation, for while the chances are that most of his original smashers and applauders are dead, and cannot reply to his present exposure, the new writers are not incapable of recognising genius even in an author whose delight it is to smash all round. “St Abe” is an admirable piece of work, and it is as fresh to-day as it was twenty-eight years ago.
The Academy (22 January, 1898 - p.97)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN issues from his own depôt in Gerrard-street, Soho, a cheap edition of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives. This poetical tale of Mormonism was written in 1870, “when” (writes Mr. Buchanan in a bibliographical note) “all the Cockney bastions of criticism were swarming with ‘. . . . sharpshooters on the look-out for the ‘d——d Scotchman’ who had dared to denounce Logrolling.” Mr. Buchanan recalls the kindly reception given to the book, alike for its poetry and humour, when it appeared anonymously. He writes:
“The present is the first cheap edition of the book, and the first which bears the author’s name on the title-page . . . . I shall be quite prepared to hear now, on the authority of the newspapers, that the eulogy given to St. Abe on its first appearance was all a mistake, and that the writer possesses no humour whatsoever.”
We hope that Mr. Buchanan will have no such experience, but he still protests too much; he is too like the “fretful porpentine.” “Printed cackle about books,” he writes, “will always be about as valuable as spoken cackle about them.” But the best spoken cackle about books is very good, and critics can but cackle their best.
The Dundee Advertiser (3 February, 1898 - p.3)
Having been a journalist himself, Robert Buchanan knows the ways of the average reviewer of books. He has a standing feud with all the critics, because he imagines that he has never been adequately appreciated. Now that he has begun as his own publisher he feels that he has a splendid opportunity for expressing his contempt for the whole race of journalists. So far back as 1871 he published a very remarkable poem on Mormonism, entitled “Saint Abe and his Seven Wives.” It was issued anonymously and as the critics—who were then, in customary fashion, waiting with scalping knives for Robert Buchanan—did not recognise his style, they praised the book which, he believes, they would otherwise have condemned. At the same time he published another poem to which he, ill-advisedly, put his name; and it was duly denounced by the critics. If these book-tasters of a quarter of a century ago recognised the merits of “Saint Abe,” Mr Buchanan ought to be grateful to them, and acknowledge their discrimination. Not so, however, does he testify his gratitude. He dies his best to ridicule the very men who helped him to anonymous fame. This is not kind. As for the poem, it is really an excellent piece of satire, very cleverly expressed. The hero is a Mormon Elder, the unhappy husband of six wives of various degrees of unattractiveness. He brings a seventh wife into the household, falls in love with her, and eventually elopes, leaving six sorrowing grass-widows. The value of the poem lies in its forecast of the ultimate abolition of polygamy in Utah. As a poetic work it is very superior to much of the satiric verse of its period. Mr Buchanan should not denounce the critics in his wholesale style. If he has so little regard for their judgment, why does he continue to send his books for review? There is just a faint suspicion of Marie Corellism in his denunciations of the press. (London: Robert Buchanan.)
White Rose and Red (1873)