ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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BOOK REVIEWS - POETRY (17)

 

White Rose and Red (1873) - continued

 

The Westminster Review (October, 1873)

     As usual, a number of thin octavos, containing what their authors are pleased to call poetry, crowd our table. Some of them, we perceive, are very bitter against their natural enemy the critic. They are, however, perfectly safe as far as we are concerned.

“Nil est deterius latrone nudo:
Nil securius est malo poetâ.”

We gladly welcome a new volume by the author of “St. Abe.” 10 “St. Abe” was really a remarkable production. It was thoroughly original from every point of view. The author was no imitator. And “White Rose and Red” is also no imitation. The hackneyed criticism in England now no longer holds good, that American poetry is merely an echo. Such poets as Walt Whitman and Joaquim Miller give the most positive contradiction to any such assertion. Their poetry is perfectly indigenous. It is racy of the soil. As to its quality and its value many and very opposite opinions will of course be held. Speaking roughly, the charge to which this new school is most open is want of polish. And although the author of “St. Abe” is not an American, his poetry has a wonderful likeness to that of the new American school. We the countrymen of Tennyson, Swinburne, Morris, and Rossetti, whose lines are so fastidiously correct, not unnaturally resent the wilder music of the Backwoods. It remains, however, to be seen whether this simplicity and wildness are defects, and whether the new American school of poetry may not win its ultimate triumph, not in spite of them, but by and through them. The great characteristic of “White Rose and Red” is the author’s passionate love of Nature. He is no town poet. He loves the Backwoods. Here, for instance, is a Bird Chorus:—

“Chickadee! chickadee!
Green leaves on every tree!
Over field, over foam,
All the birds are coming home.
Honk! Honk! sailing low,
Cried the gray goose long ago.
Weet! weet! in the light
Flutes the phœbe-bird so bright.
Chewink, veery, thrush o’ the wood,
     Silver trebles raise together:
All around their dainty food
     Ripens with the ripening weather.
Hear, O hear!
In the great elm by the mere
Whip-poor-will is crying clear.”—p. 110, 111.

Such a bird chorus has not been heard in literature since the days of the famous chorus in“The Birds” of Aristophanes. But we feel by no means sure that the author’s descriptions of Nature will be appreciated in English drawing-rooms. His poetry is utterly unlike anything to which we have been accustomed. He is the first poet, too, who has really done winter justice, and seen and felt its beauties. The Canto entitled “The Great Snow” is one of the finest and most original in the poem:—

“’Twas the year of the Great Snow.
First the East began to blow
Chill and shrill for many days,
On the wild wet woodland ways.
Then the North, with crimson cheeks,
Blew upon the pond for weeks,
Chill’d the water thro’ and thro’,
’Till the first thin ice-crust grew
Blue and filmy.”—p. 141.

Thus the poet introduces us to one of the most vivid scenes—a snowstorm in the Backwoods—which we have ever  read. What Thoreau has so worthily done for us in prose in “Walden,” the author of “White Rose and Red” has also equally well done for us in poetry. Each has opened up for us a new world of beauty.

     10 “White Rose and Red.” A Love Story. By the author of “St. Abe.” London: Strahan and Co. 1873.

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The Graphic (4 October, 1873)

VARIOUS VERSIFIERS

     AT length, the anonymous author of “St. Abe” has justified the favourable prognostications of all competent critics by a serious work, of sufficient volume and variety to enable the formation of a judgment of his real powers as a poet. The result is eminently satisfactory. In “White Rose and Red, a Love Story” (Strahan), we find all the humour which the author was already known to possess, and he has now proved himself to be an equal master of pathos; added to this, there are descriptive passages which merit the highest praise, and a command is shown over the various metres employed, together with a facility of narration, which leave little to be desired, and at once entitle the author of “St. Abe” to take a good place among modern poets. The story, something akin in idea, though, unhappily, not in its ending, to that of Becket’s wife, is of a Mexican girl and her lover, a northern trapper, one Eureka Hart; the beautiful savage loves the lout on account of his splendid animalism, and he just accepts her heart and worship until he gets tired of her, and goes away, promising to return, and leaving her his name and address. When he gets back to Maine, conventional life asserts its claims, and he very soon marries quiet little Phœbe,—the “White Rose”—and settles down amongst his own people—

Thrifty Men, devout believers,
Of the tribe of human beavers.

Then the Great Snow, most graphically described, comes upon “Drowsietown, State of Maine,” and on a wild night of storm, when Eureka is boozing at the inn, and Phœbe is alone, the poor “Red Rose,” with her baby at her breast, staggers into their kitchen, her sorrowful quest ended, and her life at ebb. This is, in many ways, the best part of the poem; the tenderness of the good woman, alternating with the harshness of the jealous wife in Phœbe, are admirably depicted, and the stupid shame, hardly deserving the name of remorse, in her husband,  is equally true to nature. “Red Rose” and her child die, and Eureka is forgiven,—his wife’s philosophy, at page 241, is one of the most humorous passages in the poem,—and all flows on in the usual course in Drowsietown. This is only a meagre outline of a tale which gives rise to all the various excellences of which we have spoken; for power of description we should specially commend the passage at page 6, introducing the sleeping heroine, the view of the tropical forest at page 22, and the whole of the canto entitled “Drowsietown;” for dramatic force “The Wanderer” must claim the palm, and for pathos, “Face to Face;” were we to particularise all the humorous lines we should far exceed the space at our disposal. Those who wish to enjoy the author’s music may read the “Song of the River” at page 113, or that which begins

The swift is wheeling and gleaming.

It is seldom fair to compare an original writer with some one who has gone before him, still we cannot help thinking of Hood in reading “White Rose and Red,” only that the author has a sense of colour which was wanting in the English poet.

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Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (5 October, 1873)

LITERATURE.
_____

WHITE ROSE AND RED.*

     This work inspires us with strong feelings of admiration and regret—admiration of the poetic power that distinguishes every line, and regret that some of its finest effects should be marred by a few sentences that grate on every cultivated  ear. In “St. Abe” we noticed this fault, which then was so slightly marked as to be but a peculiarity to most readers. Its intensification in the volume before us is the less apropos, as “White Rose and Red” is by no means a humorous story, while “St. Abe” was related in that semi-jocular style which is becoming so popular; and the unpleasantly realistic turn of some paragraphs partook of the comic view. Here is a specimen of the defect to which we allude. After a passage full of fine language embodying delicate fancies, come these disenchanting lines:—

                               And, in brief,
Her looks were bright beyond belief
Of those who meet in the green ways
The rum-wrecked squaws of later days.

Does not the coarseness of that last epithet spoil the whole? And in passage after passage the poet makes the same fatal mistake. This is doubtless the fault of the age. The public of to-day want realism in everything. The mellifluous, classic language of the great writers and thinkers of a past generation is styled (as we ourselves heard two asinine young fops in the stalls at the Lyceum theatre declare Lytton’s Richelieu to be)—“cant” and “padding.” He who can most faithfully reproduce the most commonplace feature of our daily life, will have the greatest success. The same young man who termed Richelieu “padding,” would have been entranced at the spectacle of a hansom cab driving across the stage, or a penny steamboat puffing across a stage representation of the Thames. This fatal tendency of the times is plainly shown forth in “White Rose and Red,” and we sincerely regret it, for there is much that is able and fine in the book, appealing to every tender and cultivated instinct. Having, however, pointed out the one defect of the poet’s style, let us proceed to do justice to him on many other points. Firstly, we must pay an admiring tribute to his descriptive power. The following lines are very fair specimens of the style of the better passages of the book, and will not fail to please those among our readers who can appreciate the “true poetic mind.” The scene is laid in the “mighty land of the red and white,” on the shores of the Atlantic:—

The wild wood rings, the wild wood gleams,
     The wild wood laughs with echoes gay;
Thro’ its green heart a bright beck streams,
Sparkling like gold in the sun’s beams,
     But creeping, like a silvern ray,
     Where hanging boughs make dim the day.
Hushed, hot, and Eden-like all seems,
And onward through the place of dreams,
     Eureka Hart doth stray.
Strong, broadawake, and happy-eyed,
With the loose tangled light for guide,
He wanders, and at times doth pass
Through open glades of gleaming grass,
With spiderwort and larkspur spread,
And great anemones blood-red.
On every side the forest closes,
     The myriad trees are interlaced,
Starred with the white magnolia roses,
     And by the purple vines embraced.
Beneath on every pathway shine
The fallen needles of the pine;
Around are dusky scented bowers,
Bridged with the glorious lian-flowers.
Above, far up through the green trees,
     The palm thrusts out its fan of green,
Which softly stirs in a soft breeze,
     Far up against the heavenly sheen.
And all beneath the topmost palm
Is sultry shade and air of balm,
Where, shaded from the burning rays,
Scream choirs of parroquets and jays;
Where in the dusk of dream is heard
The shrill cry of the echo-bird;
And on the grass, as thick as bees,
     Run mocking-birds and wood-doves small
Pecking the blood-red strawberries,
     And fruits that from the branches fall;
All rising up with gleam and cry,
When the bright snake glides hissing by,
Springs from the grass, and, swift as light,
Slips after the chameleons bright
From bough to bough, and here and there
Pauses and hangs in the green air,
Festooned in many a glistening fold,
Like some loose chain of gems and gold.

     The lines bring a gorgeous picture of those magnificent Western lands before the eyes; and the sad story that is framed in these brilliant word-paintings is only the sadder, from the strength and beauty of the surrounding nature.
     The tale is of a very common turn, involving simply the easy faithlessness of the man and the splendid devotion of a woman. Eureka Hart is a “pale-face” of giant stature, who while roaming about in the forests primeval meets Red Rose, and loves her after his own selfish fashion for a time; and then tires of her, and leaves her, returning to his native State of Maine, with many promises that he will soon return to his Red Rose, and stay with her always. It is the old, old story. In the State of Maine he meets the White Rose, and forgets his Indian love, who is waiting patiently for his return, miles away in the West. He marries White Rose, who likes him well enough, but is above all anxious for matronly dignity, and the wearing of housewife’s keys. A great snowstorm comes upon the village in which Eureka and his wife are living—a snowstorm which lasts for days. The description of this is really admirable. We seem to see the snow falling, and to feel the icy wind as we read. Through all the bitter cold, the blinding snow, comes Red Rose searching for her “pale-face” lover, guided by a slip of paper he gave her long ago, and on which his name and that of his native town were written. She cannot speak the language that is spoken on all sides, she can only talk the beautiful figurative language of her tribe. White Rose, by some chance, is the first to see and care for this weary woman, who reaches Eureka’s house at night in the snow; and the account of White Rose’s unceasing devotion, even when she discovers the whole truth, is delicately given. Eureka can answer nothing to his wife’s accusations, and the wife takes the event calmly, from the very coldness of the love she bears her husband. But the Red Rose is drooping fast, and Eureka is called to bid her Godspeed on the long, long journey she is entering upon:—

To the bedside, white and quaking,
     Came Eureka, with a groan,
Conscience-stricken now, and taking
     Her thin hand into his own.
At the touch she kindled, rallied,
     With a look of gentle grace;
Clung about him deathly pallid,
     And, uplooking in his face,
Smiled! Ah, God! that smile of parting,
From her soul’s dim depths upstarting!
’Twas a smile of awful beauty,
Full of fatal love and duty;
Such a smile as haunts for ever
Any being but a beaver.
Even Eureka’s stolid spirit
Was half agonized to bear it.
Smiling thus, and softly crooning
     Words he could not understand,
Sank she on the pillow, swooning,
     Clutching still her hero’s hand.
Silent spirits, shapes that love her,
Is she resting? Is all over?
     Nay; for while Eureka, quaking,
Heart-sick, soul-sick to behold her,
     From the bed her worn form taking,
Leans her head upon his shoulder;
Once again, the spirit flying
     With a last expiring ray,
Waves a message, dimly dying,
     From its tenement of clay.
Those great eyes upon him looking,
Not reproaching, not rebuking,
Brighten into bliss—perceiving
Naught of shame or of deceiving;
Only for the last time seeing
Her great chief, a god-like being;
Only happy, all at rest,
To be dying—on his breast.
See! her hand points upward slowly,
With an awful grace, and holy;
And her eyes are saying clearly,
“Master, lord, beloved so dearly,
We shall meet, with souls grown fonder
In God’s happy prairies yonder;
Where no snow falls; where, for ever,
Flows the shining Milky River,
On whose banks, divinely glowing,
Shapes like ours are coming, going,
In the happy star-dew moving,
Silent, smiling, loved, and loving!
Fare thee well, till then, my Master!”
Hark, her breath comes fainter, faster,
While, in love man cannot measure,
     Kissing her white warrior’s hand,
She sinks, with one great smile of pleasure,—
     Last flash upon the blackening brand!

     The White Rose wife and the unstable husband do not love each other sufficiently, to let this incident disturb the repose of their wedded life. They are happy enough together, and the man for whom the poor Indian girl walked countless miles in the cruel winter—her tender feet leaving red tracks on the snow—forgets her; or, if he remembers occasionally, thinks not of her devotion and love, but of her beauty.

Round how mere a log did twine
The wild tendrils of this vine!

     The story is a pitiful one, and the fine verse in which it is told but renders it the more pitiful and pathetic. Those among our readers who are tempted by the quotations we have given to read the whole poem, will not regret the venture. Overlooking the defect we mentioned at the beginning of our review, they will thoroughly enjoy the simple story and brilliant descriptive passages of this original volume. Let us recommend to them the two “Nuptial Festivals,” which are conspicuous for originality and delicacy of thought and language.

* “White Rose and Red.” By the author of “St. Abe.” Strahan and Co., Ludgate-hill, London.

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The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald (14 October, 1873 - p.4)

     When “St. Abe and his Seven Wives” first appeared, it was attributed to Mr. Lowell; others saw the peculiar cleverness of Bret Harte. “Some parts of the poem,” it was thought, “must have been written by George Browning.” Mr. Buchanan, the real author, enjoyed these praises, for some of them came from papers which had been specially hard upon previous productions bearing his name. English authors are getting fond of these tricks, to the annoyance of the critics. One popular novelist who had come to believe—as authors will believe—that a special animus against him was felt, brought out a novel lately without giving a name. The trap, he says, caught the birds. Certainly it was a curious circumstance that the critics who had been hard upon his writings when his features were seen, proclaimed the first one which was sent out from behind a screen to be genius. “Saint Abe” was pronounced “thoroughly American,” but Mr. Buchanan is Scotch of the Scotch. His new poem, “White Rose and Red,” is dedicated to “Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardner, with all friends in Washington.” If the theory just alluded to be correct, the new poem will not be so successful as the old, for Mr. Buchanan’s name has long leaked out, and he is a hard hitter himself. His greatest triumph would have been some words of eulogy for the anonymous author of the Mormon composition, from Mr. Rosetti, but I have not heard that he can boast of as much.

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The Spectator (18 October, 1873 - p.15-17)

BOOKS.
_____

WHITE ROSE AND RED.*

THIS is a poem of great, and in parts, of rare beauty, though it falls now and again for brief intervals to the level of the prosaic and the common-place, and indicates, as we think, an ill-adjusted balance in the poet’s mind between the rival claims of the real and the ideal. Yet it shows so great an imaginative power, not merely for painting nature in her most beautiful and grandest forms, but for penetrating these forms with vivifying conceptions, that it will secure for itself a permanent name and a long succession of readers. The story of the poem is,—as it always should be, if the poem is to be a real poem, and not a novel in verse, depending more on story than on beauty, for its interest,—of the simplest kind. A Maine farmer’s son, with no strength of passion or feeling in him, but something wild and restless in his blood, cannot settle down, and takes to roving. He is captured, thousands of miles from Maine, by a Red Indian tribe, with whose chief’s granddaughter he falls in love. She returns his love, but (rather because it suits the tale than for any good reason) secretly, and without any open acknowledgment even of an Indian marriage. At length he tires of her, half-consciously, half-unconsciously, and gets her consent to revisit his home in Maine, only solemnly promising her to return, and leaving with her his name and address, written, for want of better ink, in his own blood,—which, by a somewhat tricky expedient of the sensational kind, is represented in the published poem by red printer’s ink. On his return he falls in love with a neat, keen, housewifely New England beauty, and after some struggle with himself, marries her. In a year or so, the Indian girl, who in the meantime has given birth to a baby, wanders forth, baby in arms, to Maine in search of her lover; reaches the State in the time of the great snow; lights, on the fiercest of winter nights, on his house; is admitted by his wife, who is sitting up awaiting her husband; recognises on his return the lover she is in search of, and soon after dies of cold and exhaustion, without knowing that he has been unfaithful to her; and her baby follows her. The New England wife, whose love is painted as of the starchiest kind, chiefly because she knows the utter common-placeness of the man,—while the Indian girl loves a dream of her own heart that has no real existence, though she clothes it in her lover’s form,—forgives the husband whom she had always, secretly, somewhat despised, and the tragedy that had interrupted their domestic peace only serves to lend fresh sarcasm to her scoldings, and fresh timidity to his clumsiness of nature, for the future. What the poet has aimed at painting, and at heightening by comparison, both with the man’s soulless instinct and with the good little New-England wife’s contemptuous toleration, is the nobility and depth of the Indian woman’s devotion. The Red Rose is intended far to outshine the White. As for the hero, he is not a hero, but expressly delineated as a log in the form of man, one of Carlyle’s “beavers,” capable of nothing but beaverism, though the beaverism is mixed with a taint of restlessness of a purely animal kind, and not in any sense the sign of any deeper spiritual or moral craving.
     And this seems to us the artistic fault of the poem,—that it is deliberately intended to paint a waste of passionate devotion and fidelity on a creature not only not worthy of it, but hardly capable even in the immortal life of becoming so; and that the soiled, jarred, and diminished domestic peace which the shadow of the Red Rose’s fate leaves behind it, is not in any way mixed with any higher elements of pain due to the tragic interruption which, the wife’s and husband’s love has suffered, but is rather rendered coarser, commoner, and less susceptible of fine issues. The poem ends, not in tragedy, but mere disappointment, and disappointment that is not even mourned by the poet, but recorded with almost cruel insouciance. Even the goodness and magnanimity of the New-England wife, who, after a short struggle with herself, cherishes her rival and her rival’s child, is a moral seed that grows into nothing nobler than a sense of contemptuous superiority to her husband’s frailty. As the semi-tropical beauty, with the delineation of which the story opens, gives place to a picture of “the great snow,” so the deep love of the child of nature for a dream of her own, with the delineation of which the story also opens, gives place to a picture of dull, frigid death-in-life. Even that might have been moulded into true art, if the poet himself had painted, with the lyrical force of which he is capable, that sense of desolation with which the issue ought to be regarded. The glorious and rapid river that loses itself in a Pontine marsh, is a. fitting theme enough for poetry, if the sense of the waste and the desolation is fitly expressed. The fault we find with this poem is that it is not so, that the ending is not truly tragic either in relation to the persons of the story, or to the poet who sings it,—that he quenches the flame of his story’s passion in a region of swamps without letting us hear even the wail of the wind which passes over the wilderness. And the same fault appears once or twice in the course of the poem. For instance, the following comparison between the big animal lover and a log of pine-wood, and between the beautiful creature who falls in love with him and the sunbeam which calls forth a show of superficial life from the pine-log, ends, to our minds with a flippant, jarring, and unmelodious note:—

“As a pine-log prostrate lying,
     Slowly thro’ its knotted skin
Feels the warm revivifying
     Spring-time thrill and tremble in;
As a pine-log, strong and massive,
Feels the light and lieth passive,
While a Sunbeam, coming daily,
Creeps upon its bosom gaily;
Warms the bark with quick pulsations,
Warms and waits each day in patience,
While the green begins to brighten,
And the sap begins to heighten,—
Till at last from its hard bosom
Suddenly there slips a blossom
Green as emerald!—then another!
     Then a third! then more and more!
Till the soft green bud-knots smother
     What was sapless wood before;
Till the thing is consecrated
     To the spirit of the Spring,
Till the love for all things fated
     Burns and beautifies the thing;—
And the wood-doves sit and con it,
     And the squirrels from on high
Fluttering drop their nuts upon it
     And the bee and butterfly
Find it pleasant to alight there,
And taps busy morn and night there
     Many a bird with golden beak;
Till, since all has grown so bright there,
     It would cry (if Logs could speak),
‘Sunbeam, sunbeam, I’m your debtor!
     I was fit for firewood nearly.
I’m considerably better,
     And I love you, Sunbeam, dearly!’”

And still worse is the section headed “Arrêtez,” in which the poet stops short in the description of the lovers’ passion with a flippant and disagreeable apology to the spirit of modern conventional taste. It is meant to be severely satiric, but to our ears it is only harsh and discordant.
     Here and there, again,—to make an end of fault-finding, before we attempt to appreciate the beauty of the poem,— lines as prosaic as Wordsworth’s many flies in amber, spoil the flow of the poem. Here, for instance, within the course of a single stanza, are such lines as these:—

From an artistic point of sight,
The aged man was faultless quite.”

And, though perchance not over clean,
He had a certain gentle mien.”

“From an artistic point of sight” has as much business in a poem as the pudding-bag in which the pudding was boiled would have upon the dish. The artist has a right to think of the artistic point of sight, but not to give us his thoughts of it, when giving us the art which is the result of it. And, again, the candour about the uncleanliness of his old Indian chief is a bit of mistaken realism, suggesting a criticism on him not at all more appropriate to the occasion, than the Yankee’s description of Niagara as “a mighty water-privilege,” would be to a wondering description of the great fall’s beauty and grandeur.
     But if we go on like this, we shall give the impression that the faults of the poem are equal to its beauties. That is not so. It is full of power, and in some parts of grandeur, though we confess that we admire the poetry of nature much more than the poetry of love which it contains; and that we admire the poetry of Northern nature, of the spare Northern beauty, the grand Northern inclemency, much more than the poetry of Southern and radiant nature. The humour, too, of the picture of the Yankee village (though that “beaverish” idea for which originally we have to thank Mr. Carlyle is a little overworked in it), is better, we think, than anything in the delineation of human emotion which it contains. What can be sweeter, in the sleepy, poetic ripple of its description than the following picture of the scenery of the Maine village?—

“DROWSIETOWN.

“O so drowsy! In a daze
Sweating ’mid the golden haze,
With its smithy like an eye
Glaring bloodshot at the sky,
And its one white row of street
Carpetted so green and sweet,
And the loungers smoking still
Over gate and window-sill;
Nothing coming, nothing going,
Locusts grating, one cock crowing,
Few things moving up or down,
All things drowsy—Drowsietown!

“Thro’ the fields with sleepy gleam,
Drowsy, drowsy steals the stream,
Touching with its azure arms
Upland fields and peaceful farms,
Gliding with a twilight tide
Where the dark elms shade its side;
Twining, pausing sweet and bright
Where the lilies sail so white;
Winding in its sedgy hair
Meadow-sweet and iris fair;
Humming as it hies along
Monotones of sleepy song;
Deep and dimpled, bright nut-brown,
Flowing into Drowsietown.

“Far as eye can see, around,
Upland fields and farms are found,
Floating prosperous and fair
In the mellow misty air:
Apple-orchards, blossoms blowing
Up above,—and clover growing
Red and scented round the knees
Of the old moss-silvered trees.
Hark! with drowsy deep refrain,
In the distance rolls a wain;
As its dull sound strikes the ear,
Other kindred sounds grow clear—
Drowsy all—the soft breeze blowing,
Locusts grating, one cock crowing,
Cries like voices in a dream
Far away amid the gleam,
Then the waggons rumbling down
Thro’ the lanes to Drowsietown.”

And what more delicate and lovely than this song of the little Maine river in spring-time,—a song which, like that of that “fairest of all rivers” which “flowed along the dreams” of the great Cumbrian poet, might well have been the cradle-song of our poet’s infancy, so completely does it seem to come from his inmost life?—

“THE RIVER SINGS.

         “O willow loose lightly
               Your soft long hair!
         I’ll brush it brightly
               With tender care;
         And past you flowing
               I’ll softly uphold
         Great lilies blowing
               With hearts of gold.
         For spring is beaming,
               The wind’s in the south,
         And the musk-rat’s swimming,
               A twig in its mouth,
         To build its nest
         Where it loves it best,
         In the great dark nook
         By the bed o’ my brook.
         It’s spring, bright spring,
         And blue-birds sing!
         And the fern is pearly
               All day long.
         And the lark rises early
               To sing a song.
The grass shoots up like fingers of fire,
And the flowers awake to a dim desire,
So willow, willow, shake down, shake down
     Your locks so silvern and long and slight;
For lovers are coming from Drowsietown,
And thou and I must be merry and bright!”

By far the finest thing in the poem is the picture of “The Great Snow,” a passage that seems to breathe the very breath of a rigorous Northern winter, and to enter into it with a dramatic power far above any purely pictorial faculty,—a passage which seems to come of a mind thoroughly awe-struck, and yet roused to the most vivid life, by the contemplation of a Northern winter. The canto is too complete and grand to spoil by taking any fragment out of it. It should be read as a whole, and will give many English readers their first true conception of the sublimity of winter.
     We have said that we do not think the human emotion by any means so finely described as the scenery; and this is true, we think, even of the one character of any elevation, that of the Red Rose. But nothing can be better, in a literary sense, than the picture of that cool village beauty, the White Rose, and of her very moderate feelings so far as they are sketched; were it not that as there is so much of nobility in her, one looks for the increase and the fruit of it,—or at least for the lament over the failure of any increase and fruit to it,—and is disappointed. Still who can read this without delight and admiration at the ease and delicacy of the drawing?—

“PHŒBE ANNA.

“Dimpled, dainty. one-and-twenty,
     Rosy-faced and round of limb,
Warm’d with mother-wit in plenty,
     Prudent, modest, spry yet prim,
Lily-handed, tiny-footed,
     With an ankle clean and neat,
Neatly gloved and trimly booted,
     Looking nice and smelling sweet!
Self-possess’d, subduing beauty
To a sober sense of duty,
Chaste as Dian, plump as Hebe,
Such I guess was little Phœbe.
O how different a creature
     From that other wondrous woman!
Not a feeling, not a feature,
     Had these two fair flowers in common.
One was tall and moulded finely,
     Large of limb, and grand of gaze,
Rich with incense, and divinely
     Throbbing into passionate rays,—
Lustrous-eyed and luscious-bosom’d,
     Beautiful, and richly rare,
As a passion-flower full blossom’d,
     Born to Love and Love’s despair.
Such was Red Rose; and the other?
     Tiny, prudish, if you please,
Meant to be a happy mother,
     With a bunch of housewife’s keys.
Prudent, not to be deluded,
Happy-eyed and sober-mooded,
Dainty, mild, yet self-reliant,
     She, as I’m a worthy singer,
Wound our vacillating giant
     Round her little dimpled finger.”
.          .         .          .         .          .
“Half indifferent unto him,
Far too wise to coax and woo him,
Ill-disposed to waste affection,
Full of modest circumspection,
Quite the bright superior being,
Tho’ so tiny to the seeing,
With a mind which penetrated,
     In a sly and rosy mirth,
Thro’ the face, and estimated
     Grain by grain the spirit’s worth,
Phœbe Anna, unenraptured,
Led the creature she had captured.”

     Undoubtedly White Rose and Red is a poem of real genius and true beauty. As a work of art, we have explained why we think it defective. It ends in dreariness, and without even the feeling that the poet is aware of the moral dreariness he has created; and this can hardly be true art. The reader should never be aware that the poet felt the cruel features of the situation he had created less keenly than he himself feels it. Even if realism in poetry requires the delineation of many issues against which the mind revolts, as not even truly tragic, only miserable,—and we doubt whether it does,—still it cannot and does not require that such issues should be painted for us without that atmosphere of sadness peculiar to the condition in which human beings bow to miserable facts that are too hard for them. And this is what the poet seems, to us, to have omitted in this poem. Still the power and genius embodied in it are too considerable to admit of its being spoiled, even by its faults. It is a poem to keep and read repeatedly, not a poem of which the enjoyment can be exhausted in one or two perusals.

     * White Rose and Red: a Love Story. By the Author of “St. Abe.” London Strahan.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (21 October, 1873)

WHITE ROSE AND RED.” *

IF the fresh and vigorous aspects of nature in the New World have not yet stirred with any adequate result the spirit of an American poet, there are signs, nevertheless, of their influence upon poetic minds both native and foreign. The roughness and want of culture distinguishing that part of the American character which is most susceptible to the peculiar charms of the strange landscapes and the rude life of the Great West are passing away, and as the home-bred mood of mind becomes articulate and ceases to be unpolished, the intellectual domination of the cultivated and sensitive Bostonian imitators of European art declines. In spite of his affectations, his obscenities, and his limited range of thought, Walt Whitman has exercised a profound influence over his countrymen by virtue of his energetic rejection of old-world forms and notions. The writer of “St. Abe and his Seven Wives”—that remarkable attempt to rear an edifice of poetic fiction upon the commonplace impostures of Mormonism—had manifestly received the impress of Whitman’s largeness and freedom of touch. In the present volume a dedication “to Walt Whitman and Alexander Gardiner, with all friends in Washington,” confesses the author’s literary kinship.  It must not be supposed, however, that “White Rose and Red” is distinguished by either that contempt for recognized literary forms or that incoherence of idea which deform the best work of the author of “Leaves of Grass.” From Whitman, this other poet of America—we do not call him, for reasons we shall presently specify, an American poet—derives an impatience of conventionalism in art and morals, a luxurious sense of the grandeur and charm of nature in the New World, a conscious revelling in the physical aspects of life. But he has other gifts, and greater ones, of his own: a mastery of rich, varied, musical verse, adapting itself easily and flexibly to the changing moods of the poet and the reader; an extraordinary command of descriptive power held well within control; capacity for constructing and carrying out within the limitations necessary to poetry a full dramatic plot; and, lastly, a faculty for delineating human character in its humorous and pathetic aspects alike, broad, subtle, swift, and penetrating. We hope to justify some of this praise by two or three extracts; but the impression of power that is left by the work as a whole must not be measured by the pleasure of reading a few isolated passages. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the diction is not a little disfigured by affectation. Some of the finest descriptions and most pathetic situations are spoilt by the intrusion of far-fetched words and too-quaint phrases. There is a manifest effort to assimilate the language to the subject, and to make the poem seem a tale that might be naturally told by some uncultured observer of the tragi- comedy it contains. The same endeavour was visible—with the same ill-success—in “St. Abe,” but it is more obtrusive and more vain in “White Rose and Red.” In other cases the affected diction has not even the excuse of such a purpose, and it is vexatious to be disturbed in the enjoyment of some noble lines by the recurrence of obsolete and unpoetic locutions, such as “prinkt,” “embryoation” “silhouetted,” “civilisee,” and the like. Making all deductions, however, for these deficiencies in finish, the poem is a very fine piece of work; and its obvious veracity of delineation is the more remarkable because the writer is evidently not an American by birth. This fact, indeed, may be gathered from the invocation prefixed to the book—an unpleasing parody of Mignon’s world-famous song in “Meister.” But it is sufficiently manifest from the style and even the cautious elaboration with which the local colour is worked in.
     The story opens with an exquisite description of an Indian girl asleep in a tropical forest. Her place of slumber is a bower as fairy-like as ever poetic vision saw. Here is a glimpse of it:—

Thro’ the transparent roof of shining leaves,
     Where the deep sunlight weaves
Threads like a spider’s web of silvern white,
     Faint falls the dreamy light
Down the gray bolls and boughs that intervene
     On to the carpet green
Prinkt with all wondrous flowers, on emerald brakes
     Where the still speckled snakes
Crawl shaded; and above the shaded ground,
     Amid the deep-sea sound
Of the high branches, bright birds scream and fly
     And chattering parrots cry;
And everywhere beneath them in the bowers
     Float things like living flowers,
Hovering and settling.

The sleeper wakens, and, pursuing her way through the wood, comes upon another sleeper of a very different type, Eureka Hart, a pioneer from the Atlantic coast, “civilisee with beaver brain,” a rough giant without a gleam of “spiritual light.” We are bidden to contemplate the contrasted figures; the rich nature of the Indian girl, with its passion and freshness, the cold and narrow character of the white man. How they meet afterwards, how Eureka is made captive, how kindly his captors treat him, how he abides with them in their quiet life, how he wins the love of the Indian girl, how her fervid passion kindles something like responsive warmth in his soul, how and where the “Nuptial Song” was sung, how soon Eureka wearied of his happiness, how he began to pine for the limited peaceful life of his native Maine, how the parting was determined, and what record of his future the “human beaver with a wandering craze” left with his bride the Red Rose—all these phases of the first part of the tale are told in a series of cantos, varying in tone and melody with the rise and fall of emotion, the ebb and flow of action, but all pervaded with a glow felt alike in light and shadow that is the very essence of the fierce life of the tropics. This is the portrait of the Red Rose:—

Shapely as deers are—finely fair
As creatures nourished by warm air,
And luscious fruits that interfuse
Something of their own glorious hues,
And the rich odour that perfumes them,
Into the body that consumes them.
She had drank richness thro’ and thro’
As the great flowers drink light and dew;
And she had caught from wandering streams
Their restless motion; and strange gleams
From snakes and flowers that glowed around
Had stolen into her blood, and found
Warmth, peace, and silence.

     The next book takes us into a different world. We breathe among the “human beavers” of “Drowsietown, State of Maine,” an atmosphere most unlike that of the forest where the Red Rose dwelt. The steady life, drowsy, not idle, of the place, is comforting to Eureka, fatigued with the tropical heat, moral and material, of the world from which he had shaken himself free. How he fell under the spell of the White Rose, little Phœbe Anna, the quiet, dainty little Puritan, untouched by passion, yet with a distinct notion that Eureka would make a good husband; how she “wound our vacillating giant round her dimpled little finger;” the welcome home, the lovemaking, the wedding, the whole of the old, old story that has been painted for us in the fiery colours of the sunny savage life and the blaze of a perfect passion is depicted in the cold grey shade of Drowsietown existence and the tender coolness of Phœbe Anna’s temperate affection. Here the subtle mingling of moral and physical contrasts is admirably worked out.
     In the concluding book, “The Great Snow,” we reach the catastrophe, and the tragedy of the inner life is again most aptly matched with the gloom of outer nature. The “Red Rose,” forsaken by Eureka, and fearing for the life of her child, rests her hopes of recovering her lover on a scrap of paper he has given her on which he has written “Eureka Hart, Drowsietown, State of Maine.” She sets out on her lonely journey to the north-east, and at last reaches the home of the child’s father. She has suffered ineffable misery; but the worst is the terror and blinding confusion of the great snowstorm that sweeps over the country as she nears her resting-place. The march of the dread legions of this wintry power is finely described:—

Many a night, many a day,
Passed the wonderful array,
Sometimes in confusion driven,
By the dreadful winds of heaven;
Sometimes gently wavering by
With a gleam and smothered sigh,
While the lean Frost still did stand
Pointing with his skinny hand
Northward, with the shrubs and trees
Buried deep below his knees.
Still the Snow passed; deeper down
In the snow sank Drowsietown.

     We have a pleasant warm picture of Phœbe Anna keeping house in Eureka’s home when the weary wanderer finds her way through the drifts to the door. How the Red Rose is received by her unwitting rival; how Phœbe reads on the scrap of paper the record of her husband’s unworthiness; how Eureka meets in dazed dismay his dying victim—for the winter has struck the warm life of the Indian girl a deadly blow; how she fades away, still loving and unrepining;—these closing scenes are narrated without an unnecessary word: it is, indeed, almost perfect description. The Epilogue, sadly, grimly humorous, records the reconciliation of Phœbe and her lord, her condonation of his offence, the patched peace of their commonplace lives, the rare sensations of remorse and regret that stir the beaver nature of Eureka. This is the whole story; and, simple as it is, gives room for more versatility of treatment than we find in threescore of the more elaborate novels of the day. The author of “White Rose and Red” has written a fine dramatic poem: his powers of humour, observation, construction, and character-painting ought to give him, if he pleased, a distinguished place as a writer of prose fiction.

     * “White Rose and Red: a Love Story.” By the Author of “St. Abe.” (London: Strahan and Co. 1873.)

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Daily News (25 October, 1873)

CURRENT LITERATURE.
_____

     The author of “St. Abe”—a satire on the social condition of Utah and the marvels of Mormonism, which was understood to be the work of a young English poet—has followed that production by another poem, which he calls “White Rose and Red, a Love Story” (Strahan and Co.). “Red Rose” is an Indian girl, of splendid beauty, with whom Eureka Hart, the youngest of a family of farmers in the State of Maine, falls in love while leading the life of a hunter and trapper in the Southern and semi-tropical parts of the Union. The period of the story is many years ago, ere the waning Red Indian population of the borders had been debauched by rum and the vices of civilization, and while something of rustic simplicity yet lingered amongst the white race. This enables the writer to give to his narrative a certain touch of romance, such as could scarcely be made to harmonise with the hurry, precision, and prosaic mechanism of modern life. Eureka Hart is a grand animal, and little else—not bad at heart, but incapable of a passionate, devoted, and all-absorbing love, and not incapable of a good deal of selfishness of the worldly and “respectable” order. He is glad enough to live for a time in the forest with the fair Indian girl—a creature made up of fire, and rapture, and enduring affection, to whom the big-limbed, handsome white man is almost as a god. But in a few months this half-soulless being gets tired of his wild freak of love, and is seized with a great wish to be once more back in his old home in Drowsietown, Maine, amongst sedate relatives and friends. He leaves his Red sweetheart with a promise of returning, but, shortly after reaching Drowsietown, marries pretty, demure Phœbe Anna Cattison, and settles down to farming, civilization, and attendance at meeting. The deserted Indian girl follows her truant lover to the far-distant North, and, in the winter of the great snow, presents herself, with her infant in her arms, at the house of Eureka. Exhausted by the cruel journey, and by the still more cruel discovery at the end of it, the poor creature dies; and Eureka Hart, throughout the rest of his prosperous days, thinks of the Red girl with a sort of dull pity and regret, generally ending in the reflection—

“She was a splendid figure, and that’s true!”

Very subtle, intense, and living is the power with which all this is related. The contrast between the dull, fishy nature of the man, as it is habitually, and the vivid spark struck out of him for a moment by the beauty and love of the Indian maiden, is admirably exhibited. The journey of the poor girl through the snow, and her death in Eureka’s arms, with eyes of love and faith yet fixed upon him, are full of the deepest and truest pathos, and the surroundings of the story are painted with the touch of a master. The glowing beauty of the South shines and flames, palpitates and rustles, in the earlier parts of the poem; the graver charm of the North is reflected in such exquisite verses as those descriptive of Drowsietown. Some of the lyrics are extremely beautiful, and stray gleams of a sad and kindly humour contrast curiously, yet not inharmoniously, with the passion and the sorrow. In some respects the poem might be called sensuous; but it is only sensuous as nature is, and, though it draws no formal moral, it includes one, as all noble, affectionate, and sympathetic work is sure to do.

___

 

The Syracuse Daily Journal (27 October, 1873)

WHITE ROSE AND RED. A Love Story. By the author of “St. Abe.” Boston: James R. Osgood & Company; Syracuse: Wynkoops & Leonard. Booksellers.

     The title, “White Rose and Red,” and the announcement that the contents of this volume form a love story, may mislead some into the idea that the story is written in prose. Quite to the contrary, “White Rose and Red” is a poem. In some respects the author has proved himself more than an average poet; in others he has shown himself to be a scribbler of the weakest kind of verses, which sometimes degenerate into mere stuff.
     The “story” is very well told. The Indian maiden, “Red Rose,” is the heroine, who loves “Eureka Hart, of Drowsietown, State of Maine,” not wisely but too well. The poet’s descriptive powers find ample room in the portrayal of the first meeting of the lovers, the love which grows up between them, the pain of their separation, the unfaithfulness of Eureka Hart, his marriage to “White Rose,” otherwise known as Phœbe, the long journey and sufferings of the Indian maiden to find her recreant lover, the meeting of the three, the death of “Red Rose,” and the reconciliation of Eureka and his wife Phœbe.
     Many fine passages mark some of the pages of this volume, in which are displayed a rare wealth of imagination, an unusual luxuriance of thought, and a positive power of expression. But the reader is delighted by these excellences, only to be suddenly shocked repeatedly by being let down from the sublime to the ridiculous.
     The poet, however, has succeeded very well in singing of love, animalism, and physical nature, in a strain which will challenge attention, though not admiration. Perhaps the clearest and most comprehensive comment which can be made on “White Rose and Red,” is that it is appropriately dedicated to Walt Whitman.

___

 

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (November, 1873)

     The White Rose and Red (J. R. Osgood and Co.) is certainly sufficiently worthy of existence to merit mention among the books of poetry of the day. It is a long poem—this love-story—running through nearly 250 pages; and it is rarely that an American reads a poem of that length unless he is a book critic, and not often then. But the music, the rapid movement, the picturesque descriptions, and a certain fascination somewhat akin to that of Moore’s poetry, which we should judge our author had read and studied, if not accepted as a model, carry the reader who once begins this book rapidly through its pages. The plot is very simple—so simple that we shall not attempt to repeat it, since the reader would declare it to be nothing, and would be substantially correct. It turns upon the love of an Indian girl for Eureka Hart, a man with a splendid physique, which charmed the imagination of Red Rose, but whose

             “nature was as surely
Soulless and instinctive purely
As the natures of those others,
His sedater beaver brothers.
Nothing brilliant, bright, or frantic,
Nothing maidens style romantic,
Flashed his slow brain morn or night
Into spiritual light.
As waves run, and as clouds wander,
With small power to feel or ponder,
Roamed this thing in human clothing,
Intellectually—nothing!”

His marriage to her, desertion of her, remarriage to Phœbe Anna of Drowsietown, Red Rose’s following and finding of him, and her pathetic death, make up the threads of which the story is woven. They are deftly woven, and the story is well worth the reading, and would give the author a rank among true American poets, though not among the highest, if he were to suffer his name to be known.

___

 

Northern Echo (4 November, 1873)

     A DISGUISE WELL KEPT.—It is said that Mr. Robert Buchanan is the author of “St. Abe and his Seven Wives,” and “White Rose and Red.”

___

 

The Leeds Mercury (4 November, 1873)

     A writer in the current Contemporary Review, in an article on Mr. Buchanan’s poems, makes an elaborate guess at the fact which I stated to you touching the authorship of “St. Abe” and “White Rose and Red.” The critic arrives at his conclusion with a singular affectation of mystery, considering that his paper is published by a firm to whom Mr. Buchanan’s surprises must have been no very profound secret.

___

 

The Aberdeen Journal (5 November, 1873)

A WRITER in the Contemporary for November says that the poems “St Abe” and “White Rose and Red,” which have excited much sensation and speculation, are by Mr Robert Buchanan.

___

 

Glasgow Herald (7 November, 1873)

     The Contemporary Review contains a nicely-varied selection of articles, which fairly represent contemporary opinion on questions in politics, literature, and theology. ...
     “Robert Buchanan” is the title of a laudatory essay on the works of that poet, by Mr George Barnett Smith. The critic is satisfied, from the internal evidence of the anonymous poems, “St Abe and his Seven Wives” and “White Rose and Red,” that they are from the pen of Mr Buchanan.

___

 

The Leeds Mercury (10 November, 1873)

     Not only does Mr. Buchanan come before the public as a new writer with “St. Abe” and “White Rose and Red,” but it seems not at all uncommon for novelists to publish their works of fiction under various names. This is necessitated by the rapidity of their production, and by the slowness with which the public will accept the products of their fecund brains. Publishers won’t accept a novel from a writer who has appeared before the public as a writer of fiction within nine months, and consequently those writers who produce about half a dozen novels in the year, and some do—and there is nothing to wonder at except that they had time to do so much writing—have to use two or three noms de plume. Mr. Mudie withdrew a novel from circulation not very long ago because it was immoral, and accepted a work by the same author the next day without knowing it. I believe that the nom de plume “Sydney Mostyn” is borne by a writer who has more than one alias.

___

 

Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (21 February, 1874 - p.12)

     ST. PAUL’S is a very good number. “The Sherlocks” is winning favour, and “the Tales from ‘Belkin’” are more weird and strange. “Calderon’s martyr-plays” is a thoughtful critical paper, and is worth the cost of the whole number. “The Ship of Folly,” by the author of “White Rose and Red” is excellent. When will this unknown Knight lower his visor that we may know who he is? There are other papers of interest, among which is the amusing one entitled “The Apotheosis of the Policeman.” Matthew Brown has not done anything better for some time.

examerosathad

[Advert for the Gentleman’s Magazine in The Examiner (2 May, 1874).]

 

The Bradford Observer (2 May, 1874 - p.6)

     The Gentleman’s Magazine is, as usual, spirited and entertaining. ... Mr. Robert Buchanan, who is now the self- avowed author of “White Rose and Red,” has a poem, on an ancient model, which he entitles “Erôs Athanatos.” It is very good, containing many beautiful lines; but it only serves to increase our wonder that Mr. Buchanan does not stick to the homelier themes that his muse was formerly content to soar amongst. ...

bostwhiterosead

[Advert in The Boston Daily Globe (5 June, 1874 - p.2).]

guardgoethead

[Advert for The New Quarterly Magazine from The Guardian (26 September, 1874 - p.9).]

 

Liverpool Mercury (28 September, 1874)

     A recent advertisement proves the accuracy of the guess which was made some time ago, to the effect that the two clever poems “St. Abe” and “White Rose and Red” were written by Mr. Robert Buchanan. They are now published with his name for the first time.

___

 

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle (20 October, 1888)

     Mr. Robert Buchanan, poet, novelist, essayist, and dramatist, at one period of his career sought protection from a clique of hostile critics by publishing his productions anonymously in America and elsewhere. One of his bitterest critical opponents chose to review together in the same article, by way of contrast, Buchanan’s poem, the “Drama of Kings,” with two other poems which appeared in America about the same date, entitled “St. Abe and his Seven Wives,” and  “White Rose and Red.” The American pieces were hailed by the critic with acclamation, as full of pathos, descriptive power, and true poetic tone. On the other hand, the “Drama of Kings” was held up to ridicule, and it was pointed out that Buchanan showed he was not a poet and would never rise to the level of the unknown bard, from whom quotations were given as patterns on which Buchanan might study his craft. Soon after Buchanan announced his authorship of all three poems, and had complete revenge on his critic.

_____

 

The only thing missing from Buchanan’s great trick was the final reveal. There was no triumphant letter from Buchanan to the newspapers, instead the true identity of the ‘American’ author of St. Abe and White Rose and Red gradually leaked out over several months. In August 1873, the adverts for the American edition of White Rose and Red mentioned Buchanan as the possible author. On 1st September, 1873, Buchanan wrote to John Chapman, publisher of The Westminster Review:

“I just send this line to remind you that the copy of “White Rose & Red” was sent to the Editor of the Westminster by mistake; it should have been addressed as what it is, a private copy to you. You will agree with me that it is hardly fair to submit any work of mine to a reviewer who, on your own admission, is personally hostile to me; and I must therefore beg you to suppress any review from his pen, as he is no doubt privately advised by this time of my responsibility for ‘White Rose & Red.’ As a rule, I treat criticism favorable or otherwise with quiet contempt; but a critic who avows a prejudice has, you will agree, no right to be heard at all.”

The October edition of The Westminster Review declared the author was not an American. The closest thing to an official announcement was George Barnett Smith’s article on Buchanan in the November edition of Strahan’s Contemporary Review (later reprinted in Poets and Novelists; a series of literary studies, available on this site). Even then, Smith did not declare categorically that Buchanan was the author of St. Abe, so some confusion remained. There are several probable reasons why Buchanan carried on the pretence much longer than he needed to, if the only purpose was to fool the critics, one of which was that ‘the author of St. Abe’ was a useful pseudonym for use in the magazines, primarily another Strahan title, Saint Pauls. Following the publication, and success, of St. Abe, Buchanan used that pseudonym for the following poems: ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’, ‘Colonel Shark’, ‘Seraphina Snowe’, ‘John  Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado’ and ‘The Ship Of Folly’. The latter appeared in the February 1874 edition of The Saint Pauls Magazine, and it was not until the publication of ‘Eros Athanatos’ in the May 1874 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine, that Buchanan’s name was unequivocally revealed as the author of St. Abe and White Rose and Red.

In 1896, during his short-lived venture into publishing, Buchanan issued a new edition of St. Abe with the following bibliographical note:

stabebiblionote1
stabebiblionote2

Back to Reviews, Bibliography, Poetry or White Rose and Red

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