So, I was going through the material culled from the BLNA and, through a complicated set of coincidences, realised that a key anti-Buchanan text was now available. I had mentioned it before in the Letters to the Press section, but it was just referred to in other newspapers. Now it’s available in its full glory:
Written by George Moore, this attack on Buchanan was published in Truth on 4th April, 1889. Its title referred to Buchanan’s letter to The Daily Telegraph of 22nd March, ‘Is Chivalry Still Possible?’, but its real object was to reply to Buchanan’s article in the Universal Review, ‘The Modern Young Man As Critic’. Buchanan responded with another article in the same journal, ‘Imperial Cockneydom’, and George Moore came back with
Both Universal Review essays were included in The Coming Terror and those are the versions which have been on this site for some while now. However, when I read the second of George Moore’s ‘Possible’ pieces, I realised there were differences between ‘Imperial Cockneydom’ in The Coming Terror and the Universal Review original. For example there is this long explanation of the Fleshy School affair, which Buchanan then cut from the later version:
‘If I were to tell in full detail the story of my own persecutions on account of a single expression of opinion the world would open its eyes . My offence was criticising a body of writers whom I believed to be extravagantly praised, but whom I should never have attacked on literary grounds alone, if I had not, rightly or wrongly, fancied them to be offenders against the higher ideals of their generation. This article, published in the Contemporary Review, met with a mixed reception. All the puritan world (with which I had little sympathy) approved it, many artistic notabilities sympathised with it, but a noisy Cockney clique, commanding the bastions of nearly all the critical journals, resented it—and swore to avenge it. Now, it contained not one syllable which had not been expressed viva voce by men of accepted eminence, by Carlyle, by Emerson, and by others equally famous who are still living and whom I need not name. It was a hasty article, a frivolous article; in some respects, as I acknowledged afterwards, an unfair and uninstructed article; but no portion was half as violent and hasty as the normal criticisms on contemporaries of some of the writers satirised. I had, however, committed the one unpardonable sin—attacked the gods of Nepotism. Thenceforth all Nepotism was armed against me. I do not exaggerate when I say that my very life, my very means of subsistence, was threatened, and had I not been a strong man I should have been crushed and destroyed. Nearly every critical journal persistently attacked or ignored me, until the matter became so serious that it became inexpedient to publish any work under my own name. Tongue cannot tell, words cannot convey, the extent of this persecution. My very life and private character were not spared. I wrote certain novels; it was because I had ‘failed’ in literature. I wrote for the stage; it was because I had ‘failed’ in fiction. Not even Carlyle, when he was ‘cut’ by Mill because he was ‘reported’ to have made a certain little joke, suffered more torture. I, who had all my life been the friend and helper of my fellows, was described as a bitter, an envious, and a hateful person—a Tartuffian Scotchman. 1 Yet, curiously enough, I survived. My books, my failures, were being read in every English speaking country. While the small gods of Nepotism were still avowing that I had done nothing, I had written inter alia ‘Balder the Beautiful,’ ‘The Shadow of the Sword,’ ‘God and the Man,’ ‘White Rose and Red,’ ‘St. Abe,’ and ‘The City of Dream,’—works on which I am quite content to take my stand when I am brought face to face with the shadowy Rhadamanthus, the Arch-Destroyer of Cockneys, Posterity.
My point here is, that nine writers out of ten would have been silenced by the clamour of the cliques of Nepotism. That I was not
— 1 I cannot, as I have pointed out, even claim that national distinction, though I am, I am proud to say, Scotch on the paternal side. —
silenced, was due to three facts—that I had always had a very low opinion of merely ‘literary’ persons, that I was a man of the world, in the habit of rubbing shoulders with all classes of people, and that, on the whole, I attached very little value to popular opinion. ‘Woe to you when the world speaks well of you,’ was a dictum echoed in my heart very constantly. I knew that to be frank, and fearless, and free, was not the way to ‘get on’ with worldlings. Above all, I never posed before my own looking-glass as a martyr, felt no self-pity, but when I received a blow took it as one I had doubtless earned. Writing for the stage was for me, I may say in this connection, a sort of moral salvation; with its Bohemianism, its rough and ready manliness, its necessity for practical good humour and friendliness, it saved me from becoming a literary ‘prig’; it made me familiar with a world which, with all its faults, is lighthearted, gladsome, and not too conceitedly ‘intellectual.’ One loves actors, when one knows them well, for their simplicity and innocence of character. The social sympathy which follows them may be (to quote one of my young men) ‘Mummer-worship,’ but it is the wise and unerring sympathy of generous human nature, which knows that for earnestness, for catholicity, and above all, for personal ‘charm,’ the heirs of Betterton and Garrick compare favourably with the followers of any profession under the sun. Perhaps, if he had not been bred a ‘mummer,’ Shakespeare would never have learned his way so easily to the intellects and the souls of men.
It is wise, no doubt, to ‘humour one’s reputation’—a fragment of Cockney gospel which the late George Lewes was ever fond of quoting. The more varied a man’s gifts and sympathies, the more difficult is his road upward. But let any young writer, conscious of his power yet fearful of his contemporaries, only survey the history of literature, and take comfort . It is never—well, ‘hardly ever’—the man whom Cockneydom praises that rises in the end to genuine eminence, to the sad sunless aureole of Fame. Cockney Nepotism is a little chamber, hot, ill-ventilated, full of noisy chatter; but outside, is the busy storm of Life, and far above, the silence of the patient heavens. Inside, John Dennis, Hazlitt, Gifford, and Mr. Andrew Lang; outside, in the open air, Shakespeare and Milton, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Schiller and Heine, Balzac and Victor Hugo, and, whether greater or smaller, thousands more.’
Perhaps Buchanan decided in the three years between the original ‘Imperial Cockneydom’ and the publication of The Coming Terror, there was no need to drag the whole sorry saga out again and so he dropped this passage. However I think it worth noting that he does write, ‘the matter became so serious that it became inexpedient to publish any work under my own name’, which I still believe is not strictly true, but which has become the generally accepted reason for the anonymity of his ‘American’ poems and the various things he wrote while editing The St. Pauls Magazine. St. Abe was already being advertised, as an anonymous work, by Strahan on 30th October, 1871, long before Buchanan had been confirmed as the writer of ‘The Fleshly School’ article, and as for the St. Pauls material, whenever Buchanan was editing a magazine, it was his practice to fill it with anonymous or pseudonymous work written by himself - that went all the way back to his first job, editing The West of Scotland Magazine and Review in 1859.
Anyway, I transcribed the original version of ‘Imperial Cockneydom’ so both versions are now on the site (Universal Review and The Coming Terror).. I did wonder whether I should add a separate section for all the George Moore material. Buchanan had earlier objected to George Moore’s criticism of Sophia in articles in The Evening News in December, 1887 and had sued the newspaper for libel. In November, 1889 The Fortnightly Review published an essay by George Moore entitled ˜Our Dramatists and Their Literature’ which criticised Buchanan and led to a further spat in the papers. In a way, it is a shame that the two did not get along, especially since they both defended Henry Vizetelly. But, in a way, that echoed the earlier championing of Walt Whitman when both Buchanan and Michael Rossetti were the strange bedfellows.
For those wishing to find out more about George Moore, I direct you to The George Moore Association. Which led me to George Moore Interactive At present only a blog, but in the future who knows? I thought I was ambitious when I started this site, hoping to resurrect the reputation of Robert Buchanan (how’s that going, Pad?), whereas Dr. Robert S. Becker, of Oak Park, Illinois, seems intent on resurrecting George Moore himself. Not in some scary Frankenstein fashion (“It’s alive!”) but more in the current A.I. scary fashion. He hopes to reconstruct George Moore’s voice, although no known recording exists, and will presumably also create an avatar based on the numerous portraits of Mr. Moore - a rather odd-looking cove. Dr. Becker outlined his plans in a lecture entitled “Kick-Starting Literary Legacies in the Digital Age”, which he gave at the Oak Park Public Library on 25 February 2023, the full text of which is available on his fascinating site.
[George Moore by Walter Sickert]
I also found some particularly juicy reviews of Buchanan plays in Truth. This is how they open their appreciation of Alone in London during its London premiere season in November, 1885:
‘There may be some faint and lingering doubt concerning the capacity of Robert Buchanan to write plays, but there surely cannot exist, even in the author’s enthusiastic brain, a hope that ever again will comely Miss Harriett Jay be enabled to enact “a waif.” A more substantial, portly, and apparently well-fed beggar was surely never put forward to enlist our sympathies. Anything more unlike a starving boy, anything less resembling a ragged outcast than this handsome, shapely lady never occurred to any one but the manufacturer of realistic drama. There is not a trace of the characteristics of a boy about this pseudo-pathetic chickweed-and-groundsel seller, with his well-favoured limbs and shambling gait. His attempted snivel and continual crawl have apparently been introduced for the mere purpose of showing how utterly unlike life are the stock characters in modern realistic drama. As a clever writer has already pointed out, the much-persecuted but equally well-favoured Miss Amy Roselle is not “Alone in London” at all, for she is perpetually followed by the epicene vendor of chickweed, who crawls about the floor of the stage, and spoils every situation in what—but for the wearisome boy—might have been made an effective drama. But the truth should be told about realism as applied to modern art on the stage. The well-nurtured and bright-eyed waif is not the only blot on a series of characters and pictures that are about as unlike life in the East-end, or the West-end, as any that could be possibly conceived.’
In October 1899, reviewing a revival at the Princess’s Theatre, their opinion does not seem to have changed much during the intervening fourteen years:
“‘Alone in London’ has seen the footlights upon more than one occasion. It is the work of Mr. Robert Buchanan, and about on the level of his poetry. A detailed account of this pasteboard production would be out of place. ... The water of the floodgates also did what it could to atone by its absurdity for the obviousness of the proceedings. So far as one could see from the stalls, it consisted of a large table-cloth violently agitated by many hands, from under which emerged eventually Mr. Cooper triumphant in his shirt sleeves. Here there is no vile plagiarism of the real water of Drury Lane. The pit and gallery were as deeply agitated as the table-cloth, and when Mr. Clayton had left his wife to her (dry) death by drowning: “You brute,” sounded clearly enough behind us from more than one guttural throat. Thus was secured popular approval. So remarkable a table-cloth covers much Buchanan.”
And then there’s this review of Fascination which begins:
“Modesty is not one of the strong points of the poet Buchanan. He is one of the “cock-sure” school. He alternately cringes to and abuses his critics, and bolster-up ever failure with bunkum and bombast. If ever man were treated well by those he habitually libels it is the poet Buchanan, whose “Sophia” has been justly praised as a capable and enduring bit of stage work, and whose recently-produced “improbable comedy” has been treated in many quarters with exceptional charity. It is only necessary to read a recently-published “interview,” full of gratuitous impertinence towards the profession by which he lives, and the journalists who advertise him beyond his merits, to see how ignorant the man is of everything connected with stage work. “Fascination” is a case in point. A good idea is hopelessly spoiled by vulgarity of treatment and ignorance of what the stage really requires. The poet Buchanan, as a humourist, is as clumsy as a bull in a china shop.“
Going back to that statement about the Fleshly School in the Universal Review article, and Buchanan’s mention of his love of the theatre, I also came across more evidence of that in an article he wrote for The People (11th March, 1888) under the title:
And with the ‘Holy Land’ once more embroiled in vicious war, it seems apposite that Robert Buchanan Snr.’s 1840 work, A Concise History of Modern Priestcraft, from the Time of Henry VIII until the Present Period (Manchester: A. Heywood, 1840, 172 pp.) is now available on Google Books (or download it here). Here’s the title page and the first page of the Introduction.
10 August 2023
Mary Buchanan’s Photograph Album
I’ve had a selection of pages from Mary Buchanan’s Photograph Album on this site for a few years, but it’s now online in its entirety at its final resting place - the Armstrong Browning Library of Baylor University, Waco, Texas. I’ve left my original, cut-down version, on this site since it does include some additional notes which may be of interest.
Also, from the same source, came two more pieces of the Browning/Buchanan correspondence - two letters from Robert Browning - which I’ve now inserted among the Alexander Turnbull collection, both from 1869, one from January, the other from 20th March.
And, for the Miscellanea section, some passing mentions of Robert Buchanan in the correspondence of Edward Dowden and his future wife, Elizabeth Dickinson West.
More from the BLNA
I’ve also been back to the British Library Newspaper Archive to see what’s appeared there since my last visit. Some items of note:
T. P. O’Connor’s speech following his unveiling of the Buchanan memorial in St. John’s Churchyard in Southend. This is from the July 30th, 1903 edition of The Southend Standard, which also contains this discussion at a meeting of the Westcliff Ratepayers’ Association on the subject of ‘Free Libraries’. Plus ça change.
Various items, again from Southend newspapers, relating to the Buchanan Memorial and the grave of Robert Buchanan, including a Harriett Jay interview, reviews of the performance of Night Watch and Sweet Nancy to raise money for the Memorial and a report of a prizegiving ceremony at Southend College for Girls where Harriett Jay distributed the prizes and addressed the girls. There’s also an advert for the Sweet Nancy performance and on the same page of The Southend Standard of 3rd April, 1902 I spotted this.
There are also some more reports of ‘Buchanan Day’, which was celebrated on the anniversary of his death with a small ceremony at the gravesite. These petered out over the years and the last report I found was for 1913.
Talking of Sweet Nancy, I found George Bernard Shaw’s review of the play in The Saturday Review. And talking of Theatre reviews, there are some beauties from Truth, especially that of Lady Clare which begins:
“Robert Buchanan has clearly proved that he is no dramatist. He has not studied the stage; nor does he understand it. His characters are as feeble and insipid as his situations are tawdry and commonplace. His Adelphi drama of “Storm-Beaten” is a noisy, exaggerated, over-coloured succession of unconnected scenes; his Globe play of “Lady Clare” is a thin, nervous, amateurish work, in which some of the finest dramatic positions of recent modern plays have been used, apparently to show how they can be spoiled by a bungling workman. Having, in “Storm-Beaten,” demonstrated how incapable he was to dramatise his own novel, Buchanan, in “Lady Clare,” shows how he can dramatically ruin the book of a contemporary novelist.”
I feel I should point out that Truth was the magazine of Henry Labouchère, which Buchanan had satirised in his 1882 novel, The Martyrdom of Madeline:
‘What, don’t you know him? That’s Lagardère of the “Plain Speaker.”’ ‘Indeed! A journal, I presume?’ ‘The journal of the period, based upon the new principle of extenuating nothing and setting down everything in malice. Lagardère can tell you to a nicety where La Perichole buys her false teeth, how much money Mrs. Harkaway Spangle pays her washerwoman weekly, and when any given leader of society is likely to pawn her diamonds or elope with her cook. You know Tennyson’s lines—
A lie which is all a lie can be met with and fought with outright, But a lie which is half a truth is a harder matter to fight!
Lagardère has achieved the complete art of so mingling truth and falsehood together that it is impossible even for himself to distinguish the one from the other. What wine will you take?’
This was a continuation of Buchanan’s original attack on the ‘society journals’ in his essay, ‘The Newest Thing In Journalism’, published in The Contemporary Review in September, 1877.
The Truth review of A Sailor and His Lass is equally amusing, although the reviewer’s acid in this case is mostly hurled towards Augustus Harris. I also came across another interesting review of the play in The Athenæum which compared Robert Buchanan to Emile Zola:
“Mr. Buchanan has gone further and put on the stage a dancing saloon in Ratcliffe Highway, crammed with drunken sailors and shameless women, and has depicted the details of an execution in Newgate. No touch of sentiment is there to elevate one at least of these scenes. Before the arm of a bouncing virago the half-tipsy sailors in the dancing saloon drop like ninepins. This scene, moreover, is unneeded, and is introduced for no reason beyond the expectation that it will hit the public taste. In favour of the picture in Newgate it may be urged that the convict is innocent, and that a species of sympathy is thus inspired on his behalf. Altogether inadequate is, however, this fact to reconcile us to the painful and inartistic details which are exhibited. The whole belongs to the style of work brought into favour by M. Zola. To attack it is accordingly to open out the wide question of realism. This there is little temptation to do. To us, however, this art of M. Zola is indescribably pitiable and offensive. No charge of plagiarism from Zola is to be brought against Mr. Buchanan. ‘A Sailor and his Lass’ is a mere carrying out of views already put forward in ‘Nell,’ a poem which is earlier than any of M. Zola’s best known work..”
And a couple of photos to finish off - from Dramatic Notes: An Illustrated Year-Book of The Stage by Austin Brereton, here’s Ada Cavendish as Lady Clare and Eweretta Lawrence as Priscilla Sefton in Storm-Beaten.
I’ve also found a couple of ‘new’ poems, ‘Trial’ and ‘Yearning’. These were published in Lays of the Sanctuary, and Other Poems, compiled and edited by G. Stevenson de M. Rutherford (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1859) and since they are credited to
‘ROBERT W. BUCHANAN, ESQ. Author of “Mary: and other Poems.”’
I suspect their source was Buchanan’s second book of poetry (which is the only one I’ve never seen). So I’ve given them their own page on the site, until matters are clarified.
I was going to head this last bit ‘How Old Harriett Jay?’ in a nod to the Cary Grant telegram (‘Old Cary Grant Fine, How You?’) but checking it on google, it turns out it was apocryphal (odd the stuff you can find on the internet) so I’ll just have to plunge right in. I found a piece about Harriett Jay in The Oban Times (reprinted from the Daily Mail) which I’ve put on The Nine Days’ Queen page, since it related to the production of that play in Glasgow. There are a couple of reasons for reprinting it here:
The Oban Times (26 March, 1881 - p.6)
THE COMING ACTRESS.
In view of the appearance in Glasgow to-night at the Gaiety Theatre of the gifted young lady who is best known to the world as the authoress of that famous novel, “The Queen of Connaught,” a few further particulars that are not yet generally known may interest our readers. Miss Harriet Jay was born in the neighbourhood of London in 1857. When a child of nine or ten she became an inmate of the house of her brother-in-law—Mr Robert Buchanan, the poet—and from that day forward has been the companion of the erratic poet’s wanderings. Her surroundings throughout have been romantic as well as literary. It is no mere conjecture which assures us that, apart from her own fine gifts, she is the centre of much that is best in Mr Buchanan’s poetry. She is the “Clari” of many well-known lyrics—“Clari in the Well,” for example, and “Will-o’-the-Wisp, a Ballad written for Clari in a Stormy Night,” which first appeared in Good Words—
And now you’ve the reason that Clari is gay, As a bird on the bough or a brooklet at play; And now you’ve the reason why Clari is bright, Why she smiles all the day and is glad all the night; For the light having entered her bosom remains, Darts fire to her glances and warmth thro’ her veins, Makes her tricksy and merry, yet full of the power Of the wind and the rain, and the sun and the shower; Half wise in the ways of the world, and half simple, As sly as—a kiss is, as deep as—a dimple! A spirit that sings like a bird on a tree,— “I love my love, and my love loves me!”
Elsewhere, in the “Asrai,” she appears again:—
When Clari, from her chamber overhead, Her bright hair glowing brighter from the brush, Steals in, and peeps!
She commenced to write when very young, and her first effusions were in verse. It was not, however, until Mr Buchanan went to reside in Ireland, occupying a lonely lodge in one of the wildest parts of Connaught, that the young authoress began to discover her true bent. For years she studied Irish character. The result was at last seen in her first story, “The Queen of Connaught”—a book which took the world by surprise, and ran through many editions. Of the thousands who read it, not one guessed it to be the work of a young girl. It was attributed, at various times, to Mr Charles Reade, to a popular landed proprietor, and to a renegade Catholic priest. The very language was startling and fearless in its naturalism. “It has about it a strange fascination,” said the critic of the Morning Post; “quite unlike any other tale that has ever appeared.” The first success was followed rapidly by “The Dark Colleen,” a tale of deeper pathos and more perfect finish, containing descriptions that could scarcely be surpassed. From that time Miss Jay’s position as a novelist was assured. Little more than a year ago she resolved to gratify another ambition and go upon the stage, chiefly to realise her own heroines, and also those of Mr Buchanan’s play’s. For many months she acted in the country under another name; and then, when her novitiate was over, she appeared in London. Her success soon came, when, after a preliminary trial under disheartening conditions, “The Nine Days’ Queen” was produced, with Miss Jay in the title role. The chief metropolitan critics declared that it was many a day since such a face and form had appeared on the stage; and by more than one she was compared to the late Mrs Rousby. She appears to be fortunate in her choice of a first part. By birth, personal beauty, and education, she is an ideal Lady Jane Grey. The London press are unanimous in pronouncing Mr Buchanan’s play one of the most stirring dramas of recent years. One scene, that where Lady Jane refuses the crown in presence of the dead body of Edward VI., is said to have perfectly electrified the London audiences. It is to be hoped that before Miss Jay leaves Glasgow she may appear in the title role of the celebrated Olympic drama founded by Mr Buchanan on her own “Queen of Connaught”—a drama that ran for many months in London, but which has not yet been seen in Glasgow.—Daily Mail.
First, the confusion over her date of birth. Harriett Jay was born on September 2nd, 1853 (here’s a copy of her birth certificate), not 1857 (which I’ve also seen elsewhere). However this report does confirm my belief that she wasn’t ‘adopted’ by the Buchanans when she was ‘at a very tender age’ (as she writes in her biography of Robert Buchanan) but I reckon around 11 years old (which is when the Buchanans would be living in Bexhill). The other point about this item which is worth noting, is the revelation that Harriett is Clari. I always wondered whether Clari referred to Clara Leigh Hunt, whom Buchanan met when staying with Thomas Love Peacock, then decided it was more of a poetic convention - like all the ‘Mary’ poems of his early Scottish books. I never considered it might have been his ‘adopted’ daughter, Harriett, but it does make more sense. He could hardly have called her ‘Hari’.
22 March 2023
Still tinkering with stuff, nothing important. I came across a poster for another film version of When Knights Were Bold, which was never made, which sent me down a rabbit hole, checking for any more versions of the film which I may have missed. Details of what I found are here and this is the poster;
Then I was contacted by Rudolf Blind’s great, great, great grandson, suggesting a grand quest, which I decided against, but led me to find a few more Blind works, which are available here.
And here’s a new (well, 2020) German translation by Peter M. Richter of Buchanan’s second novel, A Child of Nature - Ein Kind der Natur.
Let’s end with a performance by The Two Leslies of a song from Tulip Time, the musical adaptation of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, ‘Noah Had Two Of Everything’.
5 January 2023
Thought I’d better clock in for the New Year.
Just a couple of things. I found some more meditations on ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’. There’s one from April, 2020 on the Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture site, and Joanna Seibert’s site has a page relating to Morton T. Kelsey’s book, The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation (published in 1976) which included an extract from the poem. I also came across an annoying reference to a version of Buchanan’s poem read by Ken Nordine on American TV in his series, Faces In The Window on 4th April, 1953, which seems to have been lost. Bugger.
And I also added a few more book reviews to the site. The City of Dream from The Spectator and several from the New York magazine, The Nation. These begin with the American edition of Poems which included Undertones and Idyls and Legends of Inverburn and concluded with a couple of selections from London Poems. The Nation reviewer was not impressed by Undertones, but did quite like Inverburn and ended the review with the following:
“That we think highly of Mr. Buchanan the reader may, perhaps, infer from what we have written, despite the fault which we found with him at the beginning. He seems to us one of the few young singers of the day who is really a poet, and who has a future before him.”
I could find no review of London Poems, but with North Coast, either there was a different reviewer or his admiration for Buchanan had begun to cool. This one ends with:
“Mr. Buchanan is, so far as he is at all valuable, a poetical preacher of love and charity, enforcing his text by moving examples. Thus he does a noble work; and he does it more than tolerably well, but is hardly a poet, or he would not have chosen themes that might better have been treated in prose; at the utmost, would have treated them less prosily.”
And then there’s a coruscating demolition job done on The Book of Orm, which concludes:
“There is more in the volume, but none is better than these poems we have mentioned, and the whole work is as weak and pretentious, and every way unprofitable, as any book of poems that has come within the last ten years from the hand of a person of any repute. It is irredeemably feeble and secondary.”
The rest appears to be silence, apart from a brief review of Saint Abe and His Seven Wives. One wonder what they would have made of that if they knew the author was Buchanan.