ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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‘Imperial Cockneydom’ - the omitted passage

 

“Here followed in the original article a description of Mr. Lang’s lecturing visit to Scotland, in which, by following certain newspaper reports and comments, I appear to have exaggerated or mistaken Mr. Lang’s utterances. I therefore suppress the passage.”

The original version of ‘Imperial Cockneydom’ was published in The Universal Review of May, 1889 (available at the Internet Archive). The passage Buchanan omitted from the reprinted version in The Coming Terror is below:

The most daring of all the attempts to proselytise, however, has recently taken place in our own country, in that ‘land of cakes’ which lies north of the Tweed; and though it has ended disastrously, it is worth recording. Having discovered by diligent researches in Cockaigne, and by divers personal experiments, that ‘there is no God,’ or in other words that the modern idea of God is simply a result of evolution from the anthropoid ape’s fear of thunder, Mr. Andrew Lang the other day hastened back to Scotland breathless with his discovery. The people were called together; through the land of Knox and of the Covenanters ran the news—‘Our Andrew has come back frae London wi’ fearsome information—they’ve found oot down yonder that there’s nae God!’ It was an awful moment. Conceive the consternation and amazement of a God-fearing nation, informed on the highest authority (for Mr. Lang could quote the scientific Prophets) that all its great work of human freedom had been done under a delusion, under the absurd idea that there was pending over human destiny an all-powerful Lord of Hosts. Yet Mr. Lang stepped lightly on to a platform in the very heart of Scotland, was introduced by a peer of the Scottish realm, and proclaimed not only the horrible heresy, but his own accession to it! Curiously enough, his Scottish audience, instead of being angry with him, heard him out quite patiently. If Mr. Lang didn’t believe in God, they reflected, it really did not much matter. Mr. Lang didn’t believe in many other things, for Mr. Lang had become—‘a Cockney.’ ‘It’s jest this, neighbours,’ said a local critic, taking a pinch of snuff: ‘our Andrew, when all is said and done, is only imitating poor Davie Hume, who became a Cockney lang syne. We’ll jest leave Davie and Andrew and the other Cockneys to do without a God—fushionless folk like yon dinna maybe need Him—but we’ll keep Ours till we receive mair reliable information.’ And so, amid a chorus of chuckles and guffaws, the apostle Andrew returned to Cockaigne.

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Andrew Lang objected to the passage in a letter to The St. James’s Gazette, of 16th May, 1889:

MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN ON NATURAL RELIGION.

BY MR. ANDREW LANG.

IN the new number of the Universal Review, Mr. Robert Buchanan alludes to a criticism of mine, on a criticism of his, which you published some weeks ago. Mr Buchanan writes the following remarkable passage, which perhaps is worth reprinting verbatim:—

     The most daring of all the attempts to proselytise, however, has recently taken place in our own country, in that “land of cakes” which lies north of the Tweed; and though it has ended disastrously, it is worth recording. Having discovered by diligent researches in Cockaigne, and by divers personal experiments, that “there is no God,” or in other words that the modern idea of God is simply a result of evolution from the anthropoid ape’s fear of thunder, Mr. Andrew Lang the other day hastened back to Scotland breathless with his discovery. The people were called together; through the land of Knox and of the Covenanters ran the news—“Our Andrew has come back frae London with fearsome information—they’ve found oot down yonder that there’s nae God!” It was an awful moment. Conceive the consternation and amazement of a God-fearing nation, informed on the highest authority (for Mr. Lang could quote the scientific Prophets) that all its great work of human freedom had been done under a delusion, under the absurd idea that there was pending over human destiny an all-powerful Lord of Hosts. Yet Mr. Lang stepped lightly on to a platform in the very heart of Scotland, was introduced by a peer of the Scottish realm, and proclaimed not only the horrible heresy, but his own accession to it! Curiously enough, his Scottish audience, instead of being angry with him, heard him out quite patiently. If Mr. Lang didn’t believe in God, they reflected, it really did not much matter.

These remarks of Mr Buchanan’s fill me, as his French grammar fills me, and as his views of Totems fill me, with respectful amazement. I lectured this spring, in Scotland, on several platforms and in several towns. I delivered the Gifford lectures at my own University—St Andrews: I lectured on “Book Collecting” at Edinburgh: and I lectured on “Religion and Progress” at Dundee. Nowhere, to the best of my knowledge and memory, was I introduced to any audience by “a peer of the Scotch realm.” Nowhere, certainly, did I proclaim the discovery “that there is no God.” It is distasteful to any man to speak of his belief in such a trivial connection as this: I shall merely remark that Mr. Buchanan does me injustice. I am not what he supposes. He adds that I have discovered that “the modern idea of God is a result of evolution from the anthropoid ape’s fear of thunder.” I cannot remember anything in my lectures which could even distantly suggest this quaint absurdity. Man may have been evolved from an ape; I know and care nothing about it, and certainly am not convinced of it. The whole gist of my lectures was to show that the Origin of Religion is unknown, is “a mystery;” that no evolutionary explanation of it is authoritative and final. Is it likely, then, that I proclaimed this crude uneducated drivel about apes and thunder! I don’t even know how apes behave in thunder. I know not whether it frightens or affects them in any way.
     Nowadays it does a man no harm to be called an atheist; and he may even get over being introduced to an audience by a Scotch peer, and being reported to deduce religion from the anxieties of a monkey in the ravages of an electric tempest. But Mr. Buchanan has been misled in some way, by the lack of intelligence or of memory in some reporter. It is of no consequence to me, and I will confess to the peer if he can be proved against me. To the other charges I cannot confess.

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The next day’s issue of the St. James’s Gazette (17th May) contained the following comment in its review of the current issue of The Universal Review:

“... Mr. Andrew Lang has already said something about Mr. Robert Buchanan’s latest outburst. In the course of a long and, of course, rather clever article, Mr. Buchanan touches upon a good many subjects, including the Failure of Marriage, the Possibility of Chivalry, the differentiæ in New Magdalens, and the Bank Holiday Young Man again; but he returns at the end to what he started from at the beginning, the subject which always interests him, his great and unappreciated Self.”

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Andrew Lang’s letter was reprinted in the Aberdeen Evening Express of 18th May, 1889 under the heading:

“A LITERARY QUARREL.
HOW SCOTCHMEN LOVE EACH OTHER.
ANDREW LANG AND ROBERT BUCHANAN.”

___

 

I also came across a later dispute between Lang and Buchanan which is referred to in this item, again from the Aberdeen Evening Express of 21st December, 1891:

     THERE are some exceedingly smart men who think there is no room for difference of opinion on questions of literary and artistic criticism. Mr Robert Buchanan, notwithstanding all his experience of the world, is one of these. Recently he indulged in vigorous condemnation of Mr Andrew Lang, because that gentleman had eulogised Sir Walter Scott at the expense of Lord Byron. Mr Lang has now replied, and he contends, on the authority of Aristotle, that in artistic matters there is no standard but the man of exquisite taste. This position is perfectly sound, but it does not advance the matter much. Mr Robert Buchanan is doubtless of opinion that he is the one man of exquisite taste now living in the United Kingdom; and it will not be surprising to learn that Mr Lang is personally impressed with the view that he might justly claim the same monopoly. Men of common sense will, however, frankly admit that it is possible to differ as to the respective claims of Scott and Byron without being put out of Court as competent literary critics. There is no necessity for uniformity of opinion. The great point is that each critic should be able to give an intelligible reason for the faith that is in him. Mr Robert Buchanan is at perfect liberty to put Byron above Scott in the literary hierarchy; but he writes himself down narrow-minded and illiberal when he seeks to censure Mr Lang for holding a different opinion.

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The Fleshly School Controversy
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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

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