ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
ROBERT BUCHANAN AND THE MAGAZINES
My First Book
The Echo (9 May, 1893 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan lets himself loose in this month’s Idler. He goes further than Mr. Grant Allen in esteeming Literature the poorest and least satisfactory of professions by asserting that it is one of the least ennobling. He has scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated by the pursuit of literary fame. For complete literary success it is imperative that a man should either have no real opinions or be able to conceal such as he possesses; above all, he must regulate his likes and dislikes by one law—that of expediency. Could Mr. Buchanan fix the period foretold by Mr. H. D. Traill in the New Review, when the honest literary craftsman will be the spoiled child of fortune, when great littérateurs will be millionaires covered with honours and distinctions, and when letters will be regarded as the first of the professions?
What I say about the necessity of literary men having no real opinions, or concealing what opinions they may have, only applies to the small fry of the profession. It in no way applies to such a man as Mr. Robert Buchanan, who has the courage of a lion, and who speaks out his words like cannon-balls. Almost all our chief literary men from Ruskin downwards write what they believe. Our Huxleys, Tennysons, Herbert Spencers, Froudes, Stubbses, and eight out of ten of the principal members of the Society of Authors are faithful to their convictions in their writings.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (10 May, 1893 - p.2)
IS LITERATURE PLAYED OUT?
THERE is no person of importance in the literary world who is more continually falling out with his brethren of the pen than Mr. Robert Buchanan. Possessed of a caustic style, and fortified with a supreme contempt of fear, Mr. Buchanan is for ever raising a storm about his ears. His latest avowal that literature is played out is likely to plunge him into not the mildest of the many pen and ink wars in which he has been engaged. Mr. Buchanan backs up that other literary crank, Mr. Grant Allen, in the avowal that literature is “the poorest and least satisfactory of all professions;” and he goes further by the affirmation that it is “one of the least ennobling.” With a fairly extensive knowledge of the writers of his own period, a knowledge the extent and diversity of which even his bitterest opponent will not question, Mr. Buchanan avows that he can honestly say that he has scarcely met one individual, “who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame.” This is a hard saying, especially for those competitors in the literary race who have the pleasure of Mr. Buchanan’s acquaintance, and much heart burning must necessarily result. Mr. Buchanan would have materially heightened the interest attaching to his statement had he thrown in some reflections on his own personal experience. Does he acknowledge that in his own case the pursuit—which has been successful—of literary fame has been accompanied by a moral deterioration; or does he hold the belief that whilst compeers have been on the down grade the author of “Foxglove Manor” has remained a bright and shining example of the exception to his own rule?
The Echo (11 May, 1893 - p.2)
Mr. Robert Buchanan is almost as severe upon his countrymen as Carlyle was when he said that they were mostly fools. “The geese,” he says, “bought twenty editions of ‘The Epic of Hades,’ and left James Thomson and Richard Jeffreys to starve.” Were, then, the men of sounder judgment so few that they could not form a sufficient audience for Jeffreys and Thomson? Perhaps, after all, a man may not be a goose because he finds “The Epic of Hades” more pleasant reading than “The City of Dreadful Night.” If Mr. Buchanan is right, it is not wonderful that the authors he glorifies were insufficiently appreciated, for he says that he has only known two really sane men in his life—Walt Whitman and Herbert Spencer.
Mr. Robert Buchanan says—“The literary profession is not ennobling,” because “the hunger for applause, the pursuit of fame, seldom elevates the character.” Cannot the same be said with more truthfulness and force of barristers, preachers, and politicians? A literary man can express his own individual thoughts, but the barrister takes a side because he is paid for it, and expresses the thoughts of others, to secure a victory, and is indifferent to the truth of his statements and arguments. It is worse still with the wordy but ambitious party politician, who can scarcely call his soul his own whilst he is under the double dominion of a majority of his constituency and of the party Whip. A literary man is a king in comparison.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (11 May, 1893 - p.3)
“IS LITERATURE PLAYED OUT?”
Mr. Robert Buchanan appears to have a fatal gift of disturbing hornets’ nests. The other day he wrote a very interesting account of the production and publication of his first two or three books, and in doing so communicated to the world a good deal of his early autobiography. His early life was unquestionably a great and heroic struggle to enter upon a literary career, and he looks back upon it now if not from a very high, at least from a satisfactory, literary position. As a result of his experience, he earnestly dissuades young men from attempting literature as a profession, and maintains that a literary life, as now pursued, is distinctly lowering to the moral tone. Accordingly some writers start the cry, “Is literature played out?” in the columns of the same journal where a kindred question with reference to Christianity was recently discussed. But the idea of literature ever being played out while the world lasts is very crude and amusing. What are all the idle young ladies to do if they have not their three volume novel? What are the middle-aged ones to do without their society gossip? How are men to drag on their existence without their morning newspaper? Given a great mind as a gift of nature to the world, and it will, in these days, run more or less into speech. There will always be too many fingers itching to wield the pen, for literature ever to become a lost art.—“Liverpool Mercury” (Liberal).
Glasgow Herald (13 May, 1893)
THE question of “Literature as a Profession,” much agitated by that eminent professor thereof, Mr Andrew Lang, has been discussed mainly with reference to the pecuniary chances of authorship, but if Mr Robert Buchanan is right in what he says in the current number of the Idler we shall have to look seriously at the moral side of the business as well. Mr Buchanan, with all his wonted emphasis and acerbity, declares that literature is not only “the poorest and least satisfactory of all professions,” but even “one of the least ennobling,” and he affirms that, with a fairly extensive knowledge of the writers of his own period, he has “scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame.” The Muses, in fact, those very refined young ladies whose society has always been prescribed as so chastening and elevating, are, after all, it seems, no better than they should be, or such, at least, is the Puritanic testimony of Mr Buchanan. The critic of the “Fleshly School,” we know, was always a bit of a Puritan, notwithstanding such insignificant details as the “White Rose and Red,” and the fine old life on the border of Bohemia (made mention of in the Idler article), which “will not bear translation into contemporary English.” And now, apparently, that same steadfast Puritanism of his is taking a yet stronger development, and bringing him almost to the pitch of those Greenock magistrates who made poor John Wilson give up the “profane and unprofitable art of poem-making,” or of Landor’s Sir Thomas Lucy, mourning over the fall of Shakespeare—“A reputable wool-stapler’s son turned gipsy and poet for life!” Poor David Gray, we have to conclude, would have been better at the paternal shuttle, better perhaps even wagging his poetic and rather distended head in the pulpit of some outlandish Free Kirk. Nay, Mr Buchanan himself would have escaped a moral deterioration had he settled down to a desk in Glasgow, and never aspired to the altitudes of “London Poems” and “North Coast.”
“I pay my debts, believe, and say my prayers;
It is true that Pope was far from attaining his own ideal, and the same may be said of some poets who come far after him alike in rank and in time. But that is the fault not of the profession of letters, but of certain of its professors.
St. James’s Gazette (13 May, 1893 - p.12)
Lamentations of the decadence of our literary day we are always listening to; but the latest and the unkindest is from Mr. Robert Buchanan. “Et ego fui in Bohemia,” sighs Mr. Buchanan in the Idler. “There were inky fellows and bouncing girls, then; now there are only fine ladies, and respectable, God-fearing men of letters.” Littery gents reduced both to cleanliness and godliness—it is a terrible indictment.
Even as an inexperienced Scotch lad Mr. Buchanan saw at the first glance, he tells us, the whole unmistakeable humbug and insincerity of the literary life. Of all professions, he affirms, literature is the least ennobling. With a fairly extensive knowledge of the writers of his own period, he can honestly say that he has scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame. Literary persons who have not enjoyed the advantage of Mr. Buchanan’s personal acquaintance may find in this avowal some compensation for their otherwise lamentable loss. Mr. Buchanan, by the way, has subsequently explained in the Daily Chronicle that he has only known two sane men in his life, Walt Whitman and Mr. Herbert Spencer. Mr. Spencer must feel this a somewhat embarrassing distinction.
Mr. Buchanan humorously complains that his choice of literature as a profession has involved him in life-long discomfort. That Mr. Buchanan should resent hostile criticism is most natural and most inconsistent, seeing how aggressive he has himself been in the hostile criticism of others. Mr. Buchanan prides himself on his dour and opinionated independence, and his soul is in arms against the rottenness of society and literature. Mr. Buchanan doubtless has done well to be angry; but does he recollect some remarks of Thackeray about the world’s attitude to Barnes Newcome? If you pull faces at the world, says Thackeray, the world will pull faces at you. Mr. Buchanan must not expect to play the double rôle of accusing angel and popular favourite. One regrets to gather from Mr. Buchanan’s allusions to “Westminster Abbey” and “the tendencies of the time,” also to “beautiful ideas” and Rugby School, that he is jealous of Tennyson’s fame, and has not yet forgiven Mr. Matthew Arnold.
Still Mr. Buchanan’s paper is lively reading, though he does not present a lively picture of the literary calling. Everybody who desires a fresher and pleasanter taste of the craft should read Mr. Davidson’s “Fleet-street Eclogues,” the specially poetic aspects whereof we had the pleasure of recommending early in the week. All the journalists’ moods are represented among these novel Arcadians, from the mood of
This trade we ply with the pen,
to the mood of
We wear enchanted armour,
Yet none of them seems any longer satisfied, as Johnson was, with his walk down Fleet-street. They all yearn for country sights and sounds, and hold the faith
that when they come to die
What would Charles Lamb say to this heresy?
The Leeds Mercury (13 May, 1893 - p.12)
ECHOES OF THE WEEK.
Friday. May 12th, 1893.
. . .
Mr. Robert Buchanan is of opinion that authorship is a demoralising craft; and he writes to this month’s “Idler” to say that he heartily agrees with Mr. Grant Allen in his recent avowal that literature is the poorest and least satisfactory of all professions. “I will go,” says the perfervid Mr. B., “even further, and affirm that it is one of the least ennobling. With a fairly extensive knowledge of writers of my own period, I can honestly say that I have scarcely met one individual who has not deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame.” Now, Mr. Robert Buchanan, I take it, is a famous literary man. I have not, to my knowledge, set eyes upon him for more than thirty years, when, if I remember aright, I gave him, when I was editor of “Temple Bar,” almost his earliest literary employment in London. I know nothing of him personally, and little about his writings, but I should be very sorry to learn that he had deteriorated morally by the pursuit of literary fame. So far as I am concerned, I have very few claims to literary celebrity; but I paid my rent last quarter-day, I am on the friendliest terms with my wine merchant, my butcher, and my baker; and I intend to pay my tailor before midsummer. If that be “moral deterioration,” I am a Dutchman.
“It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest;” and to men of letters, who really have the interests of their profession at heart, and who are honestly anxious to maintain its dignity, it is at once distressing and disgusting to read the fussy effusions of over self-conscious literary men who, fancying themselves to be not sufficiently appreciated, disparage and vilify the calling for the ennobling character of which authors who are not fussy, and who are not perpetually fretting for public sympathy, are quietly and continually working. These bickerings and cavillings seem to me to be mainly of the nature of “bosh”; and when I hear of them, I always think of a favourite utterance of good old Mr. Robert Souttar, a well-known journalist of two generations since, who was for many years sub-editor of the “Morning Advertiser.” Whenever he heard any young Bohemians of his day grumbling and girding at the unthankfulness of the vocation to which they had given themselves, he was wont to say, “Bosh! Produce works, you beggars; produce works! That is what is for supper. Produce works—ill-conditioned and discontented scribes, produce works—and strive your hardest that they shall be works which posterity will not willingly let die.”
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (15 May, 1893 - p.2)
ROBERT BUCHANAN’S YOUNGER DAYS.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, in an autobiographical fragment just published, expresses the opinion that when he was a young man he “must have seemed conceited and ‘bounceable.’” “Figaro” thinks Mr. Buchanan need have no doubt on that point. If he has, let him turn up some of the anonymous articles he wrote for the reviews at that time, in which he occasionally managed to drag in his own name as being among the great poets of the day, although he was then a young and unknown versifier. A hobbledehoy in his teens who had the audacity to class himself with browning and Tennyson need have no misgivings as to whether he was conceited or not. Besides, is there not the delightful anecdote of John Murray which he himself tells. After Buchanan had had an interview with the great publisher, the latter remarked, “I don’t like that young man; he talked to me as if he was God Almighty—or Lord Byron!”
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (17 May, 1893 - p.4)
In the “Idler,” Mr. Robert Buchanan gives an interesting account of his early struggles and the birth of his first books. It is a characteristic medley of paradox and regretful reminiscences of one who, judging from the text and accompanying illustrations of his present lares and penates, has made the best of both worlds—the vanished Bohemia he regrets, and the present conventional monde he despises but enjoys. No doubt there are grounds for his piquantly frank and free out-of-the-ring criticism, and for his sarcastic suggestions of the weaknesses and dangers to art and literature of being too much afraid of middle-class Mrs. Grundy, and too anxious to bend the knee to “Society.” He may be read with profit by others than youthful aspirants of talent and genius who, fired with noble ambition for laureateship and Westminster Abbey, forget that the republic of letters has frequently given death through the key of the streets even to those since thought worthy of the barren honours of posthumous fame. By-the-by, the bard is surely out of date in classing among the necessities of pen-and-ink “respectability” that of saying “this country is the best of all possible countries.” Mr. Gladstone and minor austere public moralists obviously obtained a reputation for super-eminent righteousness by taking every opportunity of belittling and libelling England and its people.
The Graphic (20 May, 1893 - p.13)
The World of Letters
BY H. D. TRAILL
. . .
The Chicago Exhibition is to be signalised by what we are assured is the first Conference of Authors ever held, and by what will certainly be the first public discussion of one of the themes suggested for debate. I should, at least, imagine it to be pretty safe to say that no deliberative body has ever yet tackled the subject of “Poetry in the Twentieth Century”; and one can only hope that the exchange of views on the subject will be fruitful. It is sure to be animated—at least, if there are any poets of the nineteenth century present; and there can hardly fail to be at least half a dozen or so, unless the Conference is very small indeed.
It must not be supposed, however, that all the subjects for discussion are as delightfully “viewy” as this. Most of them, on the contrary, are severely practical, and some of them full of stern monition for the Wicked Publisher; while the main object of the Conference—as is that of the Authors’ Society, which delegates Mr. Walter Besant and Mr. Sprigge as its representatives thereat—is to “maintain the worth and dignity of Letters.” One cannot say that the object is a bad one. It is true that the individual in private life who is always “maintaining his worth and dignity” is not usually of an ideally worthy and dignified type of character, and it were, no doubt, much to be preferred that literature, and those who follow it, should dispense with this sort of self-assertion.
Unfortunately, however, we live in an age in which it seems impossible to attain the mean in anything except by the somewhat violent and barbarous method of opposing one extreme with another. Men and things have to be stinted of their due praise by the judicious in order to counteract the effect of the extravagant laudations of the foolish, and so to strike a sort of rough balance between the two. At times, though less frequently, the reverse operation becomes necessary; and it certainly looks as if just at the present moment the “worth and dignity of letters” could, as the vulgar phrase is, “do with” a little maintaining. One is getting a trifle tired of that cry which is just now being taken up by one successful literary person after another, and which Mr. Robert Buchanan has been the last to echo. The declamations of these gentlemen against the Art which has brought them fame and fortune strike me, I must confess, as mighty unbecoming. Why, there are scores of less fortunate contemporaries of theirs in London to-day following literature for love, and journalism for bread and cheese who would not think of speaking so ungraciously and ungratefully, even of the handmaid, as Mr. Buchanan and a still older offender are in the habit of speaking of the mistress.
The Southern Reporter (1 June, 1893 - p.2)
Mr Lewis Morris has been commissioned to write yet another ode, though the warmest admirers of that genuinely great work, “The Epic of Hades,” cannot honestly applaud his efforts to ennoble the Imperial Institute by verbal eulogy. Mr Gladstone is presumably too busy to fill the vacant place of our lost Laureate. Meanwhile, Mr Robert Buchanan, with his usual courtesy, informs the public which read the Idler, that Lord Tennyson was not the true genius we ignorantly worshipped as “sole star of all the place and time.” Rumour has become tired of naming probable successors, but one does not imagine that Mr Buchanan would be an especially popular candidate. His grudging estimate of Tennyson is not likely to much effect any one. Perhaps he is of opinion that, in the immortal words of Mr W. S. Gilbert,
“You must stir it and stump it and blow your own trumpet,
Pall Mall Gazette (3 July, 1893 - p.2)
On Saturday night, art and literature met and kissed each other and the Lord Mayor, in the persons of Sir Horace Davey, Q.C., Sir Henry Isaacs, Mrs. Perugini, Mr. Edmund Gosse, M.A., the Master of the Grocers’, Drapers’, Salters’, and Vintners’ Companies, Mr. Harry Quilter, Mr. Marcus Stone, R.A., Mr. Arthur à Beckett, Mr. McVicar Anderson, P.R.I.B.A., Mr. Alfred C. Calmour, Mr. Clement Scott, Mr. Aird, M.P., Mr. Jerome K. Jerome, Sir Henry Doulton, Mr. Holman Hunt, Mr. Soulsby, Mr. Theodore Watts, Mr. Newnes, M.P., and many other gentlemen, most of them with more or fewer letters after their names. Sir Frederic Leighton, P.R.A., Mr. Shaw Lefevre, M.P., and Mr. Goodall, R.A., were absent. The Lord Mayor, in proposing Art, regretted the President’s absence, but rejoiced at the presence of so many members of “that institution to which we look for the encouragement of talent exercised on the true principles of art.” The Lord Mayor, in proposing Literature, pointed out that literature is the principal and fundamental part of art, and that the Corporation has a Free Library. Mr. Horsley, R.A., Mr. McVicar Anderson, P.R.I., &c., as above, Professor Jebb, and others responded in appropriate terms. Owing to the unavoidable absence of Mr. Robert Buchanan, the toast of “Philistia” was not given. But it was a pity to leave it out, all the same.
Pall Mall Gazette (4 July, 1893 - p.5)
Mr. Walter Besant, in commenting upon a recent paper by the irrepressible Scottish poet, playwright, novelist, and pamphleteer who has written under the names of Thomas Maitland and Robert Buchanan, makes an interesting confession. “There is one thing in my own experience,” he says, “on which I look back with great satisfaction. It is that I was able to resist the very great temptation to live by writing till such time—about eight years ago—when I thought myself justified in so doing. I then, and not till then, resigned a post which had for twenty years taken the cream of the day, and given me a certain independence.”
Sunderland Daily Echo (4 July, 1893 - p.2)
Mr Berry in Misery.
The late hangman, Mr Berry, is a victim of our civilised institutions. We condemn men to death, and then, with a beautiful want of logic, we contemn the man who carries the sentence into effect. For Mr Berry we cannot call up much sympathy, as he resigned his post in favour of literature. But Mr Robert Buchanan can point to him as another example of the miseries of men of letters.
Pall Mall Gazette (13 July, 1893 - p.5)
Mr. Robert Buchanan—tardily, it is true, but vigorously, and in his own manner—has replied to certain criticisms recently passed upon a paper of his by Mr. Walter Besant. We cannot agree with the enthusiastic young man of the Chronicle—in which journal Mr. Buchanan’s effusion appears—in thinking that “Mr. Besant’s ears ought to tingle.” Because a soured and disappointed man chooses to describe the literary profession as “mean, snobbish, and ill-paid,” is no reason why more genial and more successful writers should either exhibit wrath or cease to possess their souls in patience. And in this light Mr. Besant will, no doubt, regard the matter.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph (14 July, 1893 - p.3)
There is in this morning’s “Chronicle” a characteristic letter bespattered with capitals on “Literature and Lucre” by Robert Buchanan, who is always ready to tilt his lance no matter what the cause. To-day he wishes “to emphasise the fact that the pursuit of mere Fame is fully as demoralising as the pursuit of mere Money,” and he points the moral with numerous illustrations. Browning, for instance, according to Leigh Hunt, “hungered eagerly for the praise of even his washerwoman.” It may have been so, but in the case of authors without either Money or Fame, the washerwoman is generally understood to be quite as hungry for payment as her client is for praise.
Mr. Buchanan on this occasion holds a brief for the Publisher, and contends that “the only real enemy of Genius is public stupidity,” which is another way of saying that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. But Publishers are different; again and again they have “helped the struggler, boiled the pot, guided the improvident, and sympathised with the deserving. There may be rascally Publishers; there are also rascally Authors. It is quite a mistake, at any rate, to regard the Writer of Books as a benignly innocent creature, absolutely at the mercy of Book-dealers and other Birds of Prey.” Certainly no one would be foolish enough to so regard Mr. Robert Buchanan.
The Grantham Journal (30 January, 1897 - p.3)
... “The Quintessence of Impudence” is the title of another militant contribution, in which Robert Buchanan champions the modern Drama against the masterpieces of contemporary fiction. He says some very hard things of those novels of the season—“Weir of Ormiston” and “The Sorrows of Satan,” and holds that the playwrights of the day do not deserve the reproaches levelled at them. It is a good fighting paper—as interesting to the layman as to the professional.
Pall Mall Gazette (3 February, 1897 - p.1)
An article by Mr. Robert Buchanan on “The Quintessence of Impudence” mightily takes our fancy. We do not agree with Mr. Buchanan, but we like a man to be trenchant. His complaint is that somebody has compared contemporary plays unfavourably with contemporary novels. So Mr. Buchanan examines recent fiction. “Weir of Hermiston”—he calls it “Weir of Ormiston”—is “a crude and singularly coarse schoolboy exercise, without one original note, without real virility, without adequacy of conception or individuality of execution.” . . . . . “And, putting aside fiction for a moment, what other offering has Literature given us? For poetry we have had the raucous cry of the Cockney Jingo, in a collection of ballads worthy of the worst instincts of the naked savage . . . for popular belles lettres we have had the Poet-Laureate’s account of his back garden and the Penny Classics as appraised by Mr. Stead!” We are not at one with Mr. Robert Buchanan, but his agreeable little appreciations are pleasant to read.
The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (17 February, 1897 - p.2)
Mr Robert Buchanan is running amok again, remarks a writer in the “National Observer.” It is long since he made any deliverance on a literary subject, being perhaps too much occupied in the making of plays and novels. But now, in the pages of the “Theatre” magazine, he is quite in his old vein. “The quintessence of impudence,” he declares, “is surely reached when the self-constituted judges of the modern drama reproach that popular form of Art with its inferiority to the masterpieces of contemporary fiction! The finest sort of ‘well-made’ play, “he contends, “must be to a certain extent a work of art, in so far as it must be fashioned under more or less artistic restrictions, while the modern story or novel is, under any circumstances, the most formless and inchoate structure as yet tolerated or spared by destructive criticism.”
The Voice of The Hooligan
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (29 November, 1899 - p.5)
In the pursuit of my profession as a journalist it has been my hard fate to hear five public recitals of the “Absent-Minded Beggar.” I am therefore, perhaps, in a fit frame of mind to feel keen sympathy for Mr. Robert Buchanan in the protest which he makes in the “Contemporary Review” for December against what he calls “the voice of the Hooligan” in literature. Of course the protest will be set down to Mr. Buchanan’s jealousy of Kipling’s popularity, but I am bound to say I meet with many cultured people who, not being writers of poetry and having no motive for jealousy whatever, are yet very much of Mr. Buchanan’s opinion. “Mr. Kipling’s muse,” says Mr. Buchanan, “alternates between two extremes—the lower Cockney vulgarity and the very height of what Americans call high-falutin; so that when it is not setting the teeth on edge with the vocabulary of the London Hooligan it is raving in capital letters about the seraphim and the pit, and the maidens nine and the planets.” Mr. Buchanan is cynic enough to admit that he is scarcely surprised to find the spirit and language of Hooliganism in our newspapers, but what he mourns is that the noisy strains and coarse importations of the music-hall should be heard where the fountains of intellectual light and beauty once played, where Chaucer and Shakespeare once drank inspiration, and where Wordsworth, Hood, and Shelley found messages for the yearning hearts of men.
The Morning Post (30 November, 1899 - p.3)
Mr. Robert Buchanan has often felt himself impelled to make exaggerated attacks, in prose or in verse, on his contemporaries who live by their pens. Never, however, has he been more virulent than in his assault on Mr. Kipling in the current number of the Contemporary Review. That Mr. Buchanan should have been the person to protest against the unreserve of language and descriptive passages in certain of Mr. Kipling’s books is perhaps strange enough, but when he abuses the author and his readers in the unmeasured strain seen in his present article he launches a boomerang which, if we consider the delight with which Mr. Kipling’s work is read by thousands on thousands of his countrymen, is as certain to recoil on its thrower as it is to leave the object of his aim entirely unaffected in his hold on popular esteem.
The Morning Post (30 November, 1899 - p.6)
The word “Hooligan” is still so new as to be hardly discoverable in slang dictionaries, yet we are all sadly familiar with its meaning. To put the matter briefly, the “Hooligan” is a youth who does no honest work, who lives by theft, and loves violence for its own sake. He is assuredly a born criminal, and, if we were to accept the theories of the ultra-humane, we should be compelled to regard him as a criminal lunatic and in now wise responsible for his deeds, since his extremest outrages are commonly without any adequate cause. He has rendered his name redoubtable in many of the London suburbs; but it remained for Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN to discover that he has at last made himself master of the London Press. Mr. BUCHANAN has never been particularly famous for his praise of his own times, but it now appears that he does clearly remember a period when Englishmen were filled with noble ideals and bore a name of which a self- respecting man could be proud. All that is changed now. One might quote, by way of proof, almost any passage from the article on “The Voice of the Hooligan,” which he contributes to the current number of the Contemporary Review; that which follows is not especially distinguished by the moderation of its tone, but, at any rate, is a sample taken neither from the top nor the bottom of the basket. It represents, in fact, the average, except that Mr. BUCHANAN happens at this point to be rather “more than usual calm.: “The Mob, promised a merry time by the governing classes, just as the old Roman mob was deluded by bread and pageants—panem et circenses—(sic)—dances merrily to patriotic War tunes, while that modern monstrosity and anachronism, the Conservative Working Man, exchanges his birthright of freedom and free thought for a pat on the head from any little rump-fed lord that steps his way and spouts the platitudes of Cockney patriotism. The Established Church, deprived of the conscience which accompanied honest belief, supports nearly every infamy of the moment in the name of the Christianity which it has long since shifted quietly overboard.” Mr. BUCHANAN goes on to explain that the Press is as corrupt as the nation for which it speaks, and that the popularity of Mr. RUDYARD KIPLING is entirely due to the fact that he has prostituted great talents in order to outdo the journalists at their own game. Now, we are not concerned to argue with Mr. BUCHANAN as to the merits of the work of Mr. KIPLING. He once found indecency in ROSSETTI’S “Jenny”; and, after that, who shall say what terrible qualities he may be able to find in such things as “The Man who would be King,” “Without Benefit of Clergy,” and “Mandalay?” As a matter of fact, he does actually discover some merit in “Mandalay,” though he is clearly ignorant of the fact that it was published long before the “Jungle Books” were ever heard of. Yet for the most part he looks on Mr. KIPLING as a mere disaster. We can only say in reply that the British, where they were clearly given to understand the questions at issue, have been ever guided by lofty ideals. Sometimes they have been led astray by the exhibition of false lights. For example, there was a considerable period when large numbers of the people were induced to admire the ignominious policy adopted by Mr. GLADSTONE after Majuba Hill. But there is usually some authoritative voice on the right side, and in the end it gets listened to. At the present moment, for example, we know, thanks to these “Hooligan voices,” that the war is a thing we are bound to carry to its proper end. Many of us cannot offer our lives, and there are few who hope to gain any personal advantage when the British Flag flies over Pretoria. Still, we have been taught that it is necessary to fight when circumstances demand the adoption of such a course; and that the men who stay in these islands owe a heavy debt to those who go to the front. There is not a man who would boast of what he has done, for there is no credit to be gained by a mere discharge of duty. Yet Mr. BUCHANAN need only look at the subscription lists which have been published to know that there are still ideals among us. All sorts and conditions of people have given liberally, and does he think that none of them has given more than he could afford without some self-sacrifice? They have done it in the weeks that are past, and they will go on doing it so long as the war lasts, not because they have any hope of personal gain, but simply and solely because they have learned that this is their duty. Mr. ROBERT BUCHANAN may hold, if it pleases him, that these facts are altogether lamentable. For ourselves, we rejoice in them whole-heartedly, and we are not more grateful to Mr. RUDYARD KIPLING for his magnificent stories and poems than for the fact that they have helped to make men understand that they must pay for the privilege of being British citizens, and that they must once and for all forget what it is to grumble when there is business afoot.
The Boston Sunday Globe (3 December, 1899)
“Popularity Has Sprung From Lowest
LONDON, Dec 2—Robert Buchanan fiercely attacks Rudyard Kipling in the Contemporary Review in an article entitled “The Voice of the Hooligan.”
The World (New York) (4 December, 1899 - p.6)
BUCHANAN ON KIPLING.
Rudyard Kipling is beyond question the most conspicuous of living writers of English. The attitude of the discriminating reading public toward him reminds one of a famous remark of Sydney Smith’s. Some one asked Smith if he had read a now-forgotten but then for the moment everywhere-read novel. “No,” replied Smith. “I have been waiting in hope it would blow over.” Still, Kipling has not missed those who do not mistake eccentricity for style, or the reckless energy of mental youth for strength and reserve power, or impertinence for virility. He has appealed to that large class which reads merely “for the plot” and is not over-particular about fidelity to nature or to art. And he has been exploited by all the little critics who write platitudes in the conventional literary “slang” and fancy they are recording the judgments of posterity.
The Boston Globe (4 December, 1899 - p.7)
UNDER THE ROSE.
. . .
Robert Buchanan makes a fierce “literary” attack, in London, upon Kipling. He says Rudyard is not much of a poet, and he wants to know who this Kipling is, anyway.
The Sandusky Star (6 December, 1899)
POEM ON THE BOER WAR.
About a Drummer Boy Who Was
In a recent issue of Today of London appeared a long poem dealing with the Anglo-Boer war from the pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan. The first and last verses give a fair idea of the spirit of the poem, which related the adventures of a small drummer boy who was captured in the last Boer campaign, but kindly treated by the Boers.
“Boys, give the divil his due. He’s a man like me and you,
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (6 December, 1899 - p.4)
THE PLAINT OF THE HYPER-SENSITIVE.
The person of over-strung literary susceptibilities is not always audible in our midst; but now and then he raises a prolonged and piercing wail of protest against what he regards as our national literary degeneracy. There has always been a certain number of people who consider the age in which they live as a debased and demoralised age, and who say so in unmistakable language. In some ages these protests are justified; in others they are not. They occasionally crop up in our own. There is a lively example of them in the current “Contemporary Review”—an attack by Mr. Robert Buchanan on things in general, and on Mr. Kipling in particular. In Mr. Buchanan’s eyes Mr. Kipling typifies the baseness and grossness of the time; he “adumbrates,” in Mr. Buchanan’s own words, “all that is most deplorable, all that is most retrograde and savage, in the restless and uninstructed Hooliganism of the age.” Before opening fire on Mr. Kipling, Mr. Buchanan devotes a few pages to our present universal depravity. All our high ideals have gone. We have “repudiated the Enthusiasm of Humanity altogether and exchanged for it the worship of physical force and commercial success in any and every form.” This is just the sort of thing that anybody could have said at any time within the last hundred years with just as much truth, or as little truth, as Mr. Buchanan, who says it just now. It is the popular theory of the “good old times” expressed in terms of culture. We know so much more of the goodness of these old times than of their badness, nay, those who are old remember so much more of their goodness than their badness, that evidence on this point is seldom impartial or reliable. It is quite accurate to say that the people of the present age are not perfect; they are decidedly not perfect. But they compensate for their imperfections by certain good qualities which are not inherited, or which at any rate have improved as they have been handed down. But to return to Mr. Buchanan. He makes an attack on the Newspaper Press—no Jeremiah is complete without an attack on the Newspaper Press—and a protest against the British disposition to new conquests of territory and constant acts of aggression. Undoubtedly, the British race acquires territory; it cannot help it. It has been acquiring territory for centuries; and it is only just finding out what a quantity of territory it possesses, and what is its mission in regard to that territory. Our Society, says Mr. Buchanan, is rotten; our statesmen are unworthy of the slightest respect; the Established Church supports “nearly every infamy of the moment in the name of the Christianity which it long ago shifted quietly overboard”—rather vehement this, even for Mr. Buchanan; and our popular literature has been in many of its manifestations long past praying for.” Now we get to Mr. Kipling. Mr. Buchanan does not deny that his pet aversion has ability of a sort; indeed, he condescends to approve loftily of the “Jungle Books.” But the chief object of hatred in Mr. Kipling’s poems is the volume of “Barrack-Room Ballads.” The majority of these are, in Mr. Buchanan’s opinion, “descriptive of whatever is basest and most brutal in the character of the British mercenary.” Now Mr. Kipling’s endeavour has been to depict British as they are, good, bad, or indifferent; and British soldiers, on Mr. Kipling’s authority, are not plaster saints. The “Ballads” are not intended to be classics; they aim at brisk realism, and they succeed in their object. The language and the manners of Tommy Atkins are not pleasing to the sensitive soul; but Mr. Kipling has shown him to be decidedly human, a sinner in various respects, but a good fellow taken altogether. Mr. Buchanan is not wrong in taking exception to the dialect used by Mr. Kipling’s Tommies; for soldiers are certainly not all Cockneys. But to look upon the “Barrack-Room Ballads” as sheer brutality and vulgarity is unjust. Mr. Ruskin has told us how at one time in his early years he took a disgust to Shakespeare on account of the brutality of the tragedies, and how he recovered from that disgust. Mr. Kipling is by no means a Shakespeare, but nevertheless he deserves fair play. “The Seven Seas” comes in for treatment almost as severe as the “Barrack-Room Ballads”; and over “Stalky and Co.” Mr. Buchanan lashes himself into an insane fury. He concludes with a terrific denunciation of the kind of Imperialism preached by Mr. Kipling. It indicates “a fierce and quasi-savage militant spirit,” and Mr. Buchanan proceeds to say that “no honest thinker can combat the assertion that we have exhibited lately, in our dealings with others, a greed of gain, a vainglory, a cruelty, and a boastful indifference to the rights of others,” etc. This is sheer violent rubbish, the creed of Morleyism preached by a Mad Mullah. To say that such a state of things exists is as wrong as to say that Mr. Kipling would have such a state of things exist. Mr. Kipling, with all his faults—and they are many—has done much that is good. He has sung of an Empire that is great not merely because it is strong, but because it is free; he has sung of order, duty, and unswerving swift obedience to the law; he has told us to humble ourselves at thought of our mighty heritage; he has praised the virtues of self-sacrifice, truthfulness, and silent toil. Is this a man whose writings can be dismissed, as Mr. Buchanan dismisses them, as “characterised by brutality and latent baseness?”
The Nottingham Evening Post (7 December, 1899 - p.2)
CRITICISING MR. KIPLING.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, in the Contemporary, goes for Mr. Rudyard Kipling. He attributes the sudden vogue of Mr. Kipling’s early stories and verses to two influences: “The utter apathy of general readers, too idle or uninstructed to study any works of length, or demanding any contribution of serious thought on the reader’s part, and eager for any amusement which did not remind them of the eternal problems which ever beset Humanity”; and, secondly, to the spirit of Greater Englandism, or Imperialism. Mr. Buchanan does not mince matters. Referring to the poem, “An Imperial Rescript,” he caustically remarks, “Here, as elsewhere, he is on the side of all that is ignorant, selfish, base, and brutal in the instincts of Humanity.” “On the side of” is surely a little rough. Was Shakespeare on the side of drunkenness and profligacy because he represented a Falstaff, or of treacherous villany because he painted an Iago?
The Church Times (8 December, 1899)
The Contemporary Review is a distinctly strong and interesting number. ... Our own authorities, with their eyes open, have allowed the Boers to complete their preparations against us, and not until the last moment have formulated a counter-plan. Mr. Robert Buchanan employs his wealth of invective in showing up Mr. Rudyard Kipling as the vates sacer of Hooliganism. That the writer of the Recessional should prostitute his great gifts in writing bloodthirsty and profane barrack-room ballads is deplorable enough, but Mr. Buchanan is the last man in the world to convince us of Mr. Kipling’s naughtiness. For, in Mr. Buchanan’s judgment, we are all of us Hooligans—the Government, the Church of England, the gentle poet-primate of all Ireland, and the British public generally. Mr. Buchanan must chasten his tongue, if he would persuade us. ...
The Gloucester Citizen (9 December, 1899 - p.3)
Mr. J. M. Barrie’s new play may after all be Jacobite in character. His admirers who deny him any capacity for historical romance will hear this news with foreboding. He is to have a very handsome cheque on accounts shortly, though he has not yet put pen to paper. Another item of literary intelligence may wring the heartstrings of Mr. Robert Buchanan, whose favourite literary society in Scotland has invited the “Grand Hooligan of Literature” to deliver an address to the members on “Patriotism.” It said that a fee of £500 has been proferred to Mr. Kipling for the occasion. If he visits Scotland he will probably stay with Lord Rosebery at Dalmeny.
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (9 December, 1899 - p.6)
ODDS AND ENDS.
[BY OUR OWN CYNIC.]
Pardon me if I say that I am becoming very weary indeed of “The Absent-minded Beggar.” I dare not go to places of entertainment for fear of hearing it recited; references to it appear daily in every newspaper; and people quote it who never quoted poetry in their lives before. It is by far the most popular poem that Mr. Kipling has ever written; and it is indubitably one of the poorest. It serves its purpose, and that purpose is a most humane and admirable one. I do not deny its usefulness; but I do deny its literary merit. Probably if it had possessed literary merit, it would have failed to catch the public ear. The verses, I admit, are comprehensible and to the point; but they have none of the power, the expressiveness, and the melody of some of Mr. Kipling’s earlier patriotic poems. They are slangy, and the slang has none of the pungent picturesqueness which makes the “Barrack-Room Ballads” a delight except to particularly squeamish readers like Mr. Robert Buchanan. As to the refrain, it is simply vile; there is no other word for it. “Duke’s son—cook’s son—son of a hundred Kings”—could anything be jerkier or more unmelodious? “Cook” has been selected because it is supposed to rhyme with “Duke”; and it doesn’t rhyme with “Duke.” Then why drag in Lambeth publicans? What proportion of the men serving in South Africa are the sons of cooks or Lambeth publicans? Again, why should our soldiers, any more than any other class of men, be described collectively as “absent-minded beggars”? They are no more absent-minded than anybody else. There is no fitness about the name. The poem, as I said, serves a useful purpose; it brings in money for a good cause. But when the war is over and Tommy resumes responsibility for his wife and kids, I trust that “The Absent-minded Beggar” will disappear into obscurity. It is not for Mr. Kipling’s good that it should live.
The Guardian (13 December, 1899)
The Contemporary opens with a paper on the military situation by “An Officer,” who emphasises the widely felt necessity of a serious addition to the permanent strength of our army, in view of what war with a couple of petty States has meant. More justly may-be than he thinks Mr. Robert Buchanan labels a bitter attack on Mr. Rudyard Kipling “The Voice of the Hooligan,” the literary manner of hooligans being by no means confined to jingoes. Mr. Buchanan has discovered that—
The Independent (14 December, 1899)
One of the most striking papers in the Contemporary is that of Robert Buchanan entitled “The Voice of the Hooligan,” which is really a very keen review of Rudyard Kipling’s literature of the barracks. We are not prepared to endorse all Mr. Buchanan’s views. But it was certainly high time that something should be said relative to this new style of Jingo poem and story. It is very difficult to understand how the same man who has written the second verse of the “Absent-minded Beggar” can be the author of the “Recessional” ode. That ode is full of fine sentiment, and sentiment which in the present tone of warlike feeling needs to be specially impressed upon our people. But all Mr. Rudyard Kipling’s other work would almost seem intended to efface the impressions which those stirring verses had made. Mr. Buchanan has here addressed himself to the subject, and he has certainly done it with an unsparing hand. “Stalky & Co.” is one of the principal subjects of his animadversion, but he deals also with Mr. Kipling’s works in general. If he does his literary merits less than justice, some excuse may at all events be found in the exaggeration on the opposite side. The reaction was sure to come, and if it has gone a little, perhaps a great deal, too far, the swing of the pendulum is pretty sure to keep the balance tolerably right.
Daily Mail (2 January, 1900 - p.3)
WHY WE LOVE KIPLING.
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s unmeasured and ill-mannered attack on Mr. Rudyard Kipling is well answered in the new issue of the “Contempoary Review” by Sir Walter Besant.
The Daily Gleaner (Jamaica) (10 January, 1900 - p.4)
Mr. Robert Buchanan, in the current number of the Contemporary Review, is responsible for a remarkable jeremiad on the subject of the British public’s “present wild orgy of militant savagery” in general and Mr. Rudyard Kipling in particular. He calls his article “The Voice of the Hooligan.” Of course he means Mr. Kipling, but most readers will think it is Mr. Buchanan who is the real Hooligan—for he knocks Mr. Kipling down and jumps on him as savagely as any Seven Dials loafer administering discipline to his wife. He calls Mr. Kipling brutal, savage, indecent, disgusting, cockney, and a score of like adjectives; and says of “Stalky & Co.” that “it is simply impossible to show by mere quotations the horrible vileness of the book.” It goes without saying that Mr. Buchanan sees nothing in the present outburst of patriotism throughout the British Empire but “the love of conquest” and “the spirit of mercenary militarism.” One thing is certain. Neither the British Empire nor Mr. Kipling will pay any more attention to him than a bulldog does to a puppy yapping at his heels.
The New York Times (20 January, 1900)
KIPLING AND AN OLD ASSAILANT.
Nearly thirty years have passed since Mr. Robert Buchanan gave the world, first in the pages of The Contemporary Review and later in book form, his “Fleshly School of Poetry.” In magazine form the article was signed Thomas Maitland, but later, the next year, when the book appeared, Mr. Buchanan’s own name was found on its title page. Rossetti and his friends were afterward accused by the writer of the paper of trying to prove his criticism was the malicious and cowardly work of a rival poet, afraid to strike in broad day or under his real name, and adopting a pseudonym to conceal his real identity. * * * I have only one word to use concerning attacks upon myself. They are the invention of cowards, too spoilt with flattery to bear criticism and too querulous and humorsome to perceive the real issues of the case.”
Mr. Rossetti’s poetry, not because it is by any means the best or worst verse of its kind, but because, being avowedly “mature” and having had the benefit of many years’ revision, it is perhaps more truly representative of its class than the grosser verse of Mr. Swinburne or the more careless or fluent verse of Mr. Morris—the main charge I bring against poetry of this kind is its sickliness and effeminacy. * * * The charge of indecency need not be pressed at all, as it is settled by the fact of artistic and poetic incompetence. * * * We perceive that the silliness and the insincerity come, not by nature, but at second hand, Mr. Rossetti and Mr. Swinburne being the merest echoes—strikingly original in this that they merely echo what is vile, while other imitators reproduce what is admirable.
How this controversy finally ended, and Mr. Buchanan’s seeming repentance when Rossetti died, we all perfectly remember. While Mr. Buchanan may be held excusable for the early attack above referred to, the passage of nearly thirty years should have rendered impossible a second paper of like nature, and yet “The Voice of ‘The Hooligan,’” which appeared in a recent Contemporary Review, is full of the broadest personalities and utterly lacking in the critical spirit from beginning to end.
As for our popular literature, it has been in many of its manifestations long past praying for; it has run to seed in fiction of the baser sort, seldom or never, with all its cleverness, touching the quick of human conscience; but its most extraordinary feature at this moment is the exaltation to a position of almost unexampled popularity of a writer who, in his single person, adumbrates, I think, all that is most deplorable, all that is most retrograde and savage, in the restless and uninstructed Hooliganism of the time.
Mr. Buchanan is perhaps equally complimentary to the public, claiming that one of the principal factors in Kipling’s success is “the utter apathy of general readers, too idle and uninstructed to study works of any length or demanding any contribution of serious thought on the reader’s part.” Mr. Buchanan next proceeds to examine Kipling’s poetry in much the same spirit that, thirty years ago, called forth his first bitter attack:
How, then, are we to account for the extraordinary popularity of works so contemptible in spirit and so barbarous in execution? * * * Amused, therefore, by the free-and-easy rattles, the jog-trot tunes which had hitherto been heard only in the music halls and read only in the sporting newspapers, * * * the spirit abroad to-day is the spirit of ephemeral journalism, and whatever accords with that spirit—its vulgarity, its flippancy, and its radical unintelligence—is certain to attain tremendous vogue. Anything that demands a moment’s thought or a moment’s severe attention, anything that is not thoroughly noisy, blatant, cocksure, and self-assertive, is caviare to that man on the street on whom cheap journalism depends, and who, it should be said, en passant, is often a member of smart society.
And so the paper goes on, the whole being a tissue of personal abuse, directed both against Mr. Kipling and the undiscriminating public, who so evidently prefer the latter to Mr. Buchanan. Shall we allow it is, as Mr. Buchanan alleges, because Kipling, although in no true sense of the word a poet, “is as near” an approach to a poet as can be tolerated by the ephemeral and hasty judgment of the day? His very incapacity of serious thought or deep feeling is in his favor. He represents, with more or less accuracy, what the mob is thinking. * * * Of Mr. Kipling it may be said, so far at least as his verses are concerned, that he has scarcely on any single occasion uttered anything that does not suggest moral baseness or hover dangerously near it.
Cook’s son, Duke’s son, son of a belted Earl,
The entire poem is admirably strong and virile, and all the more effectively perhaps for its very slang. Even the opening lines have their message:
When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia,”
a little method of warfare we all indulge in. Kipling adds:
Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine,
Had we more space we might name many other poems by Mr. Kipling to show how unjust and completely prejudiced Mr. Buchanan’s charge of lack of serious thought or deep feeling really is, notably perhaps the dedication to “Departmental Ditties.” This little poem is so beautiful in style, wording, thought, and the deep feeling is so apparent—so decided a contrast, too, to the “Absent-Minded Beggar,” because not drawn forth by strong patriotism, but entirely from within—that it has always seemed to us not only one of the most successful poems Kipling has ever written, but in some way to stand for the man’s whole character and personality, as nothing else has ever done. Perhaps also it explains to a great degree the foundation for Kipling’s popularity:
I have eaten your bread and salt,
Was there aught that I did not share,
I have written the tale of our life,
The Staffordshire Sentinel (20 January, 1900 - p.4)
Mr. Rayner, an old soldier, takes me to task for what he thinks is my want of appreciation of Rudyard Kipling as the soldier’s friend. He says Kipling is the only man, poet, novelist, or essayist, professing to describe the English private soldier who knows anything about the subject. I have only to assure Mr. Rayner that I reported an honest conversation which did no injustice, I think, to Mr. Kipling’s genius or to his patriotism. As for myself, I admire and respect him in both these capacities. . . Mr. Robert Buchanan has had a fling at Kipling, and the Philistine has been met in the “Contemporary” by Sir Walter Besant, who is judicial as well as masterful in his defence of the Anglo-Indian poet. Apart from the controversial question, Sir Walter says, “there should be some observance of professional etiquette in literature as in law; it should be simply impossible for any one, of whatever standing, in the profession of letters to attack another, and especially one who has attracted the affection of millions—including those of the highest pretensions of culture—with abuse and rancour worthy of a fishwife.”
The Suburban Citizen (Washington D.C.) (20 January, 1900)
THE FALL OF KIPLING
FURIOUS CRITICISM OF ROBERT BUCHANAN.
The Famous Novelist Says That Nearly Everything That the
Robert Buchanan, whose fierce attack on Rudyard Kipling in the Contemporary Review is the literary sensation of the day, has always been noted for plain words whenever he comes out as a critic. Kipling, he asserts, has seldom uttered “anything that does not suggest moral baseness.” The uncrowned laureate, says Mr. Buchanan, takes his inspiration from the street tough and sings “the coarse and soulless patriotism of the hour.” The object of true imperialism is “to free man, not to enslave him.” Mr. Buchanan some years ago turned literary London inside out by a ferocious criticism of Rosetti and Swinburne, making life enemies of these two poets. Kipling’s robust derogator has written poetry himself, but he is better known for his dramas and his novels. His criticisms are forceful and earnest and are characterized by a directness calculated to impress the reader deeply, if not prejudice him. An incidental effect of his acumen seems to be discomfiture for the author criticised, and very often the suppression of the literature commented upon.
The Shields Daily Gazette (22 January, 1900 - p.2)
KIPLING AND HIS CRITIC.
Sir WALTER BESANT, himself one of the purest, and at the same time most successful of novelists, breaks a lance in one of the January reviews in defence of RUDYARD KIPLING, who was the victim of an unusually savage attack from the pen of Mr ROBERT BUCHANAN last month. Mr BUCHANAN declared that KIPLING, who has so quickly won a remarkable popularity, extending far beyond the bounds of Great Britain, is simply, in his rhymes and writings, giving the prominence of printers’ ink to the voice of the Hooligan; he is glorifying an orgy of savagery; he is pandering to the tastes of a brutalised public and has been guilty of “frank and brutal indecency.” The latter charge was founded on the certainly full-mouthed phrase in the chorus to the “Sergeant’s Wedding,” but surely the same charge could be brought on even stronger grounds against Scotia’s noblest poet, ROBERT BURNS, whose poems even Mr BUCHANAN will hardly venture to term “frank and brutally indecent.” Sir WALTER BESANT, with great force, we think, argues that KIPLING is a realist in prose, that he has aimed successfully at showing us the real man behind all the black-guardism and debauchery of the lower type of private soldier. He has at the same time more truly than any other living poet, tried to arouse the great British public, who, after all, have on their shoulders the mighty responsibilities of governing the greatest Empire on earth, to a sense of what those responsibilities really are. It is somewhat hackneyed, perhaps, to-day, to quote that magnificent Recessional which struck a ten-thousand-times truer note during the wild exultation of the Diamond Jubilee than all the meretricious jingles of the nominal poet LAUREATE:—
If drunk with sight of power we loose
Could any but a true poet and true man have penned those noble lines, or can they for a moment be held to be from the pen of one who is “frankly and brutally indecent?” Or those other even more beautiful lines describing the return of the Mariners, are they the “voice of the Hooligan?”
Let go, let go, the anchor,
Again, could one who is simply and solely a blatant Jingo, have reminded us of how the liberties of this England of ours were won?
All we have of freedom, all we use or know
How far removed from mere Jingoism is his song we see in “The White Man’s Burden,” which he tells us is
No iron rule of Kings
Again in his L’Envoi, how far is the spirit it breathes from the mercenary lust of gold and worship of Mammon which he is said to glorify?
Then none but the Master shall praise us,
Was ever the dignity of labour, whether of hand or head, more nobly set forth? It is quite easy for the captious critic to find matter of complaint in the work of our best writers. We have had a bowdlerised SHAKESPEARE and even sacreligious proposals for the bowdlerising of the Scriptures. KIPLING himself would never claim to rank beside the swan of Avon; indeed one, perhaps the great, secret of his success is his intense humanity. He is one of us with our feelings, our aspirations, our desires, but he possesses in addition that rare gift, the God-given ability to clothe them in language which can make the simplest and most indifferent to see the hidden meaning, of what he himself has called, the little things he sings about.
The New York Times (3 February, 1900)
LONDON LITERARY LETTER.
Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
LONDON, Jan. 15.—
. . .
I mentioned last week that I had heard three apparently intelligent Englishmen maintain that Kipling had never written a line of poetry. Certain other men have recently been writing letters to a weekly paper, pointing out that Kipling knows next to nothing of India, and that he is extremely inaccurate in his descriptions of men and things in India. These letter writers are evidently in love with accuracy, but the instances of inaccuracy which they cite from Kipling’s Indian stories are far from convincing. My own belief is that if they are right in detecting inaccuracies it is India which is inaccurate, and not Kipling. I find no difficulty in believing that India ought to be exactly what Kipling describes it, and if it is not so in all respects, I am sorry for India, and feel sure that it is India that is in fault.
. . .
When speaking of Kipling I forgot to say that Sir Walter Besant has, in the last number of The Contemporary Review, done for Mr. Robert Buchanan in a mild way what Stevenson did for Dr. Hyde in a more severe way. Buchanan, who is as good a fellow personally as he is cantankerous in print, abused Kipling violently last month, insisting that the influence of his writings is in the highest degree demoralizing. Mr. Buchanan has a genius for taking the wrong side of everything, but fortunately when he champions a cause he does it in such an uproarious way that people only laugh at him. Since the person calling herself “Ouida” asserted that Kipling was ignorant of the rudiments of style, and should be stood in the corner and spanked for his impertinence in daring to write, nothing more absurd has been written than is Mr. Buchanan’s so-called criticism of Kipling. It evidently moved the mild Besant to wrath, and he has cudgeled Buchanan with energy. No one, however, will ever match Edmund Yates’s immortal description of Buchanan. It would be unkind to quote it at this late day, but it will never be forgotten.
The Graphic (17 February, 1900)
The War in the Magazines
WITH one accord all the serious magazines devote themselves to the present crisis, and readers may take their choice of a score of explanations of the present reverse. In the Nineteenth Century the late General Sir George Chesney makes a raid on the War Office. He wants sweeping reforms, but seems to doubt whether the business will be taken in hand until action is forced on the country by disaster— and disaster even greater than the present warning:—
Her ocean girdle may save England from falling into the depths of abasement which befell Prussia after Jena and France after Sedan; but if England be safe from the humiliation of herself lying prostrate under the conqueror’s heel, yet the English Empire, spread over the world, is vulnerable at every point. But neither Prussia in 1806 nor France in 1870 was so culpably careless as we are now, nor invited disaster so plainly as we shall do if, after the warnings given, we recklessly suffer our military administration to continue unreformed, and a system to be maintained which every inquiry made into it shows to be utterly insufficient for the purpose it is intended to fulfill.
To the same review Mr. R. B. Townshend contributes a paper called “Some Stray Shots and a Moral,” in which the moral is the importance of marksmanship, and he propounds a very easy way in which the youth of the nation may have simple but useful practice with an air gun such as one may buy for twenty or thirty shillings. His great point is the necessity of training the man behind the rifle to shoot straight, and a man who is in earnest with air-gun practise can very cheaply “make himself a sure shot and a quick shot at close quarters, or, in other words, he can ground himself thoroughly in the A B C of shooting.”
WORSE THAN WAR?
To the Contemporary Mr. Robert Buchanan contributes a slashing reply to the article written by Sir Walter Besant in defence of Mr. Kipling, whom Mr. Buchanan had attacked. Sir Walter was bold enough, in speaking of Mr. Kipling as a war poet, to say that there were worse evils than war, and Mr. Buchanan has no words in which to express his indignation. He cannot understand the attitude of one “who is not afraid to echo at this hour of the day the mad platitudes which drove Englishmen into homicidal frenzy forty years ago. There are worse things than war, quotha? Worse things even than war beginning and ending in the lust for gold, and the ardour of freebooters to grab the solid Earth?”
I take my stand on the belief that there is no worse evil than war, and that all the talk of its power to purify a nation or an individual is the veriest and foulest cant. Two blacks never yet made a white, nor any two wrongs a right, and, disguise the truth under what phrases we may, war is simply murder with another name. That is my belief, and if that belief is false, every word which I have written concerning Mr. Kipling is false as well.
Against this frenzied diatribe let us set the words of one who was if anyone a man of peace, and who never wrote a line without weighing his words for years—the late Professor Ruskin.
When I tell you that war is the foundation of all the arts I mean also that it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men. It is very strange to me to discover this, and very dreadful—but I saw it to be quite an undeniable fact. . . . I found, in brief, that all great nations learnt their truth of word and strength of thought in war, that they were nourished in war, and wasted by peace; taught by war and deceived by peace; trained by war and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace.
The West Australian (Perth) (17 February, 1900 - p.9)
“THE VOICE OF THE HOOLIGAN.”
DEDICATED TO A CERTAIN PROFANE SCRIBE.
I read some lines the other day
It seems we’ve all misunderstood,
Degenerate, savage, in his mind,
His boys are boys—for aye the same;
The man who wrote The Wandering Jew
You’ve never written words of truth
Nor shown beneath the outward shell
Man has two sides: don’t show us both—
Teach not how Deeds show Faith beyond
Pictures we want—with rose leaves drawn.
We want our Shakspeare “bowdlerised,”
The New York Times (10 March, 1900)
LONDON LITERARY LETTER.
Written for THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW by
LONDON, Feb. 25.—Now that an officer of the army has written to a daily paper complaining that Mr. Kipling insulted the British soldier when he called him an “absent-minded beggar” there is actually a controversy over the question whether or not Mr. Kipling’s way of speaking of the soldier is insulting. Of course, Mr. Buchanan considers that it is, but then Mr. Buchanan is a Scotchman of the type that seems utterly incapable of understanding anything but the most prosaic prose, and, besides, no one cares a straw for Mr. Buchanan’s opinion as to anything. It is plain, however, that there are other persons who think that Mr. Kipling has treated the soldier very cruelly by calling him a “beggar,” and by asserting that he is ever absent-minded. They gravely assert that the British soldier never begs and therefore cannot be a beggar, and that there is no reason to suppose that he is more absent-minded than the average man. They remind me of a boy of my acquaintance who mistranslated the Latin fable of the mice and the cats, and defended himself by asserting that it would be an impossibility for mice to tie a bell to a cat’s tail, and that it was therefore impossible that the Latin text could have been intended to convey any such meaning.
The Boston Globe (21 March, 1900 - p.7)
UNDER THE ROSE.
. . .
A WORD IN PASSING.
I have asked half a dozen well-read people who Robert Buchanan is. About half of them knew he was an English author, and only one of them knew anything he had written, and that was a bitter attack on Rudyard Kipling. I will advertise Buchanan to this extent, to say that he wrote “The Voice of the Hooligan,” the aforesaid attack; that Walter Besant took up the cudgels for Kipling and his millions of admirers, and Buchanan thereupon drew an analogy between Sir Walter Besant, knight, and Robert Shallow, Esquire and gradgrind; that one of the ill-mannered ejections of Buchanan, whom Fra Elbertus might call a literary fiste, follows: “Sir Walter Besant avers that I have no right to speak of these things (the carnage and brutality sometimes found in Kipling’s works) because they concern the prestige and the pocket of one who, with a publisher on each side of him, like the bishop on each side of Richard in the play, lately cried aloud for, and obtained, the sympathy of two continents.”
To understand the venomous brutality of such a sentence it is only necessary to recall that Buchanan refers to the days when Kipling and his children lay between life and death, when his child died, when he could neither object effectually to the presence or absence of his publisher nor “cry aloud” for the blessed oxygen which his lungs lacked. Yes, he did obtain “the sympathy of two continents.” And the sympathy and love of two continents will abide with Kipling long after Buchanan is forgotten.
Cedar Rapids Republican (Iowa) (15 April, 1900)
The Disparagement of Rudyard Kipling.
Houston Daily Post: If Mr. Kipling be not well fortified in philosophy he may be both astonished and dismayed by the sudden turn in the tide of his prosperity.
* * *
These among the foremost. Behind comes a chorus of disparagement.
* * *
But while an attempt to estimate the opinions of the future may seem an idle, not to say preposterous thing, being in its last analysis a view almost certain to be tinged with prejudice and only the personal preference in another form, still remain some reflections both apt and substantial. So far at least, in the world’s history we may discern in all of the poetry that has lived and appealed to men from century to century essentially the same qualities. Materialism, in the coming centuries, may get such hold upon mankind that even the normal mentality may be changed. But is that believable? Then as what has hitherto been vital in poetry of long life seems likely still to be vital hereafter, at least it is possible to determine whether evidences of these vital qualities appear in Mr. Kipling’s work.
* * *
With these questions is not connected in any way the cleverness of his entertainment, the extreme interest and joy of his style, the buoyancy of his spirits, the extraordinary novelty and charm of his methods; for with these things we may be sure the future jaded with long lines of his successors, will not stop to deal.
The Daily Gleaner (Jamaica) (28 April, 1900 - p.7)
The Editor of the Gleaner.
Sir,—Since the lines with the above title appeared in your issue of Saturday last, I have (through the courtesy of Mr. Walker, of Newton been favoured with the perusal of an article from the pen of Robert Buchanan, which has appeared in a recent number of the Contemporary Review, entitled “The Voice of the Hooligan.” I beg to enclose an extract which I have made from the article, by which it will be seen that, none too early, the task has been commenced, of hurling from the pedestal on which they have been raised by Kipling the gross and infamous characters which have, to a deplorable extent, been accepted by the public at home and abroad as typical of our soldiers.
The Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.) (20 January, 1906 - p.4)
THE KIPLING QUESTION.
Although it is supposed by some Englishmen that America is the only place where Mr. Kipling’s works are still read with enthusiasm; the Kipling question is still discussed ardently in Kipling’s island. An essayist by the name of Masterman is the latest to denounce the author of “Kim” as a producer of the literature of artificial brutality. Mr. Masterman says:
The blind and gibbering maniac at the end of “The Light That Failed”, who shrieks, “Give ’em Hell, oh, give ’em Hell”, from the security of an armored train, while his companions annihilate their enemies by pressing the button of a machine gun, seemed not only a possible, but even a reputable figure.
There is of course, nothing new in this sort of talk. Robert Buchanan began it at least six years ago when he characterised Mr. Kipling’s voice as “the voice of the Hooligan” or the London tough. He said that Kipling’s lamentable productions were “concocted not for sane men or self-respecting soldiers, not even for those who are merely ignorant and uninstructed, but for the ‘mean whites’ of our Western civilization, the idle and loafing men in the street and for such women as shriek at their heels”.
or back to Essays - ‘The Voice of “The Hooligan.”’