The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search




No. III.—A Fashionable Love Affair.


AND so we love our cousin James?
     Trust the old woman for a seer!
Why, how the little lily flames,
     The blue eyes open, and each ear
     Hath turn’d into a rosebud, dear!
Ah! bless thee, Blanche, though I am old,
     I guessed thy secret from the first,—
Though I am ugly, patch’d, and cold,
     I’ve seen the world, its best and worst;
And ah! the world is cruel, bad, and rough;
     Not that it calls me names—it is not that!
Life after twenty-five is sad enough,
     At sixty-five, how dull and stale and flat!
Ah, child! though year on year in shame and woe
     These feet have wander’d on through weary ways,
     I never loved but once in all my days,—
Not wisely, ah! not wisely—but I know,
     When all the light of all the world has passed,
     That love will lift me up to God at last!

Blanche, little Blanche! how shall I phrase to thee
     The truth—the shame—of him I cherished so?—
A wild gallant, such as there used to be
     When I was young—’tis fifty years ago.
A ne’er-do-well, degraded, worn, and wild,
     A knight, yet fallen from his knightly state,
Brought down by wine and wicked women, child;
     But these were things I only knew too late;
And we, we Osbornes, were a race of fire—
     No lily ladies sighing over fashions—
The blood of soldiers filled me, and my sire
     Gave me quick humours and eternal passions!
And when I loved that man of evil fame—
     Ere I knew all, love grew without control—
Child, I was his for ever—pride nor shame
Could come between our spirits—he became
     A fearful part of my immortal soul.

They put stone walls between us—it was just!
     But money opens doors—we met alone—
And I besought him, on my knees, to thrust
     His evil fiend behind him, and atone!
Atone! atone! O the wild vows he swore!
     I listen’d and believed; yet he sinned on—
Then, on the threshold of my father’s door,
One moonless night, I cried, ‘I love no more!
     Thy shame has come between us—get thee gone!’
And fled into the sleeping house, and crept
     Up the dark stairs, and felt along the gloom,
     And found my mother waiting in my room,
And fell on that hard woman’s heart, and wept;
And ere I knew the terror, little one,
     Ere I awoke from that dark, vague distress,
The world had grown all dark, the wrong was done,
     And I was withering in a bridal dress.

Then came my folly—sin—it matters naught
What name they give to their unhallow’d thought!
One night—I was alone in my cold dwelling—
     My lord was heaven knows where—at rout or ball—
There came the cackle of a gossip, telling
     That he—that man—had fallen in a brawl—
         Hurt unto death—and in a lodging lay
         A street or two away.
Blanche, little Blanche! ere I could understand,
I sat by his bedside, and held his hand!

Ah! pity, pity me! All, all, was lost;
     The world had gone and all the world can gain,
All, all, save him and his sick agony,
     And those wild eyes that rolled in fever’d pain!
     O God, forgive me! for I prayed and cried:
     ‘My place is here—here, here,—by this bedside!
Nothing is left me in the world but this—
     This life that flutters o’er its opening grave—
These eyes that see not, lips that cannot kiss—
     And this is all I crave!’

But he—that man I name not—raving lay,
     Knowing me not, but dreaming of his crimes—
     And—ah, the horror!—shrieking loud at times,
In blasphemies to make the hair turn gray—
Words, Blanche, to wither up the heart and chill
     The weary love that listens on the ground;
     But mine was love more piteous, more profound,
And ’mid the red-hot shame I loved him still—
     Loved on with awfuller, intenser fire,
Loved on with Horror for my only friend,
     Loved blindly on as mighty men aspire!
And, Blanche, there came reward before the end.

It was a sombre sunset; at his side
     I kept my vigil, breathing soft and deep,
Watching his slumber, while the eventide
     Scatter’d its dusky silver on his sleep.
And, Blanche, just then he woke, and look’d at me!
     A wild, long look, bitter, without a breath!
And knew me, knew me, sinking wearily
     As if to close his eyes in angry death;
Then look’d again, and moan’d upon his bed,
     And that soft silver soften’d o’er his face;
And when, snow-pale, I bent above his head,
     The lines of shame, and sorrow, and disgrace
Faded away, and left his features wan
     As placid as a little one’s at prayer:
The great, pure soul that hides in every man
     Came up into his eyes and trembled there;
And while as gently as a mother might,
I answered that sweet light,
And moved his head upon my arm, he smiled
And kissed me, like a child;
And fainter, fainter, grew his human heart,
     And colder, colder, grew the tired bad clay,
While his diviner part
     Sweeten’d and slipt away.

And thou art pale—so pale.
Kiss me, and pardon the old woman’s tale.
There was a separation, as you’ve heard—
     My lord hush’d up the truth he never knew:
We parted quietly, without a word—
     And here I am alive at sixty-two.
What the world said, who knows? this heart of mine
     Broke not, but grew a little harder, colder,—
I lived, played cards, made gossip over wine;
I did not grieve—the loss was too divine—
     I grieve still less, my dear, now I am older.
For now I see the past with clearer eyes,
     Though people think me bad, and think aright:
The world is much amiss, but love is wise,
And what is pure one moment, I surmise,
     Is pure for ever, in the world’s despite.

                                                                         ROBERT BUCHANAN.



‘A Fashionable Love Affair’ was published in London Society (March, 1868).




A Drawing-Room Ballad.


IN the dawn of a golden morrow
     May Marguerite went away;
Nought of sin or sorrow
     Had touched that perfumed clay.

Each morning sweeter and whiter,
     In the city dark she grew;
Here, as in places brighter,
     The clouds rain down such dew.

The splendour and power of Nature
     Rank’d little in her sight;
She was a city creature,
     Smiling by candlelight.

The nooks where Love might meet her,
     Fashion from sunshine shrouds;
Yet her hue than roses was sweeter,
     Her motion was like a cloud’s.

Wherever the gas glared brightly,
     May Marguerite tript and flew,
O’er the flower’d carpet as lightly
     As if it blossom’d and blew.

Under her gentle seeing,
     In her delicate little hand,
They placed the Book of Being,
     To read and understand.

The Book was mighty and olden,
     Yea, worn and eaten with age;
Though the letters looked great and golden,
     She could not read a page.

The letters flutter’d before her,
     And all look’d sweetly wild:
Death saw her, and bent o’er her,
     As she pouted her lips and smiled.

And weary a little with tracing
     The Book, she look’d aside,
And lightly smiling, and placing
     A flower in its leaves, she died.

She died—but her sweetness fled not,
     As fly the things of power,—
For the Book wherein she read not
     Is the sweeter for the flower.

                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.



‘A Drawing-Room Ballad’ was published in London Society (July, 1868). The last five verses were published in the 1874 King edition of the Poetical Works as ‘On A Young Poetess’s Grave’.




The Faces.


A TERROR is in the city,
     By night and by day,
And whenever that terror passes
     I tremble and pray,
And the eye of my soul closes swiftly
     To shut it away.

Not the sneer of the worldling,
     The smirk of the saint,
Not the poor lost women
     With their smile of paint,
But faces, and ever faces,
     With a warning faint.

Faces, and ever faces,
     They pass on the stream,—
Piteous human faces,
     Like things in a dream;
Morning and night, and most awful
     In the gaslight gleam.

Faces, terrible faces,
     With a tale unsaid,
Fixed human faces
     Whence the light has fled,
Faces, and ever faces,
     Where the soul is dead.

Faces, lost pale faces,
     Of the rich or the poor,
Faces of hearts where meanness
     Hath eat to the core,
Faces—the signs of spirits
     That muse no more.

The sadness of these faces
     Is sad beyond belief,
Meaner than the shrill sorrow
     Of the harlot or the thief;
The gladness of these faces
     Is sadder than their grief.

Oh, there seems hope for evil,
     Though bloodiest crime befall,—
But life that hath neither beauty
     Nor foulness—it is so small!
Alas, for the frozen spirits
     That do not stir at all!

They gather the gold and raiment,
     They buy and they pay;
But, ah! at the glimpse of their faces
     I tremble and pray,
And the eye of my soul closes quickly
     To shut them away.

                                                               ROBERT BUCHANAN.



‘The Faces’ was published in London Society (October, 1868).








TO-NIGHT there is no moon—
     How dark and still the sky looks overhead!
I think that we shall have a snow-fall soon,
     Walk quicker? Nelly Blair’s your name, you said?
         Have you been long in London?



                                       Thirteen days.
     I hate it! hate the town, and all its ways!



And I! An ugly place! all bad, all bad!
     Hardhearted as a flint, and dull and dark!
Drink is the only comfort to be had;
     But drink gets me in trouble always. Hark!
That’s twelve o’clock. Let’s stop a minute, do!
     Here, down this quiet street—there’s no one nigh—
Sit on my shawl—I live in Lambeth too,—
     We can go home together by-and-by.
How bad your cough is! It will kill you quite
This being out at night.



Kill me? It’s Death who doesn’t hear me call—
’Tis killing my ownself I fear to do!
If I’d the heart I’d leap off Waterloo
This night, and end it all.



Ah, how you cough! You’d best go home to bed!
Are you in pain? Rise up, and let us go!



O Lord! O Lord! I wish that I was dead!
Look how the air is whitening. It’s the Snow.
How white it looks, how still!



Lean on my arm a little. You are ill!



Come on, come on. How white the streets are growing!
I used to like the fields when it was snowing.
This minds me of old days, and all the fun—
         That’s over now, and done—
I’ve seen my brightest days, and now I’m old—
Hark! There’s Saint Clement’s striking ‘one’—
         It’s cold! it’s cold!



‘Suspiria de Profundis’ was published in the Christmas edition of London Society (December, 1868).




(After Christian Winther.)


Dame Martha bode in Sonderland,
     A good and gentle dame;
When the winter was long and the rich man hard,
     To her the poor folk came.

The hungry ate out of her hand,
     The sickly took her bed;
And to the sinful wrong-doer
     Sweet words of peace she said.

She was not rich in gold nor gear,
     But all might share her best:
Silver nor gold she could not give,
     But the crust she gave was blest.

There came fierce foemen from afar,
     Over the salt sea-tide:
With fire and sword they laid full low
     The hamlets far and wide.

From east to west in Sonderland
     A fire ran bloody red:
Dame Martha’s house was burnt full low,
     And its gentle lady fled.

She fled unto a lonely tower,
     To the sad kirkyard nigh,
Only the owl from his dark lair
     Looked down with round bright eye.

Hungry and thirsty she abode
     Unseen, apart from men,
Not a drop of all that she had given
     Was given to her again.

But when the dark and bloody band
     Again forsook that shore,
Dame Martha found her ruined house,
     And built it up once more.

The hungry ate out of her hand,
     The sickly took her bed,
And to the sinful wrong-doer
     Sweet words of peace she said.

For many a day unto her door
     They came from far and wide;
But many a human wanderer wept
     The day Dame Martha died.

The kirk bell sounded sad and low,
     Man, child, and woman wept;
Wearily to the sad kirkyard
     They bare her as she slept.

And when they passed the lonely tower
     Where she in need had fled,
The bearers set the black bier down,
     And prayed, and blessed the dead.

And when they prayed with tearful eyes,
     There sprang beneath the bier,
Out of the ground, a little well
     Of water, crystal clear.

And still in rocky Sonderland,
     The village gossips tell,
The sick may drink and straight be healed,
     Out of Dame Martha’s well.

God’s blessing on the gentle soul,
     Not rich in gold and gear,
That in the midst of evil days
     Gleams up like water clear.

Like crystal clear, the gentle soul
     Doth from the cold ground burst;—
God bless the little wayside well,
     Refreshing all that thirst!



First published (anonymously) in All The Year Round (13 November, 1869) and reprinted in Good Words (October, 1870) and the Glasgow Herald (4 October, 1870) ‘Dame Martha’s Well’ is a translation of a poem by the Danish writer, Bernhard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862). An earlier English version, ‘Dame Martha’s Fountain’, was published in the article, ‘Danish and Norwegian Literature’ in The Foreign Quarterly Review (Vol. VI No. XI, 1830 - p. 83) and was reprinted in Longfellow’s anthology, Poems of Places   (1876). Buchanan mistakenly attributes the original to the Danish lyric poet, Christian Winther (1796-1876).






I HEARD the humming of the streets for ever,
As in a sleep—the people came and went
Around my seat unseen, like shapes that pass
Unseen, but heard, in haunted lands; and oft
Light laughter and a motion close around me,
And gentle speech, disturb’d me. What to me
Was beauteous interchange of day and night—
The coming and the going of the sun,
Gathering grayness, and the rising moon—
And what to me was light of sun or stars,
Since light and darkness came and went around,
Unmark’d by weary eyes that could not see,
That had not seen the day for seven years;
Only, when sunlight daily went away,
My world grew stiller, colder—that was all.

And I was hard and dull at twenty-three,
Dull with my grief, hard to the core from dwelling,
Sleeping or waking, in the dark so long;
One, and one pleasure only had the power to stir
And trouble all my soul, until it felt
A sunshine of its own. A light foot-fall,
A tender greeting, fluttering of a dress,
A touch as soft as is a rose’s leaf,
That flutters to the grass and makes no sound.
These were the intimations of a world
Beyond my sorrow, the admonishings
Which sweeten’d that dull gloom wherein I dwelt.
O, sweeter far than any beauteous thing
The eye could look upon, one little name,
One little soft sweet name, I murmur’d o’er,
Softly, to keep my heart still: ah! the name,
The little living name I murmur’d o’er,
And saw in golden letters in the dark!
May! May! May! May!—it brought me back the time
When I could see the roses and the leaves,
The silver splash of water, the blue hills
Netted in sunny weather! May! May! May!
I murmur’d it for ever to my heart,
For joy, for joy of it! . . . Sweeter than all
To sit within my shadow-land, and hear
That one voice singing, while a little hand
I could not see, swept o’er the trembling keys,
And all the air around me seem’d to melt
Into a vapour, in whose midst there sat
One sweet girl-shape before an instrument,
Her bright curls shining, and her eyes of blue
Looking on me! Then the sweet sound would cease,
The vision made of music died away,
And I was wearying in the dark again.

At seventeen, a fever struck me down,
And I arose, and found the world was gone,
And nothing but a shadow world remain’d.
Six weary years we dwelt in London town,
My mother seeking for her stricken son
Such help and skill as only could be found
In that great cloud of sound; for such it was,
And nothing more, to me. But nought avail’d!
All skill fell powerless—still those weary eyes
Beheld not—still I wearied and grew hard—
Still moan’d and pray’d to God that I might die,
Till that new friend, a neighbour’s child, came near,
Made light of music, gave my soul within
Eyes to perceive and passion to create,
And haunted me with touch, and scent, and sound,
Such as made darkness more divine at times
Than seeing and the sunshine.
                                                 Then at last,
Strange as a trumpet wakening the dead
To wonder and white robes, came blessed light;
Light, light,—a revelation; and I saw.
Yet, for a time, the motion of the world
Look’d dim and ghostly—shapes like phantoms came—
Strange as those wondrous flashes on the ball
Of darkness, and my spirit was oppress’d
With the unaccustom’d burthen of the sense.
Slow, as a lily opens, leaf by leaf,
Light deepen’d—brightening, brightening—till at last,
Full-orb’d, great, golden as a lily’s heart,
Unclosed God’s perfect day.
                                                 Then, as I sat,
Breathless with the new bliss of the bright world,
Soft motion and the flutter of a dress
Disturb’d me. Turning, radiant as a rose,
I saw a face I knew not;—strange and meek,
Not beauteous—eyes not luminous, looks not light,
Like those which I had pictured in my dream;
Yet the face smiled upon me eagerly,
And lighten’d as it smiled,—while, darkening,
I flush’d and murmur’d inarticulate words,
And, trembling like a leaf, she cried aloud
In the same voice that I had loved so long
In darkness—in the same beloved voice
That I had fondled in my shadow-land.
“Do you not know me? I am May!” whereon
I shiver’d and felt cold.
                                       For all the world
Seem’d bitter and a cheat. The face I dream’d,
The light young delicate face with eyes of blue,
Had faded in the golden light of day;
And in its place a pensive twilight cheek,
A common creature of the clay, with eyes
Not luminous like the eyes I made it dream,
Linger’d and smiled. The world seem’d suddenly
Stale and unprofitable—all the bliss of light
Was bitter—all the fragrant sense of love
Seem’d like a wither’d feast-day posy found
At daybreak, when the revellers are gone,
In the stale-smelling ball-room of the feast.
Then I beheld her, like a frighten’d hind,
With widening eyeballs shrink, and feeling shamed
To look so coldly on my little friend,
I squeezed a feeble smile into my cheeks,
And took her hand: she, fluttering from my touch,
Stood musing; and I saw her as she lived—
A pensive woman, delicate-limb’d and small,
With brown hair braided o’er Madonna brows,
And dark eyes suffering from the gentle light
They shed on others: on her brow the light
Falling subdued and gentle. This my May!
This golden-hair, the spirit of my dream!
Nay, then, the world was bitter and a cheat!

     Ah, love, my love! come nearer. Let me kiss
The broad, pure brow; and, kissing, may I kiss
Away all sorrow. Sweeter this soft hair,
Silver’d with the miraculous snows of time,
Than all the luminous looks that e’er beguiled
Rash sailors to the shallows! Yet, at first,
This perfect face repell’d me—it arose
Coldly, like something strange, to which the voice
I knew so well seem’d alien; and I loathed
The light for changing thee!

                                 Then, for long days
The face withdrew, and left me to my thoughts.
And the streets murmur’d, and the world look’d bright,
And shadow-land had died into a dream.
Ne’er had I felt so utterly alone!
Yea, darkness had been blest society;
But now the light was solitude indeed.

Now shall I tell by what slow witchery,
Dear love, I grew to earn for those soft eyes
And that pale, asking face. How, in the light
That was as darkness, unaware, again
I hearken’d for thy foot; and how I wept,
When from a distant chamber came to mine
The trouble of thy singing. Then I cried
Thy name out loudly, like a fever’d man,
And gently up before me rose again
The twilight of thy face; and all at once
I felt I loved it—not as young men love—
Not with the fever’d humour of the flesh—
Not as I loved that wondrous face in dream—
But strangely, clingingly, and helplessly,
As weary men ask rest, as fever’d lips
Crave coolness, as in the parch’d Syrian sands,
Under the sun’s insufferable blaze,
Men seek the shadow of the locust tree.

Yea, how I love thee! Dearest, draw the blind,
And do not light the lamp, but let me sit
In darkness as of old; and play to me
The tune I loved so in my shadow-land,
When I conceived thee other than thou wert,
Yet never purer, dearer! . . . So, O Soul,
What pictures come and fade before thy sight!
All life is hush’d—the world, the daylight, fades
To twilight and a silvery star of sound!


‘A Blind Man’s Love’ was published in Routledge’s Christmas Annual (December, 1869).





THIS is the sky, and thou art a star;
The white moon is nigh, and this is the sky,
The bright clouds go by, and the world lies afar;
This is the sky, and thou art a star!

How do I shine in thy love and thy bliss!
In thy lustre divine how I tremble and shine!
O my love, thou art mine! I am lost while I kiss—
How do I shine in thy love and thy bliss!

Far under our feet, the world lessens to light:
How far and how sweet doth it gleam at our feet!
Around us how fleet shoot the stars of the night,
While under our feet the world lessens to light.

Stars fixed in the blue, and stars shooting to fall,
Stars lost in the dew of the strange silent blue,
I thrill through and through as I look on them all,—
Stars fixed in the blue, and stars shooting to fall.

So still, love, so deep, heaven closes us round:
The worlds shine in sleep, so still and so deep!
Still closer I creep, to thy heart, with no sound:
So still, love, so deep, heaven closes us round.

This is the sky, and thou art a star!
All bright things go by, for this is the sky.
Do we live? must we die? Is the world then so far?
O this is the sky, and thou art a star!

                                                                                     JOHN BANKS.



‘Supreme Love’ was published in St. Paul’s Magazine, February, 1872. The same issue contained Buchanan’s essay on Dickens, ‘The “Good Genie” of Fiction’, ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’ (anonymous) and ‘Phil Blood’s Leap’ (‘by the author of “St. Abe and His Seven Wives”’). ‘John Banks’ was another pseudonym which Buchanan used occasionally, mostly in The Argosy.







IN a corner dark of Vanity Fair
     A dingy booth you’ll see,
Old Mother Rumour sitteth there,
     And leereth vacantly;
No thing on earth hath so true an air,
     And so false a tongue, as she.

Lean she is, and wither’d, and old,
     And her dress is very queer,
Cut in the fashion of folk long cold,
     Buried this many a year;
Sew’d with scarlet and patch’d with gold,
     Yet yellow and grim and sere.

But the drollest part of the old girl’s dress
     Is a head-cap strange to sight,
Fashion’d so curiously you’d guess
     ’Twas a death’s-head grinning white:
It waggles about while the people press
     From morning until night.

At the waxwork door she sits so grey,
     With a greedy leer and grim;
If you go in from the light of day
     And find all dark and dim,
And two candles guttering away
     For her palsied hands to trim.

When the show is full with a dozen or so,
     The old Hag quits her seat,
And shuffles down the ghastly row
     With trembling hands and feet;
In the draughty air the rushlights blow,
     As she doth her tale repeat.

Around her purblind glance is cast
     On the figures pale and tall,
Her memory is failing fast
     And she confuses all:
King and Headsman, Present and Past,
     The mighty with the small!

For her stock of figures is ever the same,
     And neither more nor less;
But she must change the dress and the name,
     And it causes her distress;
[Tho’ her blunders cause her little shame
     And little bashfulness.]

He who was lately old John Knox
     To-morrow may be Pope Joan!
Times are busy, and grim Guy Fawkes
     To Robespierre has grown!
Sink the Baptist a little in his socks,
     And Luther stands full blown!

See here the last great murderer
     Stands praying in the cart;
But the self-same figure I aver
     Was lately Buonaparte—
Just as the public thoughts prefer,
     She dresses each with art.

Queen or harlot, or both in one,
     Beggars and priests and kings;
Every figure beneath the sun
     Wherewith Fame’s trumpet rings.
How well on the whole the trick is done
     With the same old stock of things!



Listen, my love! But yesternight
     When the fun of the Fair all slept,
I saw the booth in the dark all white,
     And under the canvas crept;
And there I looked on the strangest sight,
     Hid from the most adept!

’Twas black, pitch black, in the booth within,
     When I to peep began,
But suddenly the moon look’d in,
     Thro’ a rent in the tent, all wan;
And the waxen figures both plump and thin,
     Stood looming, woman and man!

The waxen figures stood white like death,
     In their varied dress all dumb;
I look’d upon them, and felt my breath
     Like a chill wind go and come;—
And in the midst, like a hideous wraith,
     The Hag!—on the gilded drum!

On the gilded drum she sat and smiled,
     And her head was a skull so gray,
Which wagg’d about like the head-dress wild
     She weareth all the day;
And at her side where she mused and smiled,
     A glittering scythe there lay.

A skeleton form with eyes so red,
     She sat without a sound,
And she kick’d her heels, and roll’d her head,
     In a reverie profound;
And the waxen shapes like the very dead,
     In their quaint attire, stood round!

The moon, thro’ a rent in the canvas sheet,
     Lit her from head to heel,
Her rags had fallen to her feet,
     And she glitter’d bright as steel:
Schoolboys in dreams such spectres meet,
     After a gluttonous meal.

With my heart in my mouth, afraid and chill,
     I ceased to gape and stare,
And I breathed again ’neath the stars so still,
     And the heavens so blue and fair;
And I rush’d to the top of a windy hill.
     To get a breath of air.



Then in I came from the chill of night,
     And into your little room,
And the vaporous breath of the moon was bright
     Around you in the gloom;
And you waken’d up in your bedgown white
     To see my pale face loom.

And the hideous nightmare seem’d by far
     More sad than all things seem,
As your face, like a little drowsy star,
     Broke to a welcome gleam—
“My dear,” you murmur’d, “how late you are,
     I have had such a lovely dream!”



‘The Waxwork’ was published in The Saint Paul’s Magazine, June, 1872. During the 1870s Buchanan published various poems and essays in The Saint Paul’s Magazine under a variety of pseudonyms or anonymously (including ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot’). Although anonymous, I have a feeling The Waxwork is by Buchanan since it shares its weird tone with another poem, entitled ‘Vanity Fair’, which concluded the 1882 collection, Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour (available at the Internet Archive).



Poems from Other Sources - continued

or back to List of Poems from Other Sources








The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search