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{Robert Buchanan - The Poet of Modern Revolt by Archibald Stodart-Walker}





Half a decade ago, a contemporary author of distinction,1 writing without prejudice either to the exaggeration of comedy or the painfulness of accuracy, asked the question—‘Are there many Buchanans whom we have all been ignorantly confounding?’ and proceeded forthwith to picture various Robert Buchanans with more or less antagonistic methods and sympathies. ‘There is a poet Buchanan, Byronic and brilliant, who is only nominally the same as Buchanan the mystic (not to be confounded with Buchanan the materialist). There is also Buchanan the complete letter-writer, who is unrelated to Buchanan the author of “Christian Romances,” who, in his turn, suffers from being identified with the Buchanan who writes novels for the other person, and it need hardly be said that none of these gentlemen is Buchanan the essayist, or Buchanan the business man. . . . They were all born in different years, and some of them are dead. Several are men of genius, and one or two are Philistines whom the others dislike.’


1 Zangwill.

2   The licence of a professional humorist is not to be called in question by a critic who poaches, and we are only grateful that we are able to discover an essential truth underlying this ‘jeu d’esprit.’ It is a truth which, perhaps in a partial sense, accounts for the fact that the brilliance of Mr. Buchanan’s genius as a poet has not received that recognition from contemporary estimation which it deserves, even if (by the poet himself) not desired or expected. It is a truth that can hardly be disputed that the comparative brilliance of a man’s more ephemeral work may detract from the proper estimation of what is more ambitious in conception, and deals more with questions that lie beyond mere ephemeræ and contemporary phases. A rapidly acting, rapidly thinking, rapidly varying generation, desirous chiefly of food which appeases a momentary appetite, is never particularly anxious to trouble itself with efforts of a serious or purposeful nature; especially when that work runs directly in the teeth of accepted beliefs and traditional custom. There can also be no doubt had Mr. Buchanan been merely a poet and less of a man, had his actions and utterances in other directions been less purposeful and skilful, that probably his poetry would have had more vogue. But the man Buchanan has always counted as a force in the storm and stress of contemporary opinion, and the fact that he is like Alan Breck, ‘a bonny fighter,’ that he is generally to be found on the side opposite to those 3 who sit in the seat of custom, and that he does not swim by choice in the direction of popular and evidently successful tendencies, goes far to account for a certain hostility. Mr. Buchanan has ever been keen to discern a possible falsehood in the assumed infallibility of contemporary truth; and the average mortal, finding happiness and comfort in the fond embrace of his own easy-souled conceptions of life and death, looks askance and with little respect on one who tilts at intellectual, moral, and social conventions that custom and the pursuit of his own point of view have made dear. We may respect those who tell us unwholesome truths, but we seldom love them; and most of us, however warlike physically, are either too lazy, too tired, too stupid, or too indifferent to take any serious heed of one who desires to carry the war of the mind and of the soul into the camps we have so comfortably furnished for our own peaceful, moral, and intellectual indolence and self-satisfaction. And however much we may dislike Mr. Buchanan’s persistency and method of attack, none can doubt the honesty of his purpose. ‘Trimming,’ in his eyes, is one of the cardinal vices, and no susceptibilities—moral, theological, or literary—which we may possess ever deter him from speaking the truth as it occurs to him. For compromise he has as much liking as Mr. Morley, and granted that he is satisfied with his grasp of a particular truth, however far from the mark his limitations may keep him from the ultimate truth, he feels with Whately 4 that ‘it makes all the difference in the world whether we put truth in the first place or in the second.’ There are few of our national idols that he has not assailed, either with the full strength of his biggest guns, or with gentle tappings on possible feet of clay, and his attacks have not been when time has modified the absorbing attention of the particular idolatry or economy concerned, but when the soul of the people is piping hot, at moments when universal acclamation almost drowns the protesting voice which becomes, comparatively speaking, less efficacious than the traditional voice crying in the wilderness. The church of the people, the political idols of the hour; the cherished religious and political notions of the moment, rolled like sweet morsels under the tongue of contemporary opinion; the general triumphantly crowned by title, decoration, and epistolary ode; the scientists, accepting and working on the principle of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest; yes, even the very gods themselves, are all asked to stand and deliver, and declare whether they are not, after all, flying under false colours or running contrary to eternal moral truths. The nation itself, carried away, it may be, by the sensuousness of war, by the intoxication brought on by too long draughts at the fount of Patriotism, by the conception of universal Anglification, given to run riot in idolatries, ‘congregating in absurdities, drifting into vanities, planning short-sightedly, plotting dementedly, waxing out of proportion, overblown, affected, pretentious, 5 bombastical, hypercritical, pedantic, fantastically delicate’ (to quote Mr. George Meredith), may rouse the literary protest, yes, often the literary anger, of one who at any rate has never been troubled with any sham hate or sham affection. Thus a combination of personal circumstances, which though perhaps indicating a certain want of perspective, yet reflect an undoubted spirit of bravery upon the man who fears neither man, god, nor devil in the assertion of his point of view, has distracted in no small way, the attention of contemporary study from the poet’s more ambitious work. It is not for us to attach the blame only to Mr. Buchanan’s detractors. In his heart hating no man, the poet has throughout his career been at daggers-drawn with men of all classes, creeds, and professlons, for the simple reason that, concomitant with the growth and maturity of his general point of  view, he has retained an almost childish sensitiveness to criticism, and a fanatical hatred of what he has deemed critical injustice. The result of this want of adaptability to things as they are has been that his life has been one of continued strife; but in recalling this fact, let us not forget that the men he has challenged to literary combat and assailed with his heaviest battalions, have not been those who were striving with feeble wings to flutter their way up the lower rungs of the ladder of fame, but those who had reached. or imagined that they had reached, to the very pinnacle of Parnassus. As he has said, ‘I’ve popt at vultures circling skyward, I’ve made the 6 carrion-hawks a byword, but never caused a sigh or sob in the breast of mavis or cockrobin, nay, many such have fed out of my hand and blest me.’ He is voluntarily, as he calls himself, ‘The Ishmael of Song,’ and his wandering in the wilderness no doubt brought him more satisfaction than an attempt to attain contemporary success by a careful study of the principles of compromise, expediency, and adaptability. ‘You must not gather,’ he wrote, ‘from this that I am in revolt against my fellow-workers; on the contrary, I love the inky fellows immensely, when they are not spoiled by prosperity. And frankly, I myself have not escaped the charge of selling my birthright for a mess of pottage; of gaining my bread by hodman’s labour, when I might have been sitting empty- stomached on Parnassus. Yes, I of all men; I who after ten years of solitude should have gone mad if I had not rushed back into the thick of life, yet who, even there, have been haunted by the ghosts of the solitude left behind, and have never bowed my head to any idol or cared for any recompense but the love of men. My errors, however, have arisen from excess of human sympathy, from ardour of human activity, rather than from any great love for the loaves and fishes. Lacking the pride of intellect, I have by superabundant activity tried to prove myself a man among men, not a mere “littérateur.” Moreover, I have never yet discovered in myself, or in any man, any gift which entitles me to despise the meanest of my fellows. So I have stooped to 7 hodman’s work occasionally, mainly because I cannot pose in the godlike manner of your lotus-eaters. I have not humoured my reputation. I have thought no work undignified which did not convert me into a Specialist or a Prig. I have written for all men and in all moods. But the birthright which belongs to all Poets has never been offered by me in any market, and my manhood has never been stained by any sham hate or sham affection. With a heart overflowing with love, I have gathered to myself only hate and misconception,—and all this for one reason only, that I have endeavoured to avoid self-worship, and to find some slight foothold of human  truth.’
     But that is beside our purpose here. The object we have set ourselves to accomplish is, to view in a panoramic fashion the more noteworthy of Mr. Buchanan’s poetical works, and in doing so, to make no attempt to criticise, estimate, dogmatise, or controvert, but as far as possible to allow the poet to plead for himself, and indicate his own poetic and philosophic significance. The task is comparatively simple, for throughout his work the personality of the poet, or rather the mental and spiritual evidence of it, asserts itself in no shadowy fashion, and also because Mr. Buchanan has from time to time supplied us with prose notes as to his own tentatives and his own definite outlook on life, and as to the relation of his teaching to the whole momentous question of the struggle for existence.
8   For the more important of Mr. Buchanan’s poetical utterances deal with the works of God the All-Father, as they are revealed to the consciousness and elaborated in the imagination of the poet. The conception of Nature and the principles which underlie its workings, as being the basis on which we view the God-Father, was early grasped by the poet, and it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that his relation to Nature is more or less the relationship of nearly all religious systems, being founded on a desire to protect the weak against the strong. It is, in fact, a protest against the principle of the All-Father—the egoistic principle of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. His sympathy with those who fall in the struggle is supplemented by a bitterness against Nature, for what he deems to be useless cruelty and suffering, which the poet fails to recognise as being at the basis of that very evolutionary amelioration which he would be the first to herald. The struggle of life and decay which is the daily and hourly process of existence, which, as has been said by Lucretius, ‘imparts to the infinite and all-pervading movement of Nature the interest and the life of human passion on the grandest and widest sphere of action, and makes each particular object in Nature fragrant with a deeper   meaning,’ inspires no sympathy in the poet. But despite his revolt against the tyranny of Nature the poet is essentially an optimist; he believes, he affirms, he abjures negation. ‘I have sought only one 9 thing in life—the solution of its Divine meaning; and sometimes I think I have found it. But in an age when the gigman assures us there are no gods, when to believe in anything but hand-to-mouth science and dish-and-all-swallowing politics is a sign of intellectual decrepitude, when a man cannot start better than by believing that all humanity’s previous starts have been blunders, I would rather go back to Balzac and swear by Godhead and the Monarchy, than drift about with nothing to swear by at all. And absolutely I don’t know whether there are gods or not. I know only that there is Love and lofty Hope and Divine Compassion, and that if these are delusions, you and I and all of us are no better than infusoria. If “this” is the only life I am to live, the devil help me!—for if the gods cannot, the devil must’; and again, ‘I, for my part, who was nourished on the husks of socialism and the chill water of infidelity, who was born in Robert Owen’s “New Moral World,” and who scarcely heard even the name of God till at ten years of age I went to godly Scotland, have been God-intoxicated ever since I saw the mountains and the sea. Without the sanction of the supernatural, the certainty of the superhuman, life to me is nothing.’

     I do believe in God: that He
Made Heaven and Earth, and you and me!
Nay, I believe in all the host,
     Of Gods, from Jesus down to Joss,
But honour best and reverence most
     That guileless God who bore the Cross.

But early enough he sees that the Calvinistic idea 10 of God the Father as stern and inexorable is the true one. Nature works on unmoved, unchecked by any cry born of humanity.

Oh, Thou art pitiless! They call Thee Light,
     Law, Justice, Love; but Thou art pitiless.
What thing of earth is precious in Thy sight,
     But weary waiting on and soul’s distress?
     When dost Thou come with glorious hands to bless
The good man that dies cold for lack of Thee?
     When bringst Thou garlands for our happiness?
Whom dost Thou send but Death to set us free?
Blood runs like wine—foul spirits sit and rule—
     The weak are crushed in every street and lane—
He who is generous becomes the fool
     Of all the world, and gives his life in vain.
Wert Thou as good as Thou art beautiful,
     Thou couldst not bear to look upon such pain.

It is not a new cry, but it is a cry that will eternally spring from the hearts of such as desire a meaning for the existence of the inexorable law of the survival of the fittest and the crushing of the weak. It is the helping meed, as we have said, of most religious systems, to step in and help the fallen, becoming in so doing what Mr. Buchanan has somewhere said, in a spirit of antagonism to Nature, and in consequence to God the Father. Human misery, human aims, human despair, and the long wailing cry of centuries to a silent creator, it is these that rouse the blood, the fire, the eloquence—yes, the disdain of the poet, tuned, it may be, to a keynote of love and pity for ‘Him’ whom he addresses.

     Helpless Thou seemest to redeem our plight—
Thy lamp shines on shut eyes—each Spirit springs
     To its own stature still in Thy despite—
While haggard Nature round Thy footstool clings,
     Pale, powerless, sitt’st Thou, in a Lonely Light.

11   The poet steps in where the scientist fears, or rather refuses, to tread. The point of view of the scientist at this stage is one of acceptation—that of the poet, of questioning. Science accepts the principle, the poet asks why? In other words, he judges the power that made him by the power that he possesses. The position of both is logical enough. The evolutionary spirit regards all intellectuality, all consciousness, all spiritualisation, as dependent on sensation and a certain elaboration of simple movements, and records in arbitrary terms accordingly without proceeding further; the poet, regarding these as the definite preordained dispensations of a creator, demands an explanation.
     This note continues throughout the poet’s work, ever questioning, ever believing, ever hoping on, though at times, even in the despair of his soul, crying, ‘Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom too?’

Black is the night, but blacker my despair;
The world is dark—I walk I know not where;
     Yet phantoms beckon still, and I pursue,
Phantoms still phantoms! there they loom—and there,
     ‘Adonai! Lord! art thou a Phantom too?

He ever seeks an explanation, and with Browning counts this life but a stuff to try the soul’s strength on — educe the man! — ‘What,’ he asks, ‘were such faith worth if this low earth were all, if the tangled threads of our strange human experience were not to be gathered up again, after death’s ascendency, by the God that made man in His likeness—yea, immortal like Himself? Without that certain hope of a divine explanation, without 12 that last hope of heavenly meeting and eternal reconciliation, the life we live would be profitless—as a book left unfinished, as a song half unsung, as a tale just begun.’
     His position to dogmatic Christianity will be revealed as we study the many poems in which Christ, and the Church that was founded in his name, are incidentally considered. For the Church the poet has no pity, little sympathy, and often much contempt; for the Christ he has ever human love and brotherly sympathy for ‘his dream of the world’s salvation.’
     In a prose note appended to the ‘City of Dream,’ Mr. Buchanan supplies us with a keynote, not only to the particular poem concerned, but to the spirit of his whole work. ‘To compare small things with great; the “City of Dream” is an epic of modern revolt and reconciliation. My book attempts to be for the inquiring modern spirit what the lovely vision of Bunyan is for those who still exist in the fairyland of dogmatic Christianity; but dealing as it must with elements more complex and indeterminate, touching on problems which to the orthodox believer do not even exist, it is necessarily less matter of fact, and in all probability less sufficing. Be that as it may, the sympathetic modern will find here the record of his own heartburnings, doubts, and experience, though they may not have occurred to him in the same order, or culminated in the same way; though he may not have passed through the Valley of Dead Gods at all, or looked with 13 wondering eyes on the spectre of the Inconceivable; though he may never have realised to the full, as I have done, the existence of the City without God, or have come at last, footsore and despairing, to find solace and certainty on the brink of the Celestial Ocean. To the orthodox believer in Christianity there is but one righteous Book, the Old and New Testaments. To the present writer all books are righteous which, in one way or another, help the soul on its heavenward pilgrimage, sound the depths of spiritual speculation, and habituate the ear of conscience to the harmonies of some brighter and some more perfect life.’
     From what we have indicated, it will be gathered at once that the poet’s work is not to satisfy those who ‘seek their trim, poetic academe.’

I do not sing aloud in measured tone
Of those fair paths the easy-soul’d pursue.

That he leaves to those who reflect the tendencies of their age, to the poets who mirror the evident present alone, rather than discern the gigantic problems which are growing in the womb of the future. To those who, like the late Mr. Huxley, would confine writers of ‘merely imaginative literature,’ to singing of what they see, or have been taught to see, in the more sensuous side of Nature, Mr. Buchanan must appear the first of heretics. He has the damning quality of being something of a philosopher, not of the academic type, nor of the type that speaks in terms of common men with common experience. 14 He has insight, like all poets and seers. ‘He is indeed a student as other students are (and a philosopher as other philosophers are), but he is emphatically the student and philosopher who sees, who feels, who sings; he is,’ as he has described Mrs. Browning, ‘unique in these days—specifically a poet—one troubled by the great mystery of life, and finding no speech adequate but song.’ As we shall find later, nothing that affects the welfare and interest of humanity, nothing that touches on the drama of life, on the world’s tragedies and comedies—not even the terrific commonplaces and sublime vulgarities of great cities—nothing that affects his spiritual and mental yearnings, aspirations, and  depressions, is outside the spiritualising, idealising, and philosophising of the poet. The hopelessness of the struggle for existence, yet the grandeur of struggling at all; the tyranny of circumstance, with its underlying pathos; the fretting, the fever, the joy, the glamour, the revelations of life; the mystery, the meaning, the end of life; the dreams of the dreamers, the song of the singers, the hands of the helpers; the cries for life, the cries for death; the stillness of God, and the human eyes of Christ; the passions and the envy; the compassion and the sympathy brought on earth by faith in revealed religion; all are seen and sung and taught in the language of the poet or seer. ‘It may safely be affirmed that no subject is unfit for poetic treatment which can be spiritualised to musical form of harmonious and natural numbers.’ Not that Mr. Buchanan is 15 blind as to the dignity of the revelation. ‘According to the dignity of the revelation will be the rank of the poet or seer in the temple. The epic poet is great because his matter is great in the first place, and because he has not fallen below the level of his matter. The dramatist is great by his truth to individual character not his own, and his power of presenting that truth while spiritualising into definite form and meaning some vague situation in the sphere of actual or ideal life. The lyric poet owes his might to the personal character of the emotion aroused by his vision. Then, there are ranks within ranks. Not an eye in the throng, however, but has some object of its own, and some peculiar sensitiveness to light, form, colour. To Milton, a prospect of heavenly vistas, where stately figures walk and cast no shade; but to Pope (a seer, though low down in the ranks), the pattern of teacups, and the peeping of clocked stockings under farthingales. While the rouge on the cheek of modern love betrays itself to the languid yet keen eyes of Alfred de Musset, Robert Browning is proclaiming the depths of tender beauty underlying modern love and its rouge; each is a seer, and each is true, only one sees a truth beyond the other truth. After Wordsworth has penetrated with solemn-sounding footfall into the aisle of the Temple, David Gray follows, and utters a faint cry of beautiful yearning as he dies upon the threshold.’
     Mr. Buchanan, as we have said, has essayed many themes, but there can be no doubt that his 16 latter work, dealing boldly with questions which touch the very heart of religions and theologies, is that upon which the uniqueness and distinction of his position must depend. Over thirty years ago, when he sang only of Pan and his brother gods, of Scottish village life, and ‘of the quiet wonders of the unsung city streets,’ he was concerned with the fact of the scantiness of the artistic treatment of morality and religion in modern art. ‘Religion,’ says Goethe, ‘stands in the same relation to art as any other of the higher interests of life. It is a subject, and its rights are those of all other subjects.’ ‘Yet,’ adds Mr. Buchanan, ‘how scantily are morality and religion represented in modern art! Why, for instance, is our Christianity forgotten as a “subject”? Where is the great poem, where the noble music built on that wondrous theme? Milton, with all his power, is academic, not modern, and with the exception of a few faint utterances of Wordsworth, all our other religious poetry is conventional and inartistic. We hear, indeed, the metallic periods of the didactic teacher, and the feeble wail of the religious enthusiast, but seldom, indeed, are our nobler intellectual and spiritual strivings phrased into perfect song. The reticence of false culture steals over the life of many who might instruct us deeply by their experience, who, if they do speak, are moved by the retrograde spirit of another civilisation, and use the formal periods of an alien tongue. Why, in the name of our new gods, are we still to be bound by the fetters of Prometheus? We are, if not quite 17 Celts, more Celts than Greeks, and, thank Heaven, not altogether an intellectual nation. . . . We are a modern people, slightly barbaric in matters of art; but our natures have a glow of emotion quite unknown to the frigid spirit of Athenian inquiry. There is a great emotional and spiritual life yet unrepresented, there are rude forces not yet brought into play, but all of which must sooner or later have their place in art; and the indigenous product of our experience, however inferior to other civilisations, is yet vastly superior to all exotics grafted on the weakened trunk of what was once a noble tree.’
     From this we cannot but draw the inference that in these early days the poet had in view not only ‘The Book of Orm’ and ‘The City of Dream,’ but also the conception of ‘The Wandering Jew’ and ‘The Ballad of Mary the  Mother.’
     Dealing with Mr. Buchanan’s general method throughout his work, if one can speak of a general method, one might seize hold of his own words and dwell on the ‘Mystic Realism’ that pervades the whole. In a prose note attached to the ‘Drama of Kings,’ the poet says: ‘In the present work, and in the works which have preceded it from the same pen (“Undertones,” “Inverburn,” “London Poems,” and “The Book of Orm”), an attempt is made to combine two qualities which the modern mind is accustomed to regard apart—reality and mystery, earthliness and spirituality. The writer dropped into a world a few years ago like a being fallen from another planet. His first impression 18 was one of surprise and awe: he stood and wondered, and here on the same spot he stands and wonders still. What is nearest to him seems so sublime, unaccountable, and inexhaustible, and occasionally, indeed, so droll and odd, that he has never ceased to regard it with all the eyes of his soul from that day to this. Others may go to the mountain-tops and interrogate the spheres. Wiser men may peruse the Past and see there, afar away, the dreamy poetry for which the spirit eternally yearns. More aquiescent men may look heavenward, slowly and strangely losing the habit of earthly perception altogether. With all these, with all who love beauty near or afar away, in any shape or form, abide the twofold blessing of reverence and love. But the Mystic is occupied hopelessly with what immediately surrounds him. Minuter examination only leads to extreme joy and wonder. To him this ever-present reality is the only mystery, and in its mystery lies its sublime fascination and beauty. Only what is most real and visible and certain is marvellous, and only that which is marvellous has the least fascination. What he sees may be seen by every soul under the sun, for it is the soul’s own reflection in the river of life glassed to a mirror by its own speed. . . . He looks on into the eyes nearest to him, and ah! what distance does he not find there? Approaching each creature as ever from the mystic side, he becomes, in spite of himself, an optimist. The moment he seizes for examination is the divine moment when the creature  19 under examination —be it Buonaparte, Bismarck, or “Barbara Gray”—is at its highest and best, whether that “best” be intellectual beatification or the simple vicarious instinct which merges in the identity of another. He sees the nature spiritualised, in the dim, strange light of whatever soul the creature possesses. This light is often very dim indeed, very doubtful—so doubtful that its very existence is denied by non-mystic men whose musings assume the purely spiritual and unimaginative form. But be the teaching true or false, be the light born in the subject examined, or in the human sentiment that broods over it, this mystic approach to the creature at his highest point of spiritualisation, this mode of approach which seems unnatural to many because it involves the most minute enumeration of details and the most careful display of the very facts which artists try most to conceal, is the only procedure possible to the present writer.   . . . Imagination is not, as some seem to imply, the power of conjuring up the remote and unknowable, but the gift of realising correctly in correct images the truth of things as they are and ever have been. He who can see no poetry in his own time is a very unimaginative person. The truly imaginative being is he who carries his own artistic distance with him, and sees the mighty myths of life, vivid yet afar off, glorified by the truth which is Eternal. How many people can walk out on a starry night, or sit by the side of the sea, unmoved? But let 20 a comet appear, or a star shoot, and they exclaim, “How beautiful!” Let a whale rise up in the water and roar, and they think “How wonderful are the works of God!” These are the people, and their name is legion, who lack as yet the consecrating gleam of the imagination. As for the mystic, he needs neither a comet nor a whale to fill his soul with a sense of the wonderful; he needs still less the dark vistas of tradition or the archaic scenery of obscure periods. Go where he may, his path swarms with poetic  forms. Faces! how they haunt him with their weird and divine significance! What is nearest seems of all the most sublime and unaccountable. . . . In “The Drama of Kings” etc., one view is adopted; not the point of view of the satirist, nor of the historian, but that of the realistic mystic, who, seeking to penetrate deepest of all into the soul, and to represent the soul’s best and finest mood, seizes that moment when the spiritual or emotional nature is most quickened by sorrow or by self-sacrifice, by victory or by defeat.’
     And it will be seen as we proceed further that this mystic realism is never lost sight of. To the very last note of ‘The New Rome’ it is the pervading spirit; and the imaginative spirit is strongest and best when it touches those ‘nearest realities’ of which the poet speaks.

               Even in the unsung city’s streets
Seem’d quiet wonders meet for serious song,
Truth hard to phrase and render musical.
For ah! the weariness and weight of tears,
The crying out to God, the wish for slumber,
They lay so deep, so deep! God heard them all
He set them unto music of His own;                                           21
But easier far the task to sing of kings,
Or weave weird ballads where the moon-dew glistens,
Than body forth this life in beauteous sound.

This mystic realism of the poet reaches its supreme moment perhaps in the poem ‘The Man Accurst,’ the Envoi to ‘The Book of Orm,’ and it is here that by the poet’s own confession the personal keynote is most definitely struck. The same spirit is at work in ‘The Wandering Jew,’ that epos of the world’s despair, in a manner haunting to the extreme.

For lo! I voice to you a mystic thing
Whose darkness is as full of starry gleams
As is a tropic light; in your dreams
This thing shall haunt you and become a sound
Of friendship in still places, and around
Your lives this thing shall deepen and impart
A music to the trouble of the heart,
So that perchance, upon some gracious day,
You may bethink you of the song, and pray
That God may bless the singer for your sake!

And in the core of the whole work of the poet lies a great human sympathy, not a vague, altruistic universality of feeling, academic and cold, but the sympathy of a man with gnawing fears, aspiring hopes, and common temptations for men with like experiences. The gift of tears never fails him: tears, and a note of hope and eternal reconciliation for the meanest. The sense of the tragedy of common life is ever a pressing load, and the faces in the street—the faces of the lost, faces sacred on the altar of infamy and lust—burn into his soul.

These are the Lost, waifs which from wave to wave                     22
     Drift lone, while yonder on the yellow strand
The laughing children run from cave to cave
     And happy lovers wander hand in hand.

The sun shines yonder on the green hillside,
     The bright spire points to Heaven through leafy trees,
The Maiden wears the glory of a Bride,
     The bright babe crows on the young Mother’s knees.

O happy Bride! O happy Mother! born
     To inherit all the light that life can give,
Hear ye these voices out of depths forlorn?
     Know ye these Lost, who die that ye may live?

Is not the last line the discovery, or at least the first truly poetical expression, of a great social truth? Down the deep waters of Death and Despair the poet wanders, finding the foul upas-trees of butcheries and lust casting their shadow, dark and dread, on the Cross of Calvary; until, in the summit of his despair, in a moment of great soul and heart  burning, after giving vent to Philippics, gorgeous in the splendour of their rhetoric, against a Church which for ever had kept the Christ from its doors, he sentences Christ through the voice of the spirit of mankind to walk for ever through the world with all the woes of earth upon his head, searching vainly for a Father God.
     What is asked is the general tenor of the poet’s song?

I do not sing for maidens. They are roses
     Blowing along the pathway I pursue:
No sweeter things the wondrous world discloses,
     And they are tender as the morning dew.
Blessed be maids and children: day and night
Their holy scent is with me as I write.
.          .         .          .         .          .

I do not sing aloud in measured tone                                       23
     Of those fair paths the easy-soul’d pursue;
Nor do I sing for Lazarus alone,
     I sing for Dives and the Devil too.
Ah, would the feeble songs I sing might swell
As high as Heaven and as deep as Hell!

I sing of the stain’d outcast at Love’s feet—
     Love with his wild eyes on the evening light;
I sing of sad lives trampled down like wheat
     Under the heel of Lust, in Love’s despite;
I glean behind those wretched shapes ye see
In the cold harvest-fields of Infamy.

I sing of deathbeds (let no man rejoice
     Till that last piteous touch of all is given!);
I sing of Death and Life with equal voice,
     Heaven watching Hell and Hell illumed by Heaven.
I have gone deep, far down the infernal stair—
And seen the heirs of Heaven arising there!

And yet behind all this sense of the blackness, despair, and apparent injustice of living, the poet is at heart an optimist. ‘To every Soul beneath the sun wide open lies a Heaven of Love.’ Vicarious love and suffering are the refining powers, the very salvation of man, and at the end of all things ‘Man shall arise Lord of all things that be, Last of the Gods, and Heir of all things free.’ While the bloodhounds of war are loose, his cry is a despairing one, his song the song of the slain, and his place by the mighty bivouac of the dead; while the scientist pursues his search for truth in the hope of adding one more drop to the great flood of human emancipation, he sings only the song of the beasts which are to him the martyrs in this evidence of the struggle for existence; but in the long-run he knows, that over all a beckoning hand gleams from the 24 lattices of heaven—however vague and untranslatable the beckon may be.

Pest on these dreary, dolent airs!
     Confound these funeral pomps and poses!
Is Life’s, Dyspepsia’s, and Despair’s,
     And Love’s complexion all chlorosis?
A lie! here’s Health and Mirth and Song,
     The World still laughs and goes a-Maying.
The dismal, doleful, droning Throng
     Are only smuts in sunshine playing!

     Writing to Charles Warren Stoddard, he said: ‘Let us share this secret between us—that though the Gods may be dead, as men say, their wraiths still haunt the earth. Even here in this Babylon, this London, they walk nightly and fulfil their ghostly ministrations. Pan flits through the darkness of Whitechapel; under the cupola of St. Paul’s, I have seen Apollo face to face, Aphrodite has pillowed my head upon her naked breast; and as for the weary, world-worn God of Galilee, he is everywhere, still pleading for us, still wondering that his Father shuts himself away. Was not our Elder Brother out yonder on the Pacific with Father Damien, and is he not here incarnate whenever the bread of charity is broken? The last word of the Soul is not yet said. When it is uttered in the midst of this Belshazzar’s Feast of modern Culture, both Gods and Poets will live again.’
     In more or less of a systematic way, we now propose to deal with the various poetical works of Mr. Buchanan, seeing him more clearly in the lights we have indicated, and viewing him in other 25 garbs as satirist, humorist, and lyrist. For the bard can kick his heels with the merriest of us, whether inspired by Shon Maclean, Vanderdecken or instigated by the Devil incarnate himself. The latter gentleman, with Mr. Buchanan as his sartorial architect, may not be recognised by those who have studied him in the pictures of Milton, Goethe, or Molière, but he certainly is a living creature, gifted with human eyes and human sympathies. Has not Mr. Buchanan been told that Hell is now the only place where anybody believes in Heaven?






Three volumes, published between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five, are what Mr. Buchanan has himself described as his ‘Poems of Probation,’ wherein ‘I have fairly hinted what I am trying to assimilate in life and thought.’ ‘Undertones,’ dedicated to John Westland Marston, was published in 1863; ‘Idylls and Legends of Inverburn,’ in 1865; and ‘London Poems,’ with a note dedicatory to W. Hepworth Dixon, in 1866. The biographical details which surround the publication of these volumes with more than a pathetic halo have been supplied to us on more than one occasion by the poet. Two years after the publication of ‘London Poems,’ a small volume entitled ‘David Gray, and other Essays,’ left Mr. Buchanan’s hands. To lovers of the poet’s work there is much that is touched with sacredness in this volume; and in the biographical notice of David Gray, ‘the young poet of the Luggie,’ one learns of the dismal material outlook that met the two friends as they walked ‘in the spring, at the golden gates of morning.’ And directly enough for all 27 purposes of fidelity, two of these volumes of poems are laid with almost breaking heart on the cairn of the dead friend. The prologue ‘To David in Heaven’ of the ‘Undertones,’ and ‘Poet Andrew’ in ‘The Idylls and Legends’—in which, in the metaphor and language of the imaginative writer, the poet takes a backward glance over the life and work of the dead friend—are both tributes to David Gray. To the former must be ascribed more than an ordinate place in the roll of Mr. Buchanan’s personal notes. There is so much of the poet’s own tentatives and aspirations, and so sure a sign of that splendid fidelity to friendship which has always been a characteristic of Mr. Buchanan’s life, that we need not trouble ourselves with apologies for rather voluminous quotations. Of poems written ‘In Memoriam,’ though not elaborately analytical like the work of the late Laureate, nor possessing the academic stateliness of ‘Lycidas,’ in its personal warmth, its unrestrained yet simple confessions of love, its unfettered avowal of the doubts and fears and hopes which meet the searcher after truth at the very threshold of the outlook, it is unequalled. An occasional halt, an occasional line written in despite of ‘mere’ literature, does not detract from the sincerity, literary and personal, of the young poet’s first published lines:

         Lo! the slow moon foaming
         Thro’ fleecy mists of gloaming,
Furrowing with pearly edge the jewel-powder’d sky!
         Lo, the bridge moss-laden,
         Arch’d like foot of maiden,
And on the bridge, in silence, looking upward, you and I!
         Lo, the pleasant season                                                              28
         Of reaping and of mowing—
The foam-fringed moon above,—beneath, the river duskily flowing!
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

         Do I dream, I wonder?
         As, sitting sadly under
A lonely roof in London, thro’ the grim square pane I gaze?
         Here of you I ponder,
         In a dream, and yonder
The still streets seem to stir and breathe beneath the white moon’s rays.
         By the vision cherish’d,
         By the dark hope bravèd,
Do I but dream a hopeless dream, in the city that slew you, David?
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

         Poet gentle-hearted,
         Are you then departed,
And have you ceased to dream the dream we loved of old so well?
         Has the deeply cherish’d
         Aspiration perish’d,
And are you happy, David, in that heaven where you dwell?
         Have you found the secret
         We, so wildly, sought for,
Is your young soul enswath’d, at last, in the singing robes you fought for?

The meaning, the Divine meaning of life and living action, was in these younger, as in these latter, days all that he sought:

         Whether it be bootless,
         Profitless, and fruitless,—
The weary aching upward strife to heights we cannot reach;

and again he cries:

         Has the strife no ending?
         Has the song no meaning?

And touching reverently the volume of the dead poet-friend, he continues:

         The aching and the yearning,
         The hollow, undiscerning,
Uplooking want I still retain, darken the leaves I touch—
         Pale promise, with much sweetness                                            29
         Solemnising incompleteness,
But ah, you knew so little then—and now you know so much!
         By the vision cherish’d,
         By the dark hope bravèd,
Have you, in heaven, shamed the song, by a loftier music, David?

         Tho’ the world could turn from you,
         This, at least, I learn from you:
Beauty and Truth, tho’ never found, are worthy to be sought,
         The singer, upward-springing,
         Is grander than his singing,
And tranquil self-sufficing joy illumes the dark of thought.
         This, at least, you teach me,
         In a revelation:
That gods still snatch, as worthy death, the soul in its aspiration.
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

         Noble thought produces
         Noble ends and uses,
Noble hopes are part of Hope wherever she may be,
         Noble thought enhances
         Life and all its chances,
And noble self is noble song,—all this I learn from thee!
         And I learn, moreover,
         ’Mid the city’s strife too,
That such faint song as sweetens Death can sweeten the singer’s life too!
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

         But ah, that pale moon foaming
         Thro’ fleecy mists of gloaming,
Furrowing with pearly edge the jewel-powder’d sky,
         And ah, the days departed
         With your friendship gentle-hearted,
And ah, the dream we dreamt that night, together, you and I!
         Is it fashion’d wisely,
         To help us or to blind us,
That at each height we gain we turn, and behold a heaven behind us?

We have quoted at some length, for it seems to us that here, ‘in the spring, at the golden gates of morning,’ we catch a clear note of the upward striving and the yearning for a solution which is never absent from Mr. Buchanan’s more ambitious 30 work. It is a sincere note throughout, and never sincerer than when it touches on the personal relationship of the poets. It is not a subject for the cold pen of one whose claim is only that of sympathy; but it cannot be released from our passing observation, that never was poet more faithful to heart ties. His friend, his wife, his father, his mother, to these sacred ties he ever remained faithful, and the heart and the voice never tire of pouring forth some personal tribute, either to the

Father on earth for whom I’ve wept bereaven,1
Father more dear than any father in heaven;

to his mother:

One deathless flame, one holy name,
One light that shines where’er I move,
Are thine, out of whose life I came,
Through whom I live and love;

or his wife:

So, sweetheart, I have given unto thee
Not only such poor song as here I twine,
But Hope, Ambition, all of mine or me,
My flesh and blood and more, my soul divine,
Take all, take all.

     The three volumes which have their right place in our consideration at present, although not revealing in any marked degree the light of mysticism and of mystic realism that make ‘The Book of Orm,’ ‘The City of Dream,’ and ‘The Wandering Jew’ so distinctive in modern imaginative literature, are of value not only as


1 A word which, despite much criticism, the poet refused to surrender.

31 recording the first-fruits of what the poet was assimilating from Nature without and God within, but as the first links of a chain of ideas unbroken in sequence. From the proem to David Gray in ‘Undertones,’ published in 1863, to the last line of ‘The New Rome,’ published in 1899, the same tendencies are at work, the same views are conceived, though evolved and elaborated under the growth of the poet’s personality, and the variation of environment and circumstance. We have the same yearning, the same hopes, virtually the same beliefs:

I end as I began,
I think as first I thought.

     Though imbued by early training with the classic spirit, Mr. Buchanan does not often wander in the garden of Academus, nor has he much parley with the reader’s soul through the medium of the poetic Academe. ‘Care for statuesque woes and nude intellectualities moving on a background of antique landscape’ has never troubled Mr. Buchanan much. But in his article entitled from ‘Æschylus to Victor Hugo,’ it is easy to comprehend the depth—rather width—of his classical skill, and in his first volume he essays the use of his Celtic imagination to flights in Arcady and in other groves where the Pagan gods dwell, with Pan, with Polypheme, Selene, and even with Ades, King of Hell. In ‘Undertones,’ if we have nothing else, we have atmosphere and drama. No one but a dramatist 32 could have written ‘Polypheme’s Passion,’ nor even ‘Pygmalion the Sculptor,’ and seldom if ever have we come nearer to feeling the glow, the spirit, and the abandon of paganism than in the poem called ‘Pan,’ and in the poetical ‘jeu d’esprit’ ‘The Satyr’; and if the volume, with all its fine workmanship and dramatic power, was justified by nothing else, we would dare to quote a short effort, ‘Antony in Arms,’ as combining dramatic action, characterisation, and truth to literary and historic tradition unequalled in poems of the kind. We give it in full.


Lo, we are side by side!—One dark arm furls
     Around me like a serpent warm and bare;
The other, lifted ’mid a gleam of pearls,
     Holds a full golden goblet in the air:
Her face is shining through her cloudy curls
     With light that makes me drunken unaware,
And with my chin upon my breast I smile
Upon her, darkening inward all the while.

And thro’ the chamber curtains, backward roll’d
     By spicy winds that fan my fever’d head,
I see a sandy flat slope yellow as gold
     To the brown banks of Nilus wrinkling red
In the slow sunset; and mine eyes behold
     The West, low down beyond the river’s bed,
Grow sullen, ribb’d with many a brazen bar,
Under the white smile of the Cyprian star.

A bitter Roman vision floateth black
     Before me, in my dizzy brain’s despite;
The Roman armour brindles on my back,
     My swelling nostrils drink the fumes of fight:
But then, she smiles upon me!—and I lack
     The warrior will that frowns on lewd delight,
And, passionately proud and desolate,
I smile an answer to the joy I hate.

Joy coming uninvoked, asleep, awake,                                         33
     Makes sunshine on the grave of buried powers;
Ofttimes I wholly loathe her for the sake
     Of manhood slipt away in easeful hours:
But from her lips mild words and kisses break,
     Till I am like a ruin mock’d with flowers;
I think of Honour’s face—then turn to hers—
Dark, like the splendid shame that she confers.

Lo, how her dark arm holds me!—I am bound
     By the soft touch of fingers light as leaves:
I drag my face aside, but at the sound
     Of her low voice I turn—and she perceives
The cloud of Rome upon my face and round
     My neck she twines her odorous arms and grieves,
Shedding upon a heart as soft as they
Tears ’tis a hero’s task to kiss away!

And then she loosens from me, trembling still
     Like a bright throbbing robe, and bids me ‘go!’—
When pearly tears her drooping eyelids fill,
     And her swart beauty whitens into snow;
And lost to use of life and hope and will,
     I gaze upon her with a warrior’s woe,
And turn, and watch her sidelong in annoy—
Then snatch her to me, flush’d with shame and joy!

Once more, O Rome! I would be son of thine—
     This constant prayer my chain’d soul ever saith—
I thirst for honourable end—I pine
     Not thus to kiss away my mortal breath.
But comfort such as this may not be mine—
     I cannot even die a Roman death:
I seek a Roman’s grave, a Roman’s rest—
But, dying, I would die upon her breast!

In ‘Pan’ the ‘white-haired, low-lidded, gentle, aged god’ sings forth, in his most gloriously egoistic way, his own perfection and his own powers. The poem is on the whole the most ambitious and the most successful in the volume. To use conventional terms, we might say that the spirit of the poem is maintained throughout, the imagination of the poet seldom flags, and 34 altogether there breathes a joy of living which contrasts strangely with our own Western gloom, born under newer gods and newer civilisations. From this pagan joy of life we can well appreciate the fact that in ‘The Wandering Jew’ the poet puts into the mouth of. the accuser the charge that, at the birth of the new religion,

All other gentle gods that gladden’d man
Faded—fled away! the priests of Pan
That, singing by Arcadian rivers, rear’d
Their flowery altars, wept and disappear’d;
And men forgot the fields and the sweet light,
Joy, and all wonders of the day and night,
All splendours of the sense, all happy things,
Art, and the happy Muse’s ministerings,
Forgot that radiant house of flesh divine
Wherein each soul is shut as in a shrine;

and also understand why in ‘Pan at Hampton Court’ in ‘The Earthquake’ there is this song (dramatic of course in its conception and utterance):

Oh, who will worship the great god Pan
     Here in the streets with me?
Sad and tearful and weary and wan
     Is the god who died on the tree;
But Pan is under and Dian above,
     Though the dead god cannot see,
And the merry music of youth and love
     Returns eternallie!

And though we digress, it is wise that we should recognise from the first that to the poet the human body is no ‘lazar- house of flesh.’ It is the temple in which our Godhood dwells. The essence of God is viewed through our own souls. Human passions, human desires, human aspirations are not the evidences of our birth as miserable sinners, but 35 are the sacred fires of Nature. Lust, treacheries, and butcheries are born of the conventional devil certainly, but to confuse human passions and desires, born of a Godhead, with unholy lust is, in the mind of the poet, to put a premium on the latter.
     Although one can hardly speak of ‘splendid imagery’ in ‘Undertones,’ and although we miss the mystic weirdness of the maturer work of the poet, there is much in ‘Pan’ and other poems in this volume which essays picturesqueness and beauty of imagery in a language which is of the simplest.

When the cool aspen-fingers of the Rain
Feel for the eyelids of the earth in spring,
.          .         .          .         .          .

                     When Thunder, waving wings,
Groans, crouching from your lightning spears, and then
Springs at your lofty silence with a shriek!

     The following two extracts will give some idea of Mr. Buchanan’s method:

I, Pan, with ancient and dejected head
Nodding above its image in the pool,
And large limbs stretch’d their length on shadowy banks,
Did breathe such weird and awful ravishment,
Such symmetry of sadness and sweet sound,
Such murmurs of deep boughs and hollow cells,
That neither bright Apollo’s hair-strung lute,
Nor Heré’s queenly tongue when her red lips
Flutter to intercession of love-thoughts
Throned in the counsel-keeping eyes of Zeus,
Nor airs from heaven, blow sweetlier. Hear me, gods
Behind her veil of azure, Artemis
Turn’d pale and listen’d; mountains, woods, and streams
And every mute and living thing therein,
Marvell’d, and hush’d themselves to hear the end—
Yea, far away, the fringe of the green sea
Caught the faint sound, and with a deeper moan
Rounded the pebbles on the shadowy shore.
Whence, in the season of the pensive eve,                                    36
The earth plumes down her weary, weary wings;
The Hours, each frozen in his mazy dance,
Look scared upon the stars and seem to stand
Stone-still, like chisell’d angels mocking Time;
And woods and streams and mountains, beasts and birds,
And serious hearts of purblind men, are hush’d;
While music sweeter far than any dream
Floats from the far-off silence, where I sit
Wondrously wov’n about with forest boughs—
Through which the moon peeps faintly, on whose leaves
The unseen stars sprinkle a diamond dew—
And shadow’d in some water that not flows,
But, pausing, spreads dark waves as smooth as oil
To listen!


     Wherefore, ye gods, with this my prophecy
I sadden those sweet sounds I pipe unseen.
From dimly lonely places float the sounds
To haunt the regions of the homeless air,
Whatever changeful season ye vouchsafe
To all broad worlds which, hearing, whisper, ‘Pan!’
And thence they reach the hearts of lonely men,
Who wearily bear the burthen and are pain’d
To utterance of fond prophetic song,
Who singing smile, because the song is sweet,
Who die, because they cannot sing the end.

Of other poems, the metre of ‘The Satyr’ rattles on like a highland burn after rain, and is rich with Pagan colour and the joy of living. ‘The dews and rains mingle in his blood, the wind stirs his veins with the leaves of the wood, he drinks strength from the sun’:

The changes of earth,
     Water, air, ever stirring,
     Disturb me, conferring
My sadness or mirth.

‘Polypheme’s Passion’ is, considered dramatically, a fine piece of art, the poetic protests of love which the Cyclops conceives for Galatea, ‘she 37 alone who is worthy of the conversation and serious consideration of such a god as he,’ being punctuated by the alternating sceptical and admiring Silenus. Here is a description of Bacchus:

I know no thing more beautiful than he
When, dripping odours cool,
     Deep-purpled, like a honey-bosom’d flower
For which the red mouth buzzes like a bee,
He bursts from thy deep caverns gushingly,
     And throws his pleasure round him in a shower,
And sparkles, sparkles, like the eyes that see,
In sunshine, murmuring for very glee,
     And bursting beaded bubbles until sour
Lips tremble into moist anticipation
Of his rich exultation!

And here is Galatea:

Her voice hath gentle sweetness, borrowèd
     From soft tide-lispings on the pebbly sand,
’Tis like the brooding doves in junipers;
     White as a shell of ocean is her hand,
Wherein, with rosy light, the pink blood stirs!
Her hair excels the fruitage of the beech
Wherein the sun runs liquid gleam on gleam;
Her breasts are like two foaming bowls of cream,
A red straw-berry in the midst of each!
     And the soft gold-down on her silken chin
Is like the under side of a ripe peach—
     A dimple dipping honeyly therein!

Speaking of Love’s influence on his heart, Polypheme says:

‘My heart is . . .
It is as mild as patient flocks in fold.
I am as lonely as the snowy peak
Of Dardanos, and, like an eagle, Love
Stoops o’er me, helpless, from its eyrie above,
And grasps that lamb, my Soul, within its beak.

The imagery is sustained throughout the volume, 38 and occasionally the poet rises to heights of great dignity, as, for instance, in the stately periods addressed by Penelope to her absent Ulysses, commencing:

Whither, Ulysses, whither dost thou roam,
Roll’d round with wind-led waves that render dark
The smoothly-spinning circle of the sea?
         .          .         .          .         .

Lo! Troy has fallen, fallen like a tower,
And the mild sun of a less glorious day
Gleams faintly on its ruins.
         .          .         .          .         .

And all the air is hollow of my joy.
         .          .         .          .         .

But thy deep strength is in the solemn dawn,
And thy proud step is in the plumèd noon,
And thy grave voice is in the whispering eve.
         .          .         .          .         .

Behold, now I am mock’d!—Suspicion
Mumbles my name between his toothless gums;
         .          .         .          .         .

                                     And when the winds
Swoop to the waves and lift them by the hair,
And the long storm-roar gathers, on my knees
I pray for thee. Lo! even now, the deep
Is garrulous of thy vessel tempest-tost.
         .          .         .          .         .

     My very heart has grown a timid mouse,
Peeping out, fearful, when the house is still.
Breathless I listen thro’ the breathless dark,
And hear the cock counting the leaden hours,
And, in the pauses of his cry, the deep
Swings on the flat sand with a hollow clang;
And, pale and burning-eyed, I fall asleep
When, with wild hair, across the wrinkled wave
Stares the sick Dawn that brings thee not to me.’

In ‘Pygmalion the Sculptor’ we have a dramatic poem full of much of the purple light, the glow, the never-ending gleam of a daring imagination. The imagery is not fantastic, and is obtained by the simplest means.

                               Day by day my soul                                39
Grew conscious of itself and of its fief
Within the shadow of her grave: therewith,
Waken’d a thirst for silence such as dwells
Under the ribs of death: whence slowly grew
Old instincts that had trancèd me to tears
In mine unsinew'd boyhood, precious dreams
That swing like censers spilling balmy oils
O’er poppy flowers of sleep, mild sympathies
Full of faint odours and of music faint
Like buds of roses blowing!
         .          .         .          .         .

So held I solemn tryst with Memory—
Who, with the pale babe Hope upon her breast,
Sits haggard, hooded underneath blue night,
Looking on heaven, and seeking evermore
To call to mind her dwelling-place
Where Hope was born, beyond the silent stars.
         .          .         .          .         .

                                     Then at last
Fair-statured, noble, like an awful thing
Frozen upon the very verge of life,
And looking back along eternity
With rayless eyes that keep the shadow Time.

Of other poems in this volume,‘Fine Weather on the Digentia,’ which tells of idleness spiced with philosophy, is full of Grecian wisdom and Athenian fire, and the Bard concludes with a touching poem to his wife:

To one wild tune our swift blood went and came—

     In an essay ‘On My Own Tentatives,’ in the volume ‘David Gray, and other Essays,’ Mr. Buchanan briefly enumerates the principles which have regulated his own tentative attempts at the poetry of humanity, as expressed in ‘Inverburn’ and ‘London Poems,’ the remaining two volumes of this probation period: ‘That the whole significance and harmony of life are never 40 to be lost sight of in depicting any fragmentary form of life, and that, therefore, the poet should free himself entirely from all arbitrary systems of ethics and codes of opinion, aiming, in a word, at that thorough disinterestedness which is our only means to the true perception of God’s creatures. That every fragmentary form of life is not fit for song, but that every form is so fit which can be spiritualised without the introduction of false elements to the final literary form of harmonious numbers. That failing the heroic stature and the noble features, almost every human figure becomes idealised whenever we take into consideration the background of life, or picture, or sentiment on which it moves; and that it is to this background a poet must often look for the means of casting over his picture the refluent colour of poetic harmony. That the true clue to poetic success of this kind is the intensity of the poet’s own insight, whereby a dramatic situation, however undignified, however vulgar to the unimaginative, is made to intersect through the medium of lyrical emotion with the entire mystery of human life, and thus to appeal with more or less force to every heart that has felt the world. . . .’
     It was the poet’s business, not to preach morality, not to inculcate intellectuality, not to describe this or that form of life as finally and significantly holy, but to be just, without judgment to the pathos and powers of all he saw or apprehended. The accessories must be laid aside, the conventionalities disregarded, 41 and the deep human heart laid bare. The only bond incumbent on the poet was the artistic one. It was not enough merely to represent life—it was necessary that the representatives should be beautiful. It was not enough to mirror truth—the truth must be spiritualised. It was not enough to catch the speech of man or woman—that speech must be subtly set to music.
     With these views he wrote the poems of ‘Inverburn,’ a series of dramatic soliloquies put into the mouth of certain poor folk—figures seen on the background of a familiar Scottish village:

The clachan with its humming sound of looms,
The quaint old gables, roofs of turf and thatch,
The glimmering spire that peeps above the firs,
The stream whose soft blue arms encircle all,—
And in the background heathery norland hills,
Hued like the azure of the dew-berrie,
And mingling with the regions of the Rain!

Of the fifteen poems in this volume of ‘Idyls and Legends,’ in both ‘Willie Baird’ and ‘Poet Andrew’ Mr. Buchanan, in his own words, attempts perfect ideal backgrounds, the power and dreamy influences of Nature in the one case, and the intense glow of great human emotion in the other. Of the whole series, Mr. George Henry Lewes said: ‘If we look closely into these poems, we shall be struck with the fact that, although quite free from mannerism or eccentricity, his thought and style are distinctly his own. While reading the poems you never think of the poet. It is only in the afterglow of emotion you think of him, and then you know what rare power was needed to 42 produce so genuine an effect.’ The poems are, to echo Mr. R. H. Hutton, ‘simple and transparent in structure as a crystal. No one can know what true poetry is who does not feel its breath in every line.’
     ‘Willie Baird,’ the first of the poems, ‘a winter idyl and an old man’s tale, a tale for men grey-haired, who wear, through second childhood, to the Lord,’ is the soliloquy of a Scottish dominie, of no particular ‘licht,’ neither Erastian nor Moderate, but a dominie with the pathos and dreaminess of those born and evolved amongst the hills, one who, when he went to college and heard the murmur of the busy street round him in a dream,

                                                 Only saw
The clouds that snow around the mountain-tops,
The mists that chase the phantom of the moon
In lonely mountain tarns,—and heard the while,
Not footsteps sounding hollow to and fro,
But winds sough-soughing thro’ the woods of pine.

In the construction of this tragedy of simple Scottish life, the poet has not put forth any great wings for ambitious flight. The story is a simple one of affection between dominie and boy, and a third—a dog, about whom, in the intervals of Bible instruction, the boy asks, ‘Do doggies gang to heaven?’ The dominie is a man of an uncomplicated type, but with a gift of insight and a hand close gripping the mysteries of Nature, who yearns for

             Such tiny truths as only bloom
Like red-tipt gowans at the hallanstone,
Or kindle softly, flashing bright at times,
In fuffing cottage fires!

43 And as for the boy:

     When I look’d in Willie’s stainless eyes
I saw the empty ether floating grey
O’er shadowy mountains murmuring low with winds;
And often when, in his old-fashion’d way,
He question’d me, I seem’d to hear a voice
From far away, that mingled with the cries
Haunting the regions where the round red sun
Is all alone with God among the snow.

We hear much of their talks about the simple things of Nature, and, the dominie’s tales of men of old, of Wallace and Bruce, and the sweet lady on the Scottish throne,

Whose crown was colder than a band of ice,
Yet seem’d a sunny crown whene’er she smiled;

the poem ending with the tragedy of the snowstorm, and Willie’s death; and we are told that in death, on his face was

A smile—yet not a smile—a dim pale light
Such as the Snow keeps in its own soft wings;

while his soul was

Far far away beyond the norland hills,
Beyond the silence of the untrodden snow.

None of these idyls lend themselves well for the purposes of extraction. The simplicity and directness of the story is as a web that binds line to line, and their success is achieved by the very unconsciousness of the effort which shuns rhetoric.
     ‘Poet Andrew,’ though not to be read as literally interpreting all the facts of David Gray’s life, yet has for its groundwork a true experience. 44 It holds, along with ‘Willie Baird,’ the places of honour in the collection, and tells of how the poet, doomed for the inevitable pulpit (the cherished career for the son of every Scot, weaver or farmer, with an ambition), drifted into poetry and was crowned dying. The ambition is expressed thus:

     And years wore on; and year on year was cheer’d
By thoughts of Andrew, drest in decent black,
Throned in a Pulpit, preaching out the Word,
A house his own, and all the country-side
To touch their bonnets to him;

followed by the ‘horrible discovery’ that the lad was bent on idle rhymes.

                                     The beauteous dream
Of the good Preacher in his braw black dress,
With house and income snug, began to fade
Before the picture of a drunken loon
Bawling out songs beneath the moon and stars,—
Of poet Willie Clay, who wrote a book
About King Robert Bruce, and aye got fou,
And scatter’d stars in verse, and aye got fou,
Wept the world’s sins, and then got fou again,—
Of Fergusson, the feckless limb o’ law,—
And Robin Burns, who gauged the whisky-casks
And brake the seventh commandment.

Then comes the story of the illness, the creeping on of Death, the shadowing of those that watch, and the last words, ‘Out of the Snow, the Snowdrop—out of Death comes Life,’ words that reflect the steadfast faith of the poet.
     Of other poems, ‘The English Huswife’s Gossip,’ according to the poet himself, ‘lacks the background, touches nowhere on the great universal chords of sympathy, and is insomuch unsuccessful 45 as a poem.’ ‘The Two Babes’ is also, as the poet describes, ‘a mixed business.’
     ‘Hugh Sutherland’s Pansies’ can be classed with ‘Willie Baird’ in its idyllic tenderness and beauty; and ‘The Widow Mysie,’ an idyl of love and whisky, is as fine a piece of pastoral humour as is to be found outside of ‘A Midsummer- Night’s Dream.’ We are told of him who

         Rather would have sat with crimson face
Upon the cutty-stool with Jean or Grace,
Than buy in kirk a partner with the power
To turn the mountain dew of Freedom sour,

and who went a-courting the Widow Mysie,

An angel in a cloud of toddy steam,

who proved so unfaithful and, need we add, so canny, as to marry the lover’s father—for that way lay the ‘siller,’ and yet, in meditating on the iron rule of the grey mare, and on his own single blessedness, is content. Besides these poems of the village, the book is enriched by several very characteristic poems of Gnomes, Elfins, and Fays, and includes one of the most often quoted of Mr. Buchanan’s poems, ‘The Legend of the Stepmother.’
     In ‘London Poems,’ wrote Mr. Buchanan, ‘I was at least a great deal juster to the rude forces of life, my sympathy was bolder and more confident, my soul clearer and more trustworthy as a medium, however poor might be my power of perfect artistic spiritualisation. As common life was approached more closely, as the danger of 46 vulgarity threatened more and more to interfere with the reader’s sense of beauty, the stronger and tenderer was the lyrical note needed. In writing such poems as “Liz” and “Nell,” the intensest dramatic care was necessary to escape vulgarity on the one hand, and false refinement on the other. “Liz,” although the offspring of the very lowest social deposits, possesses great natural intelligence, and speaks more than once with a refinement consequent on strange purity of thought. Moreover, she has been under spiritual influences. She is a beautiful living soul, just conscious of the unfitness of the atmosphere she is breathing, but, above all, she is a large-hearted woman, with wonderful capacity for loving. She is, on the whole, quite an exceptional study, although in many of her moods typical of her class. “Nell” is not so exceptional, and since it is harder to create types than eccentricities, her utterance was far more difficult to spiritualise into music. She is a woman, quite without refined instincts, coarse, uncultured, impulsive. Her love, though profound, is insufficient to escape mere commonplace; and it was necessary to breathe around her the fascination of a tragic  subject, the lurid light of an ever- deepening terror. In the “language” of both these poems I followed Nature as closely as possible—so far as poetic speech can follow ordinary speech. I had to add nothing, but to deduct whatever hid, instead of expressing, the natural meaning of the speakers; for to obtrude slips of grammar, misspellings, and other 47 meaningless blotches—in short, to lay undue emphasis on the mere language employed, would have been wilfully to destroy the artistic verisimilitude of such poems. Every stronger stress, every more noticeable trick of style, added after the speech was sufficient to hint the quality of the speaker, was so much over-truth, offending against the truth’s harmony. The object was, while clearly conveying the caste of the speakers, to afford an artistic insight into their souls, and to blend them with the great universal mysteries of life and death. Vulgarity obtruded is not truth spiritualised and made clear, but truth still hooded and  masked, and little likely to reveal anything to the vision of its contemplators. By at least one critic I have been charged with idealising the speech a little too much. Both “Liz” and “Nell,” it is averred, occasionally speak in a strain very uncommon in their class. In reply to this, I may observe how much mispronunciations, vulgarisms, and the like, have blinded educated people to the wonderful force and picturesqueness of the language of the lower classes. They know nothing of the educated luxury of using language in order to conceal thought, but speak because they have something to say, and try to explain themselves as forcibly as possible.’
     The ‘London Poems,’ for which Mr. Buchanan was upbraided by a contemporary for having written ‘Idyls of the gallows and the gutter, and singing songs of costermongers and their trulls,’ completes the trilogy of probation poems. In the 48 year 1866, tales of mean streets were not yet idealised in the medium of artistic expression, although ‘the good genie of fiction,’ Charles Dickens, was already reaping the harvest of his masterpieces. In these latter days it is different, and it needs even no idealising and spiritualising to secure the approbation of the critics as long as art is conceived for art’s sake. To the present writer, if he may be allowed to enter a personal note on the subject, there is in these poems the record and the suggestion of experiences and sensations sufficient to paint most of the comedies and tragedies of life. Down many infernal stairs the heirs of heaven are seen arising. And looking back across the whole field of the poet’s work, the recollection of these poems, tragic in their interests, true in their perspective, and eloquent beyond words in the very simplicity but forcibleness of their language, ‘becomes a sound of friendship in still places.’
     The story of ‘The Little Milliner,’ the first of the series, is a simple story of ‘love in an attic,’ spoken in the language of a city clerk.

She on the topmost floor, I just below;
She, a poor milliner, content and wise,
I, a poor city clerk, with hopes to rise.

‘The Little Milliner,’ far from drooping in the city, found there a constant round of joy from day to day.

And London streets, with all their noise and stir,
Had many a pleasant sight to pleasure her.
There were the shops, where wonders ever new,
As in a garden, changed the whole year through.
Oft would she stand and watch with laughter sweet                  49
The Punch and Judy in the quiet street;
Or look and listen while soft minuets
Play’d the street organ with the marionettes;
Or joined the motley group of merry folks
Round the street huckster with his wares and jokes.
Fearless and glad, she join’d the crowd that flows
Along the streets at festivals and shows.
In summer time she loved the parks and squares,
Where fine folk drive their carriages and pairs;
In winter time her blood was in a glow
At the white coming of the pleasant snow;
And in the stormy nights, when dark rain pours,
She found it pleasant, too, to sit indoors,
And sing and sew, and listen to the gales,
Or read the penny journal with the tales.

She was a large-hearted little woman, with no scorn for ‘those who lived amiss’:

The weary women with their painted bliss;

only wondering ‘if their mothers lived and knew,’ and speaking a gentle word if spoken to. It is a simple story, without any of the deeper chords of ‘Nell,’ or ‘Liz,’ or ‘Jane Lewson.’ ‘It was,’ says Mr. Buchanan, ‘clearly my endeavour, in this poem, to evolve the fine Arcadian feeling out of the dullest obscurity, to show how even brick walls and stone houses may be made to blossom, as it were, into blooms and flowers—to produce, by delicate passion and sweet emotion, an effect similar to that which pastoral poets have produced by means of greenery and bright sunshine. In close connection with all that is dark and solitary in London life, the little milliner was to walk in a light such as lies on country fields, exhibiting, as a critic happily phrases it, ‘all the 50 passion of youth, modulated by all the innocence of a naked baby.’
     ‘Liz’ is a very different business. Here we have the ‘wearying, ever wearying for sleep,’ which is the keynote of much of the poet’s insight. It is a soliloquy put into the mouth of a flower-girl of nineteen years of age, dying on the morning of her child’s birth. She tells her simple story to the Parson:

It does not seem that I was born. I woke,
     One day, long, long ago, in a dark room,
And saw the housetops round me in the smoke,
     And, leaning out, look’d down into the gloom,
Saw deep black pits, blank walls, and broken panes,
     And eyes, behind the panes, that flash’d at me,
And heard an awful roaring, from the lanes,
     Of folk I could not see;
Then, while I look’d and listen’d in a dream,
     I turn’d my eyes upon the housetops grey,
And saw, between the smoky roofs, a gleam
     Of silver water, winding far away.
That was the River. Cool and smooth and deep,
     It glided to the sound o’ folk below,
     Dazzling my eyes, till they began to grow
Dusty and dim with sleep.
Oh, sleepily I stood, and gazed, and hearken’d!
     And saw a strange, bright light, that slowly fled,
     Shine through the smoky mist, and stain it red,
And suddenly the water flash’d,—then darken’d;
And for a little time, though I gazed on,
The river and the sleepy light were gone;
But suddenly, over the roofs there lighten’d
     A pale, strange brightness out of heaven shed,
And, with a sweep that made me sick and frighten’d,
     The yellow Moon roll’d up above my head;—
And down below me roar’d the noise o’ trade,
And ah! I felt alive, and was afraid,
     And cold, and hungry, crying out for bread.

And then she dwells on what she counted the pleasures of life up in their attic near the sky:

Yet, Parson, there were pleasures fresh and fair,                      51
To make the time pass happily up there:
A steamboat going past upon the tide,
     A pigeon lighting on the roof close by,
     The sparrows teaching little ones to fly,
The small white moving clouds, that we espied,
     And thought were living, in the bit of sky—
     With sights like these right glad were Ned and I.

How one day, sick of hunger, cold, and strife, she took a sudden fancy to see the country, and, like a guilty person, stole out of the smoke into the sun:

I’ll ne’er forget that day. All was so bright
     And strange. Upon the grass around my feet
The rain had hung a million drops of light;
     The air, too, was so clear and warm and sweet,
It seem’d a sin to breathe it. All around
     Were hills and fields and trees that trembled through
     A burning, blazing fire of gold and blue;
And there was not a sound,
     Save a bird singing, singing in the skies,
And the soft wind, that ran along the ground,
     And blew so sweetly on my lips and eyes.
Then, with my heavy hand upon my chest,
     Because the bright air pain’d me, trembling, sighing,
I stole into a dewy field to rest,
     And oh! the green, green grass where I was lying
Was fresh and living—and the bird sang loud,
Out of a golden cloud—
     And I was looking up at him and crying!

But she never saw the country more.

I would not stay out yonder if I could.
For one feels dead, and all looks pure and good,—
I could not bear a light so bright and still.

She breathed happily only in the deep miasma of the city, and all she cared for was sleep.

All that I want is sleep,
Under the flags and stones, so deep, so deep!
God won’t be hard on one so mean, but He,
     Perhaps, will let a tired girl slumber sound                            52
     There in the deep cold darkness underground;
And I shall waken up in time, may be,
Better and stronger, not afraid to see
     The great, still Light that folds Him round and round!

     Two companion pieces, ‘The Starling’ and ‘The Linnet,’ are what the poet calls ‘bird poems,’ where by natural laws of association, and in very different ways, a caged starling and a caged linnet are made to flash upon their owners wild or bright glimpses of the outlying districts from which they come. The starling was the property of a little lame tailor, who ‘sat stitching and snarling,’ and whose end is expressed thus:

Felt life past bearing,
And shivering, quaking,
All hope forsaking,
Died swearing;

the linnet belonging to a sempstress, and recalling for her the scenes and airs of her old life in the country.
     ‘Jane Lewson’ is a study in the holy self-abnegation of motherhood, and is painted in lines vigorous and inspiring. Jane Lewson is a veritable ‘heir of heaven,’ although at times in her woe

She thought the great cold God above her head
Dwelt on a frosty throne and did not hear.

The basis of the story is a familiar one of seduction, but the tragedy and the nobility lie in the effort made by the mother to hide from her child the secret of its birth and her ‘shame.’ The child was

A passion-flower!—a maiden whose rich heart
Burn’d with intensest fire that turn’d the light
Of the sweet eyes into a warm dark dew;                                53
One of those shapes so marvellously made,
Strung so intensely, that a finger-press,
The dropping of a stray curl unaware
Upon the naked breast, a look, a tone,
Can vibrate to the very roots of life,
And draw from out the spirit light that seems
To scorch the tender cheeks it shines upon;
A nature running o’er with ecstasy
Of very being, an appalling splendour
Of animal sensation, loveliness
Like to the dazzling panther’s; yet, withal,
The gentle, wilful, clinging sense of love,
Which makes a virgin’s soul.

With steadfast idea the mother kept silent:

                     The dull nature clung
Still unto silence, with the still resolve
Of mightier natures,

and bore the insults and contempt of two prim ‘holy’ sisters with the never-despairing fortitude of an unconscious martyr.
     ‘Edward Crowhurst,’ labourer, writes poems with

A crystal clearness, as of running brooks,
A music, as of green boughs murmuring,
A peeping of fresh thoughts in shady places
Like violets new-blown, a gleam of dewdrops,
A sober, settled, greenness of repose,—
And lying over all, in level beams,
Transparent, sweet, and unmistakable,
The light that never was on sea or land;

and echoed

The pathos and the power of common life.

A simple man, he is a sky-gazer and a dreamer. His poems are published, and then

                                           Every morn
Came papers full of things about the Book,
And letters full of cheer from distant folk;
And Teddy toil’d away, and tried his best
To keep his glad heart humble. Then, one day                               54
A smirking gentleman, with inky thumbs,
Call’d, chatted, pried with little fox’s eyes
This way and that, and when he went away
He wrote a heap of lying scribble, styled
‘A Summer Morning with the Labourer Bard!’
Then others came: some, mild young gentlemen,
Who chirp’d, and blush’d, and simper’d, and were gone;
Some, sallow ladies wearing spectacles,
And pale young misses, rolling languid eyes,
And pecking at the words my Teddy spake
Like sparrows picking seed.

And following that begins the downward path, the journey to London, the feasting, the old story of the flattery of genius by commonplace—Burns over again,—the return to the country, and then that other change which comes in the lives of most men of untutored genius:

                           A change had come,
As dreadful as the change within himself.
The papers wrote the praise of newer men,
And strange folk sent him letters scarce at all,
And when he spake about another book,
The man in London wrote a hasty ‘No!’
         .          .         .          .         .          .

His fine-day friends like swallows wing’d away,
The summer being o’er.

     ‘Artist and Model’ is interesting as expressing more than once, in simple terms, the relation of the artist to his work.

Nay, beauty is all our wisdom,—
We painters demand no more.

Since the truth we artists fail for,
Is the truth that looks the truth.

Enough to labour and labour,
And to feel one’s heart beat right.

Yet the beauty the heart would utter                                               55
     Endeth in agony;
And life is a climbing, a seeking
     Of something we never can see!
And death is a slumber, a dreaming
     Of something that may not be!

And when God takes much, my darling,
     He leaves us the colour and form,—
The scorn of the nations is bitter,
     But the touch of a hand is warm.

Of other poems, ‘Barbara Gray’ has a distinct genius of its own. The story is of a woman loved for the first time late in life, soliloquising over the dead body of her ‘dwarf’ lover.

For where was man had stoop’d to me before,
Though I was maiden still, and girl no more?
Where was the spirit that had deign'd to prize
The poor plain features and the envious eyes?
What lips had whisper’d warmly in mine ears?
When had I known the passion and the tears?
Till he I look on sleeping came unto me,
Found me among the shadows, stoop’d to woo me,
Seized on the heart that flutter’d withering here,
Stung it and wrung it with new joy and fear,
Yea, brought the rapturous light, and brought the day,
Waken’d the dead heart, withering away,
Put thorns and roses on the unhonour’d head,
That felt but roses till the roses fled!
Who, who, but he crept unto sunless ground,
Content to prize the faded face he found?
John Hamerton, I pardon all—sleep sound, my love, sleep sound!

On the whole, it is the most original of the poems in the volume, and is gifted with a fine disdain, an abandon and a pathos which render it quite perfect as an artistic effort.
     At the end of these poems of the city is appended a series of lines entitled ‘London, 1864’ which are of so directly personal a nature, and 56 express so clearly the condition of the poet’s soul, that we are constrained to print them here in full, notwithstanding their length. It will help those who know the poet only slightly, if at all, to grasp at a keynote of his aspirations that may assist them to understand more clearly many things expressed before, and more things to be expressed or hinted at later.


Why should the heart seem stiller,
     As the song grows stronger and surer?
Why should the brain grow chiller,
     And the utterance clearer and purer?
To lose what the people are gaining
     Seems often bitter as gall,
Though to sink in the proud attaining
     Were the bitterest of all.
I would to God I were lying
     Yonder ’mong mountains blue,
Chasing the morn with flying
     Feet in the morning dew!
Longing, and aching, and burning
     To conquer, to sing, and to teach,
A passionate face upturning
     To visions beyond my reach,—
But with never a feeling or yearning
     I could utter in tuneful speech!



Yea! that were a joy more stable
     Than all that my soul hath found,—
Than to see and to know, and be able
     To utter the seeing in sound;
For Art, the Angel of losses,
     Comes, with her still, gray eyes,
Coldly my forehead crosses,
     Whispers to make me wise;
And, too late, comes the revelation,
     After the feast and the play,
That she works God's dispensation
     By cruelly taking away:
By burning the heart and steeling,                                                   57
     Scorching the spirit deep,
And changing the flower of feeling,
     To a poor dried flower that may keep!
What wonder if much seems hollow,
     The passion, the wonder dies;
And I hate the angel I follow,
     And shrink from her passionless eyes,—
Who, instead of the rapture of being
     I held as the poet’s dower—
Instead of the glory of seeing,
     The impulse, the splendour, the power—
Instead of merrily blowing
     A trumpet proclaiming the day,
Gives, for her sole bestowing,
     A pipe whereon to play!
While the spirit of boyhood hath faded,
     And never again can be,
And the singing seemeth degraded,
     Since the glory hath gone from me,—
Though the glory around me and under,
     And the earth and the air and the sea,
And the manifold music and wonder,
     Are grand as they used to be!



Is there a consolation
     For the joy that comes never again?
Is there a reservation?
     Is there a refuge from pain?
Is there a gleam of gladness
     To still the grief and the stinging?
Only the sweet, strange sadness,
     That is the source of the singing.



For the sound of the city is weary,
     As the people pass to and fro,
And the friendless faces are dreary,
     As they come, and thrill through us, and go;
And the ties that bind us the nearest
     Of our error and weakness are born;
And our dear ones ever love dearest
     Those parts of ourselves that we scorn;
And the weariness will not be spoken,                                            58
     And the bitterness dare not be said,
The silence of souls is unbroken,
     And we hide ourselves from our Dead!
And what, then, secures us from madness?
     Dear ones, or fortune, or fame?
Only the sweet singing sadness
     Cometh between us and shame.



And there dawneth a time to the Poet,
     When the bitterness passes away,
With none but his God to know it,
     He kneels in the dark to pray;
And the prayer is turn’d into singing,
     And the singing findeth a tongue,
And Art, with her cold hands clinging,
     Comforts the soul she has stung.
Then the Poet, holding her to him,
     Findeth his loss is his gain:
The sweet singing sadness thrills through him,
     Though nought of the glory remain;
And the awful sound of the city,
     And the terrible faces around,
Take a truer, tenderer pity,
     And pass into sweetness and sound;
The mystery deepens to thunder,
     Strange vanishings gleam from the cloud,
And the Poet, with pale lips asunder,
     Stricken, and smitten, and bow’d,
Starteth at times from his wonder,
     And sendeth his Soul up aloud!

     In later editions there are included several additional poems, of which ‘The Wake of Tim O’Hara’ is perhaps the most characteristic, and conveys in a striking sense the gift of tears mingled with the gift of laughter, Mr. Buchanan’s never-failing possessions. Of the others, ‘Kitty Kemble’ is a noteworthy piece of poetical biography, full of knowledge of the startling blending of footlight egoism with the tragedy of 59 the merely human. How true to life are these touches:

The town’s delight, the beaux’, the critics’, Kitty!
The brightest wonder human eye could see
In good old Comedy:
A smile, a voice, a laugh, a look, a form,
To take the world by storm!
A dainty dimpling intellectual treasure
To give old stagers pleasure!
A rippling radiant cheek—a roguish eye—
That made the youngsters sigh!
And thus beneath a tinsel’d pasteboard Star
At once you mounted your triumphant car,
O’er burning hearts your chariot wheels were driven,
Bouquets came rolling down like rain from heaven,
And on we dragged you, Kitty, while you stood
Roguish and great, not innocent and good,
The Queen Elect of all Light Womanhood!

And in contrast:

As we had done; so our poor Kitty came
To be the lonely ghost of a great name—
A worn and wanton woman, not yet sage
Nor wearied out, tho’ sixty years of age,
Wrinkled and rouged, and with false teeth of pearl,
And the shrill laughter of a giddy girl;
Haunting, with painted cheek and powder’d brow,
The private boxes, as spectator now;
Both day and night, indeed, invited out
To private picnic and to public rout,
Because thy shrill laugh and thy ready joke
Ever enlivened up the festal folk.

And then:

And here’s the end of all. And on thy bed
Thou liest, Kitty Kemble, lone and dead;
And on thy clammy cheek there lingers faint
The deep dark stain of a life’s rouge and paint;
And, Kitty, all thy sad days and thy glad
Have left thee lying for thy last part clad,
Cold, silent, on the earthly Stage; and while
Thou liest there with dark and dreadful smile,
The feverish footlights of the World flash bright                              60
Into thy face with a last ghastly light;
And while thy friends all sighing rise to go,
The great black Curtain droppeth, slow, slow, slow.

God help us! We spectators turn away;
Part sad, we think, part merry, was the Play.
God help the lonely player now she stands
Behind the darken’d scenes with wondering face,
And gropes her way at last, with clay-cold hands,
Out of the dingy place,
Turning towards Home, poor worn and weary one,
Now the last scene is done.

     In addition to the ‘London Poems’ there are included in the volume four other pieces of a miscellaneous nature, of which ‘The Death of Roland’ and ‘The Scaith o’ Bartle’ are the more ambitious. Consideration of these we must postpone till we come to consider in a separate chapter several other poems that can be placed in the same category, of which ‘The Battle of Drumliemoor’ and ‘The Lights of Leith’ are notable examples.
     In the three volumes which have been thus subjected to such a hurried consideration, we have caught sight of some of the tendencies which are the foundation of the Buchanan of the later periods. Beliefs and hopes that in those days were glaring in their simplicity, may have become, if not dimmed, yet modified, but in the spirit of the work there is little alteration except that which springs from a natural growth. And if, says the poet:

I list to sing of sad things oft,
It is that sad things in this life of breath
Are truest, sweetest, deepest. Tears bring forth                               61
The richness of our natures, as the rain
Sweetens the smelling brier, and I, thank God,
Have anguish’d here in no ignoble tears,
Tears for the pale friend with the singing life,
Tears for the father with the gentle eyes
(My dearest up in heaven next to God)
Who loved me like a woman. I have wrought
No garland of the rose and passion-flower
Grown in a careful garden in the sun;
But I have gathered samphire dizzily,
Close to the hollow roaring of a sea.



Next: Chapter III. 'THE BOOK OF ORM'

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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