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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

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





The year 1873 will always have a unique place in the bibliographical history of Mr. Buchanan. It was in this year that he risked a fall with the Philistine, and succeeded even beyond his most ambitious hope. ‘The Ishmael of Song’ had the courage to publish the two volumes, ‘St. Abe and his Seven Wives,’ and ‘White Rose and Red,’ anonymously, with the result that he soon had his enemies in his net. With unanimous voice those who had scourged the poet before joined in the song of praise. ‘Pest on Mr. Buchanan’s dreaming! to oblivion with all such aspiring versifiers! here we have a poet indeed—here is altogether the true characteristic of genius!’ and so on. The poet was a poet of patience. ‘St. Abe’ ran rapidly into four or five editions, and then the thunderbolt burst. The author of ‘St. Abe’ was Robert Buchanan, the Ishmael of Song, the outcast Scotsman—he who sang of trulls and costermongers—’the Celtic madman’; and there was sadness over the land.
     The present writer cannot go back to those 113 stirring days in the literary dovecots, but an inquiry into the reception which was accorded by the Press leaves him with the conclusion, that the poet reached his high-water mark of contemporary praise in the testimony which was accorded to him in his anonymous robes. From the facts associated with the publication and critical reception of these poems, and calling to mind the aspect of the critics before and at the time of their publication, and the recoil which took place when the secret was out, are we to infer that the golden era of criticism is but an ephemeron floating in dreamland?
     There is a deadly want of the sense of humour in attacking criticism as a whole. Burke said something similar about charges against a whole nation, and an analogous remark has a general bearing. Criticism, we imagine, is no worse at present—it is probably a great deal better—than it was formerly. At any rate, the men and women who criticise have in general more culture, and considerably more special knowledge than we are wont to associate with the past. We are not speaking here of the greater lights, but of those who constitute the general personnel of criticism. It is the unevenness of the process which irritates, the disinterested insight of one critic, and the nebulous ignorance of another. To come into genuine emotional relation with any work, a critic must have sympathy; if he adds imagination to this, he becomes as much an artist as the man he attempts to criticise. But however sympathetic 114 a critic may be, he tends to drift towards academic methods—that is to say, he becomes, unconsciously it may be, a supporter of academies, for these exist in letters as well as in painting. These academies spring into existence through the ideals and methods set by a new writer with novel ideals of art finding a large following in the literary world, and are at first subjected to the same organised suppression, at the hands of the older academies, that in a later stage they extend to other new and revolutionary, and therefore healthy, movements in letters, which in their turn are by the grace of a number of enthusiastic, yet generally less intelligent disciples, converted into academies. As we have said in another place, ‘Criticism has a tendency to become the gospel of a sort of literary trades-unionism; all organisations have their conventions and their creeds, offence against the former being deemed in a sense more offensive than a disputation of the latter.’
     But it is idle to deny that criticism may be viewed from a lower level than this, and in this instance let us repeat what we were called upon to say on another occasion:1 ‘Though it be a mere belated platitude, it is true, nevertheless, that all criticism is futile which allows any unreasoned aversion to the personality or point of view of the author, or permits a prejudice against a former utterance, to interfere with the unprejudiced estimation of any literary effort. We must still be travelling far in the wilderness of despair, when


1 ‘The Struggle for Success.’

115 an author finds it impossible to have his work presented fairly to the readers of literary criticism, owing, it may be, to the fact that the virility of his personality and the heaviness of his own critical artillery have caused offence in the critical dovecots, and when it is an open secret that there are men resplendent in the gilded uniforms of official criticism, who day by day lie in wait for possible opportunities to cast a slur on the literary reputations of those for whom they have a personal dislike.’
     We are not attempting to preach Utopianism, nor do we fail to recognise the limitations of mere humanity. It takes a lot of dosing to cure human nature. This breaks out even in our prayers, and adds not a little to the colour and the interest of life. But this need not deter us from attempting to come a little nearer to critical salvation. In this instance we may recall an incident in the life of David Hackston of Rathillet, that might be used as a parable in any prospected literary bible. Hackston was one of the leaders, with Balfour of Burleigh, of the Covenanters at the battle of Drumclog, and is associated in history with the murder of Archbishop Sharp, but in this wise, that having beforehand had many private disagreements with Sharp, he refused to lay his hand upon him in case it might be said that the deed sprang from a personal and not a political dislike. ‘Verb. sap.’
     For many of the worst aspects of literary criticism the public has itself to blame. Reviews that attempt a serious estimate of an author’s 116 work are voted dull and tasteless, and self-preservation being the first law as of yore, the result of such voting is evident. If the critic is not witty, satirical, or impertinent on recurring occasions, the public protests, with the result that some one, generally a new and sensitive author, must suffer—if not a new author, one that has been given a bad name, and who is not allowed even the benefit of a good hanging, but is put upon an everlasting rack for the benefit of the critic and the amusement of the public.
     Critics are men in a world of men, not gods, and in the long-run are neither better nor worse than other men. They have generally more sense of humour, more sense of perspective, and although they have little gods of their own, they have a healthy distaste for universal idolatry. Accustomed to study many points of view, they are at least catholic, if not profound, and are often astoundingly generous. They, at least, keep us from fanaticism, and are keen to observe, when we parade our gorgeous robes, if there is a button loose.
     But literary dressmaking may run to extremes, and so may the profession of literary housemaid. The long bamboo, with the feathered head, is useful enough occasionally, but to depend upon it exclusively is not to bring us to any better vision of what we are regarding. The housemaid in literature is curiously enough often a person of great culture, a person, in fact, of large historical knowledge, and may be a poet of distinction 117 and a classicist of fame; but history, poetry, philology will not boil the pot, and the profession of literary housemaid will at least secure for him (for as in University theatricals, the ‘she’ is a ‘he’) a most healthy-looking yearly income. Quick to discern spots in the sun and dust on the chariot-wheel—that is to say, printers’ errors and grammatical slips—he is able by his adroitness, never-ending wit, and facility of grammar, to enlarge the spots and the dust to grievous literary sins; and the public, always ready to forgive a man if he be witty and avowedly clever, preserves for him the tenderest morsels and the chief place at the feast. We for our own part would not dismiss him for worlds, but we must remember that his natural base as housemaid is the pantry. When he has taken off his apron and changed his cloth, he may have a chair in the library.
     With regard to criticism as applied to Mr. Buchanan, as we have hinted before, the blame rests not wholly with the poet’s critics. Some time ago the present writer was expressing himself in language of a similar nature to the above, when a well-known London critic interrupted him with the remark that Mr. Buchanan was only being paid back with interest for the amount of criticism he had bestowed on an unwilling public. This, of course, gave the whole matter away, for there can surely be no justification for a professed critic to diminish the value of his own work by unfair methods of criticism, 118 because the man he is dealing with practises the art himself. We are not attempting to justify Mr Buchanan’s numerous and often highly flavoured and irrelevant literary utterances. They must be judged on the same footing as that which we have been bold enough to suggest as the proper basis of criticism. And it is as well to remember that Mr. Buchanan is not, after all, the inexorable person he is often made out. For one piece of early criticism the poet made a withdrawal and an apology that was both straightforward and noble. In the case of an old enemy he said: ‘That I should ever have underrated the exquisite work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti is simply a proof of the incompetency of all criticism, however honest, which is conceived adversely, hastily, and from an unsympathetic point of view; but that I should have ranked myself for the time being with the Philistines, and encouraged them to resist an ennobling and refining literary influence, must remain to me a matter of permanent regret,’ and in the same breath dedicates to the dead poet his greatest work of fiction, ‘God and the Man.’

I would have snatch’d a bay leaf from thy brow,
     Wronging the chaplet on an honoured head;
In peace and tenderness I bring you now
     A lily-flower instead.

     The first of the three volumes we have now to consider, ‘St. Abe and his Seven Wives,’ is a satire on the futility of Mormonism, the embodiment of the doctrines and politics of 119 the Latter Day Saints. The poem has been made the medium of expressing the poet’s admirable sense of humour, a humour touched with that breath of tenderness which is seldom wanting in Mr. Buchanan’s work. In this poem the poet has allowed himself the free use of the spirit of comedy in poetry. A critic who named James Russell Lowell as the possible author, gave it as his opinion that the substance of it was as strong as anything in the entire range of English satirical literature. It is dramatic, the humour is never forced, the local colouring is painted freely and with artistic success, the metres are eminently suited to the dramatic purposes of the work, and as for its effect on Mormonism itself, we can only quote what the ‘Spectator’ of that day said: ‘We believe that this new book will paralyse Mormon resistance far more than any amount of speeches in Congress or messages from President Grant, by bringing home to the minds of the millions the ridiculous, diabolic side of the peculiar institution. The canto called “The Last Epistle of St. Abe to the Polygamist,” with its humorous narrative of the way in which the Saint, sealed to seven wives, fell in love with one, and thenceforward could not abide the jealousy felt by the other six, will do more to weaken the last defence of Mormonism—that, after all, the women like it—than a whole realm of narratives about the discontent in Utah.’
     It is not a poem that lends itself easily to 120 quotation, but we may take one or two passages more isolated than the rest which may suggest the spirit of the context.
     The poem opens with the declamatory sorrow of Joe Wilson in having his fiancée spirited away by one of the Apostles—the Apostle Hiram Higginson. He is very wroth with all the world, and especially with women:

Women is women! Thet’s their style—
Talk reason to them and they’ll bile;
But baste ’em soft as any pigeon,
With lies and rubbish and religion;
Don’t talk of flesh and blood and feeling,
But Holy Ghost and blessed healing;
Don’t name things in too plain a way,
Look a heap warmer than you say,
Make ’em believe they’re serving true
The Holy Spirit and not you,
Prove all the world but you’s damnation,
And call your kisses jest salvation;
Do this, and press ’em on the sly,
You’re safe to win ’em. Jest you try!

He reproaches his Cissy as to her change of manner to him, and suspecting physical distress, has his interrogation smothered by the following:

It ain’t my stomach, nor my head,
It ain’t my flesh, it ain’t my skin,
It’s holy spirits here within!

He discovers her secret, and vowing vengeance, the woman implores mercy:

‘Spare him!’ I cried, and gev a shout,
‘What’s this yer shine you air about—
What cuss is this that I jest see
With that big book upon your knee,
Cuddling up close and making sham
To read a heap of holy flam?’

Her brothers have little sympathy with the 121 Apostle, which fact is hinted in the following lines:

We’ve done our best, don’t hev a doubt,
To keep the old Apostle out:
We’ve trained the dogs to seize and bite him,
We’ve got up ghosts at night to fright him,
Doctor’d his hoss and so upset him,
Put tickle-grass in bed to fret him,
Jalap’d his beer and snuffed his tea too,
Gunpowder in his pipe put free too;
A dozen times we’ve well-nigh kill’d him,
We’ve skeer’d him, shaken him, and spill’d him.

In the City of the Saints, whither we are led by the next canto, we have a dialogue between the Stranger and several of the Bishops. Here are some of Bishop Peter’s views:

Stranger, I’m with you there, indeed:—it’s been the best of nusses;
Polygamy is to our creed what meat and drink to us is.
Destroy that notion any day, and all the rest is brittle,
And Mormondom dies clean away like one in want of vittle.
It’s meat and drink, it’s life, it’s power! to heaven its breath doth win us!
It warms our vitals every hour! it’s Holy Ghost within us!
Jest lay that notion on the shelf, and all life’s springs are frozen!
I’ve half-a-dozen wives myself, and wish I had a dozen!

We hear of St. Abe, who seems to have fallen in the estimation of his brother Bishops:

And yet how well I can recall the time when Abe was younger—
Why not a chap among us all went for the notion stronger.
When to the mother-country he was sent to wake the sinning,
He shipp’d young lambs across the sea by flocks—he was so winning;
O but he had a lively style, describing saintly blisses!
He made the spirit pant and smile, and seek seraphic kisses!
How the bright raptures of the Saint fresh lustre seemed to borrow,
While black and awful he did paint the one-wived sinner’s sorrow!
Each woman longed to be his bride, and by his side to slumber—
‘The more the blesseder!’ he cried, still adding to the number.

122 We catch dramatic and picturesque glimpses of life in the Salt Lake City, and of the pleasures of unlimited domesticity. The calm resignation of the wives, a resignation evidently born of expediency, is pictured thus:

When in their midst serenely walks their Master and their Mentor,
They’re hush’d, as when the Prophet stalks down holy church’s centre!
They touch his robe, they do not move, those blessed wives and mothers,
And, when on one he shineth love, no envy fills the others;
They know his perfect saintliness, and honour his affection—
And, if they did object, I guess he’d settle that objection!

     As for St. Abe’s wives, we have here quite a subject for contrast:


It ain’t a passionate flat like Abe can manage things in your way!
They teased that most etarnal babe, till things were in a poor way.
I used to watch his thorny bed, and bust my sides with laughter.
Once give a female hoss her head you’ll never stop her after.
It’s one thing getting seal’d, and he was mighty fond of Sealing,
He’d all the human heat, d’ ye see, without the saintly feeling.
His were the wildest set of girls that ever drove man silly,
Each full of freaks and fal-de-lals, as frisky as a filly.
One pull’d this way, and t’ other that, and made his life a mockery,
They’d all the feelings of a cat scampaging ‘mong the crockery.

Bishop Joss had an aunt, Tabitha Brooks, a virgin under fifty. ‘She warn’t so much for pretty looks, but she was wise and thrifty’:

She’d seen the vanities of life, was good at ’counts and brewin’—
Thinks I, ‘Here’s just the sort of Wife to save poor Abe from ruin.’

He bestows her on the unwilling St. Abe:

And round his neck she blushing hung, part holding, part caressing,
And murmur’d with a faltering tongue, ‘O Abe, I’ll be a blessing.’

123 Under the (at that time) six, St. Abe has a mournful career:

His house was peaceful as a church, all solemn, still, and saintly;
And yet he’d tremble at the porch, and look about him faintly;
And tho’ the place was all his own, with hat in hand he’d enter,
Like one thro’ public buildings shown, soft treading down the centre;

until the arrival of Jason Jones’s child, and then, his soul opening to love for the first time, storms brew in the household, and St. Abe is unhappier than before.

There’s vinegar in Abe’s pale face enough to sour a barrel,
Goes crawling up and down the place, neglecting his apparel,
Seems to have lost all heart and soul, has fits of absence shocking—
His home is like a rabbit’s hole when weasels come a-knocking,
And now and then, to put it plain, while falling daily sicker,
I think he tries to float his pain by copious goes of liquor.

     The next canto finds the metre varied, and in it we have drawn with characteristic touch a picture of the individual character of St. Abe’s household, and of the combined enmity that the six showed to the newly installed wife. Following this is a canto which gives us a view of the political and physical geography of Utah, with a glimpse, as we pass, of the Red-skin in his drunken degeneracy, and Jonathan’s attitude towards him.

Poor devil of the plains, now spent and frail,
Hovering wildly on the fatal trail,
Pass on!—there lies thy way and thine abode,
Get out of Jonathan thy master’s road.
Where? anywhere!—he’s not particular where,
So that you clear the road, he does not care;
Off, quick! clear out! ay, drink your fill and die;
And, since the Earth rejects you, try the Sky!
And see if He, who sent your white-faced brother
To hound and drive you from this world you bother,
Can find a corner for you in another!

124 The sermonising of the prophet Brigham in the synagogue, with which the poem is next concerned, like the following two cantos, defies judicious extraction. The sermon is punctuated by Feminine Whispers, like a subdued chorus in the Greek tragedies. For example:


Sisters and brothers who love the right,
     Saints whose hearts are divinely beating,
Children rejoicing in the light,
     I reckon this is a pleasant meeting.
Where’s the face with a look of grief?—
     Jehovah’s with us and leads the battle;
We’ve had a harvest beyond belief,
     And the signs of fever have left the cattle;
All still blesses the holy life
     Here in the land of milk and honey.


Brother Shuttleworth’s seventeenth wife, . . .
     Her with the heer brushed up so funny!


Out of Egypt hither we flew,
     Through the desert and rocky places;
The people murmur’d, and all look’d blue,
     The bones of the martyr’d filled our traces.
Mountain and valley we crawl’d along,
     And every morning our hearts beat quicker.
Our flesh was weak, but our souls were strong,
     And we’d managed to carry some kegs of liquor.
At last we halted on yonder height,
     Just as the sun in the west was blinking.


Isn’t Jedge Hawkins’s last a fright? . . .
     I’m suttin that Brother Abe’s been drinking!


That night, my lambs, in a wondrous dream,
     I saw the gushing of many fountains;
Soon as the morning began to beam,
     Down we went from yonder mountains,
Found the water just where I thought,                                                  125
     Fresh and good, though a trifle gritty,
Pitch’d our tents in the plain, and wrought
     The site and plan of the Holy City.
‘Pioneers of the blest,’ I cried,
     ‘Dig, and the Lord will bless each spadeful.’


Brigham’s sealed to another Bride . . .
     How worn he’s gittin’! he’s aging dreadful.


But I hear some awakening spirit cry,
     ‘Labour is labour, and all men know it;
But what is pleasure?’ and I reply,
     Grace abounding, and wives to show it.
Holy is he beyond compare
     Who tills his acres, and takes his blessing,
Who sees around him everywhere
     Sisters soothing, and babes caressing,
And his delight is Heaven’s as well,
     For swells he not the ranks of the chosen?


Martha is growing a handsome gel. . . .
     Three at a birth ?—that makes the dozen.
     .         .          .         .          .         .

The finest sight is a man of worth,
     Never tired of increasing his quiver.
He sits in the light of perfect grace
     With a dozen cradles going together!


The babby’s growing black in the face!
     Carry him out—it’s the heat of the weather!

     The falling of the thunderbolt—in other words, the elopement of St. Abe with his own wife—is dramatically conveyed to us in the assembly of the Prophet and his Elders:

And the lesser lights all holy,
Round the Prophet turning slowly,
Raised their reverend heads and hoary,                                                 126
Thinking, ‘To the Prophet, glory!
Hellelujah, veneration!
Reckon that he licks creation!’

     In the midst of their meditations comes a murmur and a tumult, and a voice, ‘Brother Abe’s skedaddled!’ followed by the entry of

Six sad female figures moaning,
Trembling, weeping, and intoning,
‘We are widows broken-hearted—
Abraham Clewson has departed!’

While the Saints again upleaping
Joined their voices to the weeping,
For a moment the great Prophet
Trembled, and look’d dark as Tophet.
But the cloud pass’d over lightly.
‘Cease!’ he cried, but sniffled slightly,
‘Cease this murmur and be quiet—
Dead men won’t awake with riot.
’Tis indeed a loss stupendous—
When will Heaven his equal send us?
Speak, then, of our brother cherish’d,
Was it fits by which he perish’d?
Or did Death come even quicker,
Thro’ a bolting horse or kicker?’

At the Prophet’s question scowling,
All the Wives stood moaning, howling,
Crying wildly in a fever,
‘Oh the villain! the deceiver!’
But the oldest stepping boldly,
Curtsying to the Session coldly,
Cried in voice like cracking thunder,
‘Prophet, don’t you make a blunder!
Abraham Clewson isn’t dying—
Hasn’t died, as you’re implying;
No! he’s not the man, my brothers,
To die decently like others!
Worse! he’s from your cause revolted—
Run away! skedaddled! bolted!

     After this ‘crusher truly’ come meditation and 127 prayer, and the reading of the Last Epistle of St. Abe to the Polygamists, beginning:

O Brother, Prophet of the Light!—don’t let my state distress you,
While from the depths of darkest night I cry, ‘Farewell! God bless you!’
I don’t deserve a parting tear, nor even a malediction,
Too weak to fill a saintly sphere, I yield to my affliction;
Down like a cataract I shoot into the depths below you;
While you stand wondering and mute, my last adieu I throw you;
Commending to your blessed care my well-beloved spouses,
My debts (there’s plenty and to spare to pay them), lands, and houses,
My sheep, my cattle, farm and fold, yea, all by which I’ve thriven:
These to be at the auction sold, and to my widows given.
Bless them! to prize them at their worth was far beyond my merit,
Just make them think me in the earth, a poor departed spirit.
I couldn’t bear to say good-bye, and see their tears up-starting;
I thought it best to pack and fly without the pain of parting!

     In a serio-comic monologue the Saint tells of his fall from glory, and of the discovery of the essential monogamy of his nature; how he grew to be fond of each wife individually instead of loving them in a body with a vague altruism:

Each got to think me, don’t you see,—so foolish was the feeling,—
Her own especial property, which all the rest were stealing!
O listen to the tale of dread, thou Light that shines so brightly—
Virtue’s a horse that drops down dead if overloaded slightly!
She’s all the will, she wants to go, she’d carry every tittle;
But when you see her flag and blow, just ease her of a little!
One wife for me was near enough, two might have fixed me neatly,
Three made me shake, four made me puff, five settled me completely,—
But when the sixth came, though I still was glad and never grumbled,
I took the staggers, kick’d, went ill, and in the traces tumbled!
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Instead of keeping well apart the Flesh and Spirit, brother,
And making one with cunning art the nigger of the other,
They muddle and confuse the two, they mix, and twist and mingle,                 128
So that it takes a cunning view to make out either single.
The Soul gets mingled with the Flesh beyond all separation,
The Body holds it in a mesh of animal sensation.

The epistle contains much ‘common’ wisdom on the treatment of women, and on the limitations of human endeavour in the teeth of unlimited female emotions, jealousies, and fears.

To a woman’s arms don’t fall, as if you meant to stay there,
Just come as if you’d made a call, and idly found your way there;
Don’t praise her too much to her face, but keep her calm and quiet,—
Most female illnesses take place thro’ far too warm a diet;
Unto her give your fleshy kiss, calm, kind, and patronising,
Then—soar to your own sphere of bliss, before her heart gets rising!
Don’t fail to let her see full clear, how in your saintly station
The Flesh is but your nigger here obeying your dictation;
And tho’ the Flesh be e’er so warm, your Soul the weakness smothers
Of loving any female form much better than the others!

St. Abe divides the world into Saints so ‘high in bliss that they the Flesh can smother, and Souls inferior,’ and concludes with the eruption that rose on the annexation of the maidenly No. 7.

But when the pretty smiling face came blossoming and blooming,
Like sunshine in a shady place the fam’ly Vault illuming,
It naturally made them grim to see its sunny colour,
While like a row of tapers dim by daylight, they grew duller.

And summing up the discovery of his love, his doubts, his determination, and his flight, he says:

Such as I am, she takes me, though; and after years of trying,
From Eden hand in hand we go, like our first parents flying;
And like the bright sword that did chase the first of sires and mothers,
Shines dear Tabitha’s flaming face, surrounded by the others:
Shining it threatens there on high, above the gates of Heaven,                         129
And faster at the sight we fly, in naked shame, forth-driven.
Nothing of all my worldly store I take, ’twould be improper,
I go a pilgrim, strong and poor, without a single copper.
Unto my Widows I outreach my property completely.
There’s modest competence for each, if it is managed neatly.
That, Brother, is a labour left to your sagacious keeping;
Comfort them, comfort the bereft! I’m good as dead and sleeping!
A fallen star, a shooting light, a portent and an omen,
A moment passing on the sight, thereafter seen by no men!
I go, with backward-looking face, and spirit rent asunder.
O may you prosper in your place, for you’re a shining wonder!
So strong, so sweet, so mild, so good!—by Heaven’s dispensation,
Made Husband to a multitude and Father to a nation!
May all the saintly life ensures increase and make you stronger!
Humbly and penitently yours,
                                           A. CLEWSON (Saint no longer).

The poem ends with a canto in a varied metre, telling of St. Abe’s monogamous life on the ‘Farm in the Valley,’ in which we see St. Abe at rest at last after the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of his extensively matrimonialised existence, and in those peaceful surroundings we learn of the comfortable disposal of his deserted wives in other matrimonial circles; Tabitha, the grey mare of budding sixty, ending her career in the condition of Free Love.
     Of other qualities of the poem, the descriptions of scenery, always a strong arm of Mr. Buchanan’s work, are distinguished and accurate. It is indeed difficult to discriminate our appreciation between the dramatist and the stage- carpenter. The poem is dedicated ‘To Old Dan Chaucer,’ whom he greets thus:

     Honest Chaucer, thee I greet
In a verse with blithesome feet,
And, tho’ modern bards may stare,
Crack a passing joke with Care!
Take a merry song and true                                                               130
Fraught with inner meanings too!
Goodman Dull may croak and scowl:—
Leave him hooting to the owl!
Tight-laced Prudery may turn
Angry back with eyes that burn,
Reading on from page to page
Scrofulous novels of the age!
Fools may frown and humbugs rail,
Not for them I tell the Tale;
Not for them, but souls like thee,
Wise old English JOLLITY!

     In the same year was published ‘White Rose and Red,’ a love-story, by the author of ‘St. Abe.’ Although still in the New World, the poet, in this volume, deals with an entirely different aspect of affairs from that which held his attention in ‘St. Abe.’ We spring at once from the sprightliness of Comedy to the dignity of Tragedy. Comedy there is too, for the two spirits run hand in hand, occasionally losing each other, as when Tragedy soars at white heat to the gateway of the gods, leaving Comedy with blinking eyes gazing upward; or when, Comedy springing forward with irresponsible joy, ‘humanely malign,’ Tragedy seeks the solitude of its own despair.
     The contrasts of the poem are drawn on two distinct backgrounds, those of an Indian village and a lowland town. First:

               the Land, where the lian-flower
Burgeons the trapper’s forest bower,
Where o’er his head the acacia sweet
Shaketh her scented locks in the heat,
Where the hang-bird swings to a blossoming-cloud,
And the bobolink sings merry and loud?
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

the Land where the golden Day                                                            131
Flowers into glory and glows away,
While the night springs up, as an Indian girl
Clad in purple and hung with pearl!
And the white Moon’s heaven rolls apart,
Like a bell-shaped flower with a golden heart,—

and second, the village of Drowsietown:

O so drowsy! In a daze
Sweating ’mid the golden haze,
With its smithy like an eye
Glaring bloodshot at the sky,
And its one white row of street
Carpeted so green and sweet,
And the loungers smoking still
Over gate and window-sill;
Nothing coming, nothing going,
Locusts grating, one cock crowing,
Few things moving up or down,
All things drowsy—Drowsietown!

     The story tells of how one, Eureka Hart, belonging to a body of

Thrifty men, devout believers,
Of the tribe of human beavers;
Life to them, with years increasing,
Was an instinct never-ceasing
To build dwellings multifarious
In the fashion called gregarious,
To be honest in their station,
And increase the population
Of the beavers!

while out hunting in the far north, is surprised and captured by a bevy of Indian squaws and maidens, and how, carried a prisoner to their village, he is received with courtesy by the tribe. He prolongs his stay there, and one of the maidens conceives a passion for him. From a long dream of sensuous delight, he wakes to a morning of grey ennui; and, leaving a broken-hearted love 132 behind, he returns to Drowsietown. We are told how, under the influence of his environment, he becomes accustomed to, and embraces the ease of, civilisation, and is married to a girl of the town. After months of waiting, the neglected Indian girl sets out on a long journey south, with as guide only a scrap of paper on which Eureka’s name and address is written. She passes through the great snowstorm, and arrives, collapsed and stricken with illness, at Eureka Cottage; the whole poem concluding with a picture of her death in the midst of the shadow, in which the intensity and unselfishness of her passion for Eureka is shown.
     Nowhere has the poet attempted so much word-painting to further our impression of the grandeur and warmth of scenery than in the Indian part of this love-story. And, besides individual passages concerned with descriptions of scenery, the poet has been able to endow the atmosphere of the whole poem with a warmth, a perfume, and a movement, that seem to suggest an Indian summer. From an artistic point of view, the poet has therefore accomplished nothing short of a triumph.
     As for the characters in the story, Eureka Hart is—well, intellectually—nothing.

Further in his soul receding,
Certain signs of beaver-breeding
Kept his homely wits in see-saw;
Part was Jacob, part was Esau;
No revolter; a believer
In the dull creed of the beaver;
Strictly moral; seeing beauty                                                                  133
In the ploughshare line of duty:
Loving nature as beasts love it,
Eating, drinking, tasting of it,
With no wild poetic gleaming,
Seldom shaping, never dreaming;
Beaver with a wandering craze,
Walked Eureka in God’s ways.

He was neither brilliant, bright, frantic, nor romantic, but he had in his veins a nomad desire to be ever wandering, racing, ‘bird-like, wave-like, chased or chasing.’ His soul only became a living force worthy of the consideration of a poet, under the influence of the Indian maiden.

She was a shapely creature, tall,
And slightly form’d, but plump withal,—
Shapely as deer are—finely fair
As creatures nourish’d by warm air,
And luscious fruits that interfuse
Something of their own glorious hues,
And the rich odour that perfumes them,
Into the body that consumes them.
She had drunk richness thro’ and thro’
As the great flowers drink light and dew;
And she had caught from wandering streams
Their restless motion; and strange gleams
From snakes and flowers that glow’d around
Had stolen into her blood, and found
Warmth, peace, and silence; and, in brief,
Her looks were bright, beyond belief
Of those who meet in the green ways
The rum-wreck’d squaws of later days.

And as for her costume:

All the merit of her dress,
Was that they form’d for eyes to see
Nimbus enough of drapery
And ornament, just to suggest
The costume that became her best—
Her own brave beauty. She just wore
Enough for modesty—no more.
She was not, as white beauties seem,
Smother’d, like strawberries in cream,                                                 134
With folds of silk and linen. No!
The Indians wrap their babies so,
And we our women; who, alas!
Waddle about upon the grass,
Distorted, shapeless, smother’d, choking,
Hideous, and horribly provoking,
Because we long, without offence,
To tear the mummy-wrappings thence,
And show the human form enchanting
That ’neath the fatal folds is panting!

For the details of the love-story, what new is there to record of love?—

As it was in the beginning,
     Is, and ever shall be!
Loving, and love for the winning,
     Love and the soul set free.

(An invocation like this is
     Need not be over-wise;
Who shall interpret kisses?
     What is the language of eyes?)
     .         .          .         .          .

Lips, and lips to kiss them;
     Eyes, and eyes to behold;
Hands, and hands to press them;
     Arms, and arms to enfold.
     .         .          .         .          .

The love that waits for the winning,
     The love that ever is free,
That was in the world’s beginning,
     Is, and ever shall be!

As the story indicates, there are two Nuptial Songs—the one, the song of the children of Nature; the other, the song of the children of Drowsietown. Here is the first:

Where were they wedded? In no Temple of ice
     Built up by human fingers;
The floor was strewn with flowers of fair device,
     The wood-birds were the singers.

Who was the Priest? The priest was the still Soul,                                 135
     Calm, gentle, and low-spoken;
He read a running brooklet like a scroll,
     And trembled at the token.

What was the service? ’Twas the service read
     When Adam’s faith was plighted;
The tongue was silent, but the lips rose-red
     In silence were united.

Who saw it done? The million starry eyes
     Of one ecstatic Heaven.
Who shared the joy? The flowers, the trees, the skies
     Thrill’d as each kiss was given.

Who was the Bride? A spirit strong and true,
     Beauteous to human seeing,—
Soft elements of flesh, air, fire, and dew,
     Blent in one Rose of being.

What was her consecration? Innocence!
     Pure as the wood-doves round her,
Nothing she knew of rites—the strength intense
     Of God and Nature found her.

And for contrast we hear the second:

Where were they wedded? In the holy house
     Built up by busy fingers.
All Drowsietown was quiet as a mouse
     To hear the village singers.

Who was the Priest? ’Twas Parson Pendon, dress’d
     In surplice to the knuckles,
Wig powder’d, snowy cambric on his breast,
     Silk stockings, pumps, and buckles.

What was the service? ’Twas the solemn, stale,
     Old-fashioned, English measure:
‘Wilt thou this woman take? and thou this male?’
     ‘I will’—‘I will’—with pleasure.

Who saw it done? The countless rustic eyes
     Of folk around them thronging.
Who shared the joy? The matrons with soft sighs,
     The girls with bright looks longing.

Who was the Bride? Sweet Phoebe, dress’d in clothes                        136
     As white as she who wore ’em,
Sweet-scented, sel.f-possess’d,—one bright White Rose
     Of virtue and decorum.

Her consecration? Peaceful self-control,
     And modest circumspection—
The sweet old service softening her soul
     To formulised affection.

Surveying with calm eyes the long, straight road
     Of matrimonial being,
She wore her wedding clothes, trusting in God,
     Domestic, and far-seeing.

With steady little hand she sign’d her name,
     Nor trembled at the venture.
What did the Bridegroom? Blush’d with sheepish shame,
     Endorsing the indenture.

It is not in our power to quote the many passages of beauty which the poem contains, but the following will indicate some of its moods:

         The swift is wheeling and gleaming,
               The brook is brown in its bed,
         Rain from the cloud is streaming,
               And the Bow bends overhead.
The charm of the winter is broken! the last of the spell is said!

         The eel in the pond is quick’ning,
               The grayling leaps in the stream—
         What if the clouds are thick’ning?
               See how the meadows gleam!
The spell of the winter is shaken; the world awakes from a dream!

         The fir puts out green fingers,
               The pear-tree softly blows,
         The rose in her dark bower lingers,
               But her curtains will soon unclose,
The lilac will shake her ringlets over the blush of the rose.

         The swift is wheeling and gleaming,
               The woods are beginning to ring,
         Rain from the cloud is streaming;—
               There, where the Bow doth cling,
Summer is smiling afar off, over the shoulder of Spring!

137 Phoebe, the wife,

In her very style of looking
There was cognisance of cooking!
From her very dress were peeping
Indications of housekeeping!

And if the poem contained nothing else, the description of The Great Snow would entitle it to a very high place amongst poems of Nature. From the first breath of the east wind till the time came when not a bird stayed, nor a team could stir, there is detailed all the various changes of the storm, leading up to the grand climax. The falling flakes come first, the vanguard of the Snow; then ‘faint of breath and thin of limb, Hoar-Frost, like a maiden’s ghost, nightly o’er the marshes crost in the moonlight.’ Then comes the Phantom Fog, sitting sullen in the swamp, ‘scowling with a bloodshot eye, till the North Wind, with a shout, thrust his pole and poked him out,’ and then the main Army of the Snow:

Black as Erebus afar,
Blotting sun, and moon, and star,
Drifting, in confusion driven,
Screaming, straggling, rent and riven,
Whirling, wailing, blown afar
In an awful wind of War,
Dragging drifts of death beneath,
     With a melancholy groan,
While the fierce Frost set his teeth,
     Rose erect, and waved them on!
     .         .          .         .          .

Multitudinous and vast,
Legions after legions passed.
Still the air behind was drear
With new legions coming near;
Still they waver’d, wander’d on,
Glimmer’d, trembled, and were gone.
While the drift grew deeper, deeper,                                                     138
     On the roofs and at the doors,
While the wind awoke each sleeper
     With its melancholy roars.
Once the Moon looked out, and lo
Blind against her face the Snow
Like a wild white grave-cloth lay,
Till she shuddering crept away.
Then thro’ darkness like the grave,
On and on the legions drave.

At the melting of the snow:

Underneath her death-shroud thick
Like a body buried quick,
Heaved the Earth, and thrusting hands
Crack’d the ice and brake her bands.
Heaven, with face of watery woe,
Watched the resurrection grow.
All the night, bent to be free,
In a sickening agony,
Struggled Earth. With silent tread
From his cold seat at her head
Rose the Frost, and northward stole
To his cavern near the pole.
When the bloodshot eyes of Morn
Opened in the east forlorn,
’Twas a dreary sight to see
Blotted waste and watery lea,
All the beautiful white plains
Blurr’d with black’ning seams and stains,
All the sides of every hill
Scarr’d with thaw and dripping chill,
All the cold sky scowling black
O’er the soaking country track?
There a sobbing everywhere
In the miserable air,
And a thick fog brooding low,
O’er the black trail of the snow;
While the Earth, amid the gloom
Still half-buried in her tomb,
Swooning lay, and could not rise,
With dark film upon her eyes.

     In many ways ‘White Rose and Red’ deserves to be considered in the first line of the poet’s 139 work. It lacks the intellectualism of ‘The City of Dream,’ and the mystic realism of ‘The Book of Orm,’ but considering it as a pure piece of word-painting, and merely from an artistic and a sensuous point of view, we should feel inclined to place it, if not first, very high in the estimating scale. The contrasts are obtained not only by variety of colouring and tone in the painting of the atmosphere, but also in the striking blending of the elements of Comedy and Tragedy; and there is nothing but the highest literary success obtained in the contrasting of the simple, irresponsible, trusting virtue of the red rose, with the equally simple, yet conventional, virtuosity of the white. The red rose is a child of mere sensuous emotions, the handmaiden of the flowers, the trees, the river, and the sky. The white rose is parochial excellence personified, whose ever keen eye is on the protection of her virtue. What the red rose deemed holy were the winds and the waves, the moon and the stars, the waters and God’s hunting-field; for the white, the holy things were all to be gained under the shadow of the nearest belfry.




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