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





The Devil, as a subject for literature, has not been made to assume very many distinctive characters, and diabolism, that is to say, a belief in a separate ‘power’ which works for evil, finding its apotheosis in the personal Devil of Luther, has in only a very few instances been a distinctive element in the teachings and religious systems of the world. Demonism, of course, flourishes throughout all creeds, highly or lowly differentiated, but of evidence of an individual power which works for evil, in contradistinction to a power which works for good, there is little. There is no direct evidence that it existed in Egyptian religious thought—the earliest attempts at systems of belief of which we have records—nor do we find it in Chinese Scriptures either prior to, or contemporary with, Confucius. Jainism, the religion of the Jains, or Hermits of India, has no mention of it; not until we come to the Zoroastrian or Magdean Scriptures do we learn of twin spirits Ahura Magda, the Spirit of Holiness, and Daëvas, the Originator of Impurities. 248 Neither in the religion of the Opheans, nor in Vedas and Vedantism, does a Devil occur; and as for the Greeks, their philosophy in regard to a Devil has yet to be discovered, although Empedocles looked upon Man as an outcast of the gods, and thus, in a sense, suggested the Miltonic Satan. Demokritos speaks of the popular mythologies pointing to beings who may influence human affairs malevolently; but there is no evidence to show a belief in a Devil, as, for instance, it is found in the New Testament, and in the various economies of the early and later Christian Churches. The early Hebrew prophets have no indication of a belief in a Devil; the Devil of Job is not the impersonator of evil, but a servant of God sent to administer punishment. The later books of the Jews which contain references to a Devil are the Chronicles, and the Book of Zechariah, and it is doubtful if the Devil of the Chronicles is a distinct personality. As for Zechariah, he no doubt lived at a time when the religion of Judaism was being markedly influenced by the Persian or Iranian Scriptures, from which the Jews no doubt obtained their Daëvas, and it is interesting to note that the Judaical dictum, that the spirits of good and of evil cannot both be worshipped at the same time, is derived from the Persians and Zoroastrians. It is only necessary in this instance to  add, that the Hebrew word Satan means ‘adversary,’ and that this is the interpretation to be put upon the word as it was used by Jesus in the rebuke to Peter, and that the 249 diabolic interpretation put on the appearance of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden is an outcome of very late Judaical theology. Even when the Jewish Devil becomes rampant, his powers are very limited compared with those of the Daëvas of Zoroastrianism, who was associated with the good spirit in the creation of man.
     A definite Devil is not to be found in Tâoism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, nor is it discovered amongst the Pre- Aryan Indians, Boddos, Lipchas, Arafinas, Polynesians, Arabians, Aztecs, nor in the teachings of the Latins and the Druids. With regard to the Latins, it will be interesting for Mr. Buchanan to note that a Roman was regarded by the early Christians as a minor devil. That is a title our poet would probably be proud to possess.
     Coming to modern literature, we have a variety of Devils, most of them more or less modified types of the Judaical conception, notable amongst which are the Devil of Luther (an existing force, not a literary creation), Milton’s Satan, Goethe’s Mephistopheles, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Calderon’s Devil, Byron’s Lucifer, and Robert Burns’s Deil.
     The Devil of Luther was the enemy of mankind working in human affairs—as we have said, a real existing belief, not a literary creation—a true biographical phenomenon, illustrated by means of his creator’s personal experience. As Professor Masson says, ‘Whatever resistance he met with, whatever obstacle to Divine Grace he found in his own heart or in external circumstances, 250 whatever event he saw plainly cast in the way of the progress of the Gospel, whatever outbreak of a bad or unamiable spirit occurred in the Church, whatever strange phenomenon of nature wore a malevolent aspect—out of that he obtained a clearer notion of the Devil.’ It was a reflex of the powerful belief of his age—what Comte called the Theological Period. ‘History to Luther was not a physical course of events, it was God acting and the Devil opposing,’ a position assumed, but with entirely opposite sympathies, by Mr. Buchanan in ‘The Devil’s Case.’
     The Satan of Milton was an archangel outcast from the courts of Heaven; one always conscious of power and with a high notion of Deity, who rebelled and was cast forth at the time when intimation was made by the Almighty in the Congregation of Angels that He had anointed His only begotten Son King on the Hill of Zion. With his ambition expressed in the well-known comparison, ‘better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,’ he waits on the threshold of Creation to tempt humanity to fight against the decrees of God.

                                     Of this be sure,
To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do evil our sole delight,
As being the contrary to His high will
Whom we resist.

The Devil or Mephistopheles of Goethe is quite a different person. ‘The Satan of Milton is a fallen archangel scheming his future existence. Mephistopheles is the modern spirit of evil: 251 Satan has a sympathetic knowledge of good; Mephistopheles knows only good as a phenomenon. Much of what Satan says might be spoken by Raphael; a devilish spirit runs through all that Mephistopheles says. Satan’s “bad actions” are preceded by noble reasonings, Mephistopheles does not reason; Satan’s bad actions are followed by compunctious visitings, Mephistopheles never repents; Satan is often “inly racked,” Mephistopheles can feel nothing more noble than disappointment; Satan conducts an enterprise, Mephistopheles enjoys an occupation; Satan has strength of purpose, Mephistopheles is volatile; Satan’s greatness lies in the vastness of his motives, Mephistopheles’s in his intimate acquaintance with everything; Satan has a few sublime conceptions, Mephistopheles has accumulated a mass of observations.”1
     The Devil of Marlowe, orthodox enough, is not so distinctive a character, although he is Mr. Buchanan’s Devil’s favourite pupil, ‘painted a very monster, corybantic, cloven-footed, insolent, and goggle-eyed.’ Calderon’s Devil ‘was only hideousness divine,’ while Byron’s Lucifer approximated to a Goethean Mephistopheles, with a dash of Miltonic Satan; and according to Mr. Buchanan’s Devil, he is as prosy as the fiend of Bailey. The Deil of Robert Burns is the Devil of eighteenth-century parochial Scotland, going about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He was treated by the poet in a scornful, humorous


1 Masson.

252 way, and was utilised to despatch excisemen and others who, from experience, the poet knew were running hot in the face of the Church.
     The Devil of Mr. Robert Buchanan bears little blood relation to any of these creatures. True, if we were sophistical enough to use the words ‘Good and God’ as synonymous terms, we might assume him to be only the Miltonic Satan in another makeup. The Miltonic Satan fought against ‘good,’ the Buchanan Devil is in revolt against ‘God.’
     Mr. Buchanan’s Devil is an outcast from God inasmuch as he dares to sympathise with the fallen, and to raise his voice against the pitiless, inexorable law which is the spirit of the All-Father. His Devil has a sympathy only for light and knowledge, and detests creeds, which tend to close the eye and to bury Truth in nebulosity of words. His occupation is to spread light wherever he goes, to call upon man to observe the present, and not to stand star-gazing into the future. There is in the modern creation much of the sublimity of the Miltonic conception, much of his noble reasoning, and much of his sympathy with good and pity for God. There is also much of the artfulness and knowledge of the world as found in the Mephistopheles of Goethe, but he is more tender, more loving, more pitiful, and has this distinct difference, that he pleads his own cause as the dispenser of the higher righteousness, that righteousness which springs from a knowledge of oneself and of one’s environment, the righteousness attained only by looking things 253 straight in the face as they exist, not by spying at them through a veil of superstition, tradition, and theological nebulæ. The Devil of Buchanan is the spirit of Revolt, the spirit of Eclecticism, the spirit of Science as opposed to the spirit of Theology, the inspirer of research as opposed to the upholder of authority and tradition. He joins with Science in discovering that the law of Nature, which, after all, is the law of God (and herein lies his revolt against God), is the struggle for existence, and the survival of the fittest; he joins with all true religions inasmuch as they act contrary to the great principle, and step in to help the weak. He is the upholder of, and sympathiser with, the weak as against the strong; he is in sympathy with those who fall under the inexorable, inexplicable, pitiless God of the Universe. His sympathy is with all those who have sought a sign, and who have given a helping hand to poor humanity on the long dreary road to the grave; to the religious leaders like Christ, and to his starry-eyed brethren of the East — Zoroaster, Buddha, Mahomet; to searchers after Truth of the stamp of Galileo and Magellan. This Devil claims that in opposition to the Churches, which were always opposed to everything that would ease the aspiring energies of mankind, he is the fountainhead of all the great economical methods, such as Printing, the Theatre, and the modern Press, economies which have led to the spread of Truth, and to the increase of the joy of life.
     His Devil is really God evolving, ‘evolving out 254 of the inmost heart of human Love,’ the spirit of knowledge and sympathy, opposed to the creeds which say ‘Knowledge is evil.’ ‘Goethe’s Mephisto,’ writes the poet, ‘is as crude a conception as even the Scotch “Deil”—mere intellect without heart, whereas I hold that intellect implies heart and true knowledge holiness. Goethe’s typical woman, e.g. Marguerite, is a fool; it is because she is ignorant, not because she is good, that she falls—whereas Goethe poses her as the type of purity, and finally as the Eternal Feminine. But it is pure ignorance that makes her spellbound by the jewels, and leads her to poison her mother and kill her child. “My” Devil would have saved her, Goethe’s monkey-devil destroys her easily. Goethe, in fact, took the vulgar view held by every parson. Hence the vogue of his poem.’
     We catch a glimpse of a Devil, ‘Ades, King of Hell,’ in ‘Undertones,’ but a spirit of sorrow appears for the first time in ‘The Book of Orm’; whilst not until the publication of ‘The Outcast,’ in 1891, was the idea conceived of a being in actual stern revolt against God, one claiming to be the Spirit of Pity. Following, in 1895, came ‘The Devil’s Case,’ where Æon himself states his own case in the sympathetic ear of the poet, and makes his reappearance in ‘The New Rome’ and in ‘The Devil’s Sabbath.’
     Let it be said here that no one who cares at all for the white-brained search for Truth need approach these poems with any feeling but one 255 of confidence that the poet’s steps are guarded by the two highest virtues, human dignity and reverence. However much custom, tradition, yes, even logic, may be disturbed, there is nothing in these poems that need hold back a single soul in his effort to push on to the brink of the Eternal Ocean. It may be that we may have to travel far down the infernal stair, but it is only to see the heirs of heaven arising there.
     In a Preface to the second edition of ‘The Outcast,’ the poet says: ‘“The Outcast” was the first of what I may describe as my “Satanic series,” the most recent of which was “The Devil’s Case.” I use the word “Satanic” to express the spirit of moral and intellectual revolt, which is just as absolute in Vanderdecken as in the greater Devil. The same unrest and unhappiness, the same dissatisfaction with the Divine plan, the same appeal to Nature against God, emerge in both characters; Vanderdecken, indeed, is the stormy child of the Spirit of Pity.’
     First, then, let us take ‘The Outcast,’ described as a rhyme for the time, and dealing afresh with the old legend of Vanderdecken, who, having defied God, is made an outcast on the seas for ever.
     The poem opens with a monologue on some of the more local aspects of the poet’s world:

‘A world without a God! Heigho! . . .
The good old God had merit, though!
Le Bon Dieu, gravely interfering
     In all Humanity’s affairs,
Bowing His kind grey head and hearing
     The orphan’s moans, the widow’s prayers,
Was worth, or so it seems to me,                                                         256
Whole cataracts of Tendency;
.          .         .          .         .          .

There is no God, and all men know it
Except the preacher and the poet;
Women are slaves and men are flunkeys,
The best but well-developed monkeys,
And Virtue is—a huswive’s sampler,
     Self-sacrifice—an usurer’s chatter;
Once Heaven was sure and Hope was ampler,
     But now the Devil rules Mind and Matter!
Le Roi est mort—destroy’d and undone,
     Or impotent and deaf and blind—
So vive le Roi of Hell and London,
     Who waves a shroud for Humankind!’

The poet proceeds to dwell on the new Philosophic Pill, the worship and praise of the new God ‘Man,’ and laughs to scorn the idea of bending the knee to the ‘King Ape Humanity.’

This stomach-troubled, squirming, aching,
     Mud-wallowing creature of a day,
This criticising, this book-making,
     Fretful, dyspeptic thing of clay!

While expressing his admiration and love for Man as an individual ‘first of creatures ’neath the sky,’ human at the best, he detests Man as an Abstraction, regarding as base the history of Mankind. ‘Not threefold heritage in Heaven could purge his spirit of its leaven, or make the Upright Beast divine.’
     During his meditations Vanderdecken makes his entrance, and is greeted with the acclamation, ‘Who the devil are “you”?’ which greeting serves the visitor’s purpose of dilating on the various vicious Devils created by the poets, he asserting that the only real Devil is he who 257 shares Humanity’s affliction. The poet and the Outcast exchange points of view, the former occasionally bursting out in anger only to be reproved by the calm and cynical Outcast, who invites the poet to pause in his ‘belabouring of critics and his cryings to God,’ and to sit down a space with him, comparing notes:

Come, though our strife is never ending,
     We’ve had our pleasure in the fight?
Not fearing Hell or hoping Heaven,
     We face the Elemental Flood;
Far better to be tempest-driven
     Than rot upon the harbour mud!

The poet speaks, dwelling on his own storm-tossed life, telling how with fretful, feverish tread he has paced the decks of life, and shed his sullen curses on creation; and moans that

The Creeds have withered one by one,—
     Frost-bitten roses in the garden;
There’s nothing left beneath the sun
     But lives that pass and hearts that harden.

And then the Outcast pours forth his tale, revealing his intimacy with the world, his knowledge of science and philosophy, ‘as intimate with works unseemly as any Fellow of a college’—being a character callous but sad, sceptical but superstitious, ‘apt in whatsoever was taking place from here to Hades.’—In tranquil after-dinner air he tells of his doom —how he had laughed at all the gods, ‘and for this and for minor sins not unconnected with Eve’s daughters,’ was driven in his doomed ship upon the ocean. He tells in what manner he roamed for years, and did his 258 best to grasp what millions die believing, but only found Folly and Death; ‘Love, a fable long forgotten; and Lust, poison’d honey.’ Trying all creeds, all superstitions, customs, and conditions, all gods that men and women revere, he got the same answer everywhere—Death, Annihilation.
     Looking into his face, the poet seems to see his own soul’s reflection:

A spirit poison’d through and through,
Yet hungering for the sun and dew;
A nature warp’d and wild, yet fraught
With agonies of piteous thought;
A soul predoom’d to Death and Hate,
     Yet eager to be saved and shriven—
A life so wholly desolate
It seem’d fierce irony of Fate
     To mock it with one glimpse of Heaven!

     For one hundred years Vanderdecken has kept a diary written in his own blood. This highly seasoned collection of writings he hands to the poet, with the remark that the Outcast was to find his salvation in the discovery of one woman prepared to give her soul that he she loved might live. Man, he granted, would be saved and proved immortal, could he thus be loved; but woman is capable of much, though never of wholly losing for another all stake in human happiness for ever.

They’ll love, and even accept damnation,
     So they but hold their man the surer,
But absolute obliteration
Of self for his soul’s preservation,
     Demands diviner powers and purer.
     .         .          .         .          .         .

Admit one soul from Self set free,
You prove Man’s Immortality.

259 He holds forth in language, tuned to a sad bitterness, against the failure of Christ and all the world’s dreamers, who played for Heaven, and failed to win it. He tells how he has gone further into despair in reading the last Philosophers than he was with the ‘Logos’ of St. John and Christ’s pure Hûleh lily. He has read Comte and Harriet Martineau; studied Mill, and swallowed Congreve’s ‘patent pill to purge man’s liver of Religion.’ He has thumbed Frederic Harrison and John Morley, turned to the ‘teacup tempests of Carlyle,’ and been filled with wonder ‘at divers dealers in cheap thunder’; read ‘Daniel Deronda,’ ‘Leben Jesu,’ and Renan’s ‘Vie’; vivisected with Lewes and Ferrier, and kissed, allured by Tyndall’s brogue, ‘the scientific blarney-stone,’ and has talked with Bastian, Huxley, and Darwin:

Then finally, in sheer despair,
     Burn’d deep with Scepticism’s caustic,
Found Spencer staring at the air,
Crying, ‘God knows if God is there!’
     And in a trice, became agnostic!

His agnosticism gives him ‘entrée’ to England’s best society, and with the Archbishop and the Cardinal he makes merry over the walnuts and the wine:

Found them agnostic to a man,
But doing all good fellows can
To make their crank old Ship, the Church,
Still staggering on with many a lurch,
Take in her sails and trim her anchor
Before the Storm swept down and sank her.

     Diabolically sneering at every system, foul or 260 fair, he prattles on. Suddenly in the midst of his talk there comes from the sea a cry for his return. ‘Once more adrift, lost in gloom, as lonely as a thunder-cloud, I fly, to face the blasts of doom!’ and with this last wail of despair, the Outcast vanishes.
     Here follows, tuned to English tongue, ‘The Flights of Vanderdecken, sung by one whose soul oft seems to share his doom of darkness and despair.’ ‘Here, the Modern spirit holds the Book of Doubt, the Writ of Reason. This is the Modern who would, yet cannot, bend the knee.’ ‘How,’ asks the poet, ‘knowing all creeds, all wicked lore that puzzles thought and palsies feeling, shall he ’scape the apes of Darwin—how in this tearful world, tomb-paven, shall he find resting-place and haven?’

How? By the magic which of old
     Set yonder suns and planets spinning!
By that one warmth which ne’er grows cold,
By that one living Heart of gold
     Which throbs and throbb’d at Time’s beginning!
By that which is, and still shall be,
In spite of all Philosophy!
From that we came, to that we go,
     By that alone we live and are—
Core of the Rose whose petals blow
     Beyond the farthest shining star!
Safe, despite Nature’s cataclysm,
     Sure, though the suns should cease to shine,
Love burns and flames through Thought’s abysm,
     Serene, mysterious, and divine!
One little word solves all creation,
     Abides when Death and Time have passed—
Damn’d by the genius of Negation,
     Man shall be saved by Love at last!

     The first canto is entitled ‘Madonna’ and concerns itself with the Outcast’s meeting with ‘our 261 Lady of the Light, Mary Madonna, heavenly eyed.’
     ‘More than a hundred years have fled since Philip Vanderdecken read Spinoza, and was damned.’ Having pondered in a dark amaze the Demonstration Absolute which proves the Eternal One must be divorced from Personality, having pondered every cranny of the argument, he cries, ‘Damn me for evermore, if any Personal God there be,’ and calls on the Spirit of Creation ‘to approve himself by his damnation.’ This occurred off Cape Horn, on his vessel, a weather- beaten Dutchman with a crew of squat, fat, night-capp’d, hairy dogs of Dutchmen—‘gruesome and guttural as hogs,’ showing the trace of every sin that blurs the soul and stains the skin—the ‘mate,’ once a Professor of a college, having been brought to destitution by wine and women, after holding the chair of Moral Philosophy. A storm arises and wraps the ship with fury, till

A thin pale Hand of fluttering gold
Stole through the clouds and silently
Touch’d the wild bosom of the sea.

Page after page is taken up with Vanderdecken’s musings and thoughts on Man, God, and Eternity, variated by an interview with a vision of the Madonna, who comes to offer him redemption. One year out of every ten, he is told, he will be suffered to leave his ship and wander amongst his fellow-men, so that he may find some gentle shape of womankind who shall love him and him alone, one content to share his loneliness and despair, 262 who shall from the fountain of her soul ‘baptize his brows and make him whole.’
     Here follow records of the dangers and trials through which the ship passes. Safely emerging from these, it comes at last to the First Haven, which is the ‘mise en scène’ of the second canto, sub-titled ‘Natura Naturans.’ Each canto needing a dedication, the poet runs over in his mind the various poets amongst the moderns to whom he might address his rhyme, and at last decides upon Herman Melville, the author of ‘Typee,’ to which book it is evident much of the contents of Canto II. owe their inspiration. The canto tells of one of the amours of Vanderdecken, and embodies a picture of nature naturing, a picture full of colour, and it must be said of fairly warm flesh tints, painted of course by Vanderdecken, and only reproduced by the poet:

A leaping, eddying, unabating
Revel of flesh and blood pulsating—
Now soft and sweet as fountains falling,
     Now mad and wild as billows bounding,
Now murmurous as wood-doves calling,
Now corybantic and appalling,
     And changeful as it was astounding!

We have not space to quote at any length from the various pictures of nature, and indicate the various moods which these suggest in the Outcast, or dwell on the peace of soul and mind which this love in the heart of loveland brings to the Wanderer. Aloha, the maiden, is a sweet, unselfish dream of passionate loveliness.
     Of this canto we quote a passage which conveys much of its character:

Lo! while her1 golden robe of day                                                     263
Slips film by film and falls away,
Naked and warm she stands a space,
The sun-flush fading from her face;
Then, with bow’d head and soft hands prest
Upon her bare and billowing breast,
Takes, while the chill Moon steals in sight,
The cold ablution of the Night!
And then, as by the pools of rest
She lieth down subdued and blest,
As on her closèd eyes are shed
Dim influence from the heavens o’erhead,
We nestling in her bosom close
Our feverish eyelids and repose—
Our spirits husht, our voices dumb,
     Our little lives a little still’d,
We sleep!—and round us softly come
     Souls from whose fountains ours are fill’d!
Spirits as soft as moonbeams flit
Around our rest, not breaking it,
Brushing across our lips and eyes
Wings wet with dews of Paradise!
While at God’s mercy and at theirs
We lie, they bless us unawares,—
Watch the Soul’s pool that lies within
The branches dark of Flesh and Sin,
And stir it as with Aaron’s rod
To gleams of Heaven and dreams of God!

Lifting the filmy tent of Sleep
With gentle fingers, on us peep
Those errant angels, soft and tender
With some strange starlight’s dusky splendour;
With balm from Heaven they bedew us,
Bring flowers from Heaven and hold them to us,
Flash on our eyes the diamonds shaken
To fairy rainbows as we waken,
And jubilantly ere departing
     Ring those wild echoes in our ears,
Which, flusht and from our pillows starting,
     We hearken for with childish tears!

We learn much of the tragedy of the Outcast’s life; how, by the death of mother and wife, he learned to curse the cruelty of a pitiless God; of


1 The Earth.

264 his adventurous career, and more, in detail, of the never-ending joy of this restful sojourn, naturing ‘with a simple maid who knew not sin.’
     But ‘’tis the wooing and the winning, not the long end, but the beginning, that is the joy of love.’ ‘Ennui,’ with his cold blind eyes, was soon facing the Outcast, and the old spirit of unrest returns, and with it, his bitterness against his God:

We feel too much, we know too little,
     We gaze behind us and before;
The magic wand of Faith, grown brittle,
     Breaks in our grasp; our Dream is o’er!
     .         .          .         .          .         .

Our love and hate have aims, but thine
     Are idle bolts at random hurl’d,
Impotent, hidden, yet Divine,
     Brood o’er thy broken-hearted World!
     .         .          .         .          .         .

Cold to the prayer of human sorrow,
     Deaf to the sob of human strife,
Thou workest grandly, night and morrow,
     On Thy great Masterpiece of Life!
For Thine own pleasure is it done,
     Since Art’s delight is in the doing,
Thine own enjoyment, slowly won,
     Is the sole end Thou art pursuing.

And yet, when the sense of joys return, the note is not entirely pessimistic:

The dim white Dove of Death is winging
     O’er Life’s great flood in lonely flight,
That sad black leaf of olive bringing
     To prove a hidden Land of Light!
God, who created Earth and Heaven,
     Lord of the Dead thy love can save,
Thy Bow still comforts the bereaven
     While Death wings on from wave to wave!
Standing ’neath Sorrow’s sunless pall
     We hail a symbol bright and blest,
And by that sign know one and all
That when these troubled Waters fall
     Our Ark on Ararat shall rest!

265 Then comes the tragic end of the child who knew no thought of pain:

A blossom, born to bloom and kiss,
She open’d, then stole back again
To Nature’s elemental bliss;

and the recall of the Outcast to his ship.
     This concludes the first wanderings of Vanderdecken, the volume ending with a pathetic personal Interlude spoken by the poet, still optimist at heart, and, spite the dark and troubled Present, seeing lights that stir the clouds about, and still preserving his youth’s illusion:

I Believe in God and Heaven and Love,
     And turning from Life’s sorry sight,
Watch starry lattices above
     Opening upon the waves of Night,—
Find shapes divine and ever fair
Thronging with radiant faces there,
While hands of benediction wave
O’er these wild waters of the grave.

To this is appended the beautiful Fides Amantis, from which we have had occasion to quote before. It ends thus:

I do believe that our salvation
     Lies in the little things of life,
Not in the pomp and acclamation
     Of triumph, or in battle-strife,
Not on the thrones where men are crown’d,
     Not in the race where chariots roll,
But in the arms that clasp us round
     And hold us backward from the goal!
In Love, not Pride; in stooping low,
     Not soaring blindly at the sun;
In power to feel, not zeal to know;
     Not in rewards, but duties done.

Corollary: all gain is base,                                                              266
     The Victor’s wreath, the Poet’s crown,
If conquest in the giddy race
     Means one poor struggler trampled down,
If he who gains the sunless throne
Of Fame, sits silent and alone,
Without Humanity to share
His happiness, or his despair!

‘This Gospel I uphold, the one
     The latter Adam comes to prove:
To every Soul beneath the sun
     Wide open lies a Heaven of Love;
But none, however free from sin,
     However cloth’d in pomp and pride,
However fair, may enter in,
     Without some Witness at his side,
To attest before the Judge and King
Vicarious love and suffering.
Who stands alone, shall surely fall!
     Who folds the falling to his breast
Stands sure and firm in spite of all,
     While angel-choirs proclaim him blest.’

Dearest and Best! Soul of my Soul!
     Life of my Life, kneel here with me!
Pray while the Storms around us roll,
     That God may keep us frail, yet free!
Be Love our strength! be God our goal!
     Amen, et Benedicite!

The rest of the strange flights of Vanderdecken have still to be published, but we learn from the title which precedes the first canto something of the scheme on which the ‘rhyme’ is conceived. ‘Gentle Reader, read herein English’d and versified out of the Double Dutch, “The Strange Flight of Philip Vanderdecken,” called “The Flying Dutchman,” being a record of his amours in all climes and countries, his experiences of all complexions, his conversations with the great Goethe and other persons of reputation, 267 some still living; his curious and often improper reflections on Men, Manners, and Morals, with a full, true, and particular account of his various religious opinions, the whole showing in a series of startling episodes how, having been damned by reading the philosophy of Spinoza, he was finally saved by the Love of a Woman.’


Herein lies a Mystery,
     If you but knew it!
Peruse this strange History—
     You’ll never see thro’ it,
Till Love learns your blunder
     And comes to assist you:
When, smiling and weeping,
With heart wildly leaping,
You’ll find, to your wonder,
     God’s Angels have kissed you!

     Four years later ‘The Devil’s Case’ was put into literary shape by Mr. Buchanan, ‘correctly stated, and diligently versified as a Bank Holiday Interlude,’ with a warning on the very first page to the reader that, ‘tho’ I try to state it clearly, ’tis the Devil’s Case, not mine!’ The poem is written in what the author calls ‘roguish, rhymeless stanzas—a rakish, rhymeless poem—and not in great heroic measures.’ The perilous subject-matter, a mingling of jest and earnest, is treated in a manner ‘jaunty, free, yet philosophic.’

Sad it is, and yet its sadness,
Trembles on the verge of laughter!

It is the ‘Great Original’ that is here presented, not ‘small inferior Devils, feeble, foolish 268 masqueraders, outlaw’d by the cliques of Heaven, who for ever roll the Log and praise the Lord.’ The evident sympathy between the interviewer and the interviewed is thus expressed:

Both began with warm approval
Of the Church and ruling classes.
I was praised by the Spectator,
was orthodox and holy!

Both have wholly fallen, yet still keep, as their proud possession, the power to stand erect:

Power to feel, and strength to suffer,
Will to fight for Freedom only,
Zeal to speak the truth within us,
While the slaves of Heaven are dumb.

With a fear that the crowd may deem his interview blasphemous, he declares:

He alone blasphemes who smothers
Truth his conscience bids him utter;

and recalls the fact that he, Buchanan, spite of all his slips, has ever loathed the foul materialistic Serpent that surrounds the world. . . . From his earliest hours he was gazing at the stars.

I was wondering, I was dreaming,
Speculating and aspiring,—
Reaching hands and feeling backward
To the secret founts of Being.

All the gods were welcome to me!
All the heavens were wide and open!
All the dreams of all the Dreamers
In my heart’s blood were pulsating!

Beautiful it was to wander
In a glad green world, beholding
Faith’s celestial Jacob’s Ladder
Rainbow’d out ’tween Earth and Heaven.

And upon its shining Angels,                                                                 269
Some descending, some ascending,
Golden hair’d, with rosy faces
Smiling on me as I walk’d.

Well those happy days were over,
With the roses of the Maytime—
One by one my youth’s illusions
Had been spirited away.

     It is at Hampstead that the poet first meets the Devil. As he passes over the Heath, woeful shadows of departed men and women he had known when young seem to pass before him, none looking at him, but all seeming in a dark dream, lost in contemplation; some smiling, some weeping; the white-haired Father among them, the Madonna-like Mother, David Gray, ‘bright-eyed, like the star of morning,’ Roden Noel, and others, whose presence on the scene testifies again to the steadfast faithfulness of the poet, on which we have already had occasion to dwell. None of these shapes give him a sign, as he stands there with a void and aching heart, while

Far above, the lamps of Heaven
Flicker’d in the breath of God.

Under the moon, ‘that Naked Goddess,’ he meets the Devil reading the latest (pink) edition of ‘The Star,’ ‘clerically dress’d, bareheaded, spectacled.’ To expressed surprise at his facility of sight, the Æon replies:

‘Yes,’ he said, benignly nodding,
‘I am blessed with goodly eyesight,
Owing chiefly, like most blessings,
To a strictly moral life.

270 He is absorbed in the human pageants that flit across the paper, the tales of war and slaughter, the records of the Bench and the Church, the camera of the Anarchy of Life, as well as the administration of all life’s beauty, all life’s wonder, and the solemn issues and glorious deeds that go with mighty causes. He knows that Progress, Culture, Church and State, Queen and Country, Party Rule, still are potent in the land.

‘Shibboleths like these are precious
Ev’n though one devours another,
Though the shibboleth of white men
Wrecks the shibboleth of black!

‘Yet (you warn me) still the Dreamers
Speak of God and point to Heaven!
Still the spire, like Faith’s bright finger,
Points to some far Paradise!’

He reads aloud of shipwrecks, earthquakes, devastations, floods, cholera epidemics, railway accidents, and asks the poet to look on Nature, and hear the wailing of a million martyred beings, and tell him if the God he prays to ‘cares one straw for human life.’ The poet replies:

This they prove, and this thing only:
Human life as we behold it,
Is as nothing in the vision
Of a larger Thought than ours;

and declares that nothing can die; and agreeing with him, the Devil adds that though life is eternal, all things personal must pass, and asks the poet to look at men, chasing the bubbles of pleasure, honour, reputation, gold, and women, and say if they are worthy of eternity.

God knows better—in Death’s furnace
Melts the dross for other uses.
‘God?’ he cried. ‘If such a Ruler,                                                         271
Wise, Omnipotent, All-seeing,
Had concerned Himself in making
Worlds at all, and living creatures,

‘He’d have made them wholly perfect,
With no fuss of evolution . . . ;
If there is a God, He blundered,—
Man is here to set Him right!’

The poet is horrified, having up to this time regarded the speaker as a clergyman or priest, and in wrathful tones declares that God ‘is’ and works in His own fashion, and that ephemeræ ‘fluttering for a breath, then fading, could not fathom the eternal glory of the God of all.’
     In eloquent terms the Devil speaks of the free scattering of damnation on two-thirds of living things, and of the bloody chapters which history and the newspapers make in the world’s volume; of how city has followed city ‘down the crater of damnation’; of how for a space some fair type emerges, is approved of, and then crushed.

Greece, Rome, Egypt, thus have perish’d
Yet the fires of Hell burn on.

Wroth at his blaspheming, the poet declares there is no Hell, save only conscience working deep within us, warning us against sin and evil; the Devil answering:

                           ‘Sin is God’s invention;
Often have I doubted Heaven,
Never have I doubted Hell.
Look around. Hell is, of all things
Made by God, the one thing certain.’

He then proceeds to plead his case in detail, 272 complaining that he has been sadly traduced by the priests, prophets, and even the poets, and adding that he is the kindest-hearted creature in this Universe of Sorrow, and that his affection for mortals is the cause of all his woes.

‘I’ve a case which, rightly stated,
Must procure me an acquittal:
Yes, the case for the Defendant
Will astonish God Himself!

‘God’s my Judge, and cannot therefore
As a witness speak against me;
God the Judge must be—the Jury
Men of science and discretion.

‘When they call the roll, you’ll challenge
All the slaves of superstition,—
Fashionable priests and poets,
And all military men;

‘Thieves and publishers and critics
Shall be warn’d from off the jury,—
Ev’n philosophers and pundits
Must be keenly scrutinised.

‘Politicians, Whig and Tory,
Jewish, Christian, and Agnostic,
Must be challenged—they are liars
Both by practice and profession.

‘Lastly, challenge all the prying
Members of the County Council—
Prurient things of all three sexes,
Loathing Liberty and Light.’

The Devil speaks in tender, loving terms of the Christ, the well-beloved Son of Sorrow, holy, loving, great, and gracious, and like to him, an ‘Outcast.’

‘All thy goodly Dream is over,
He who rules thy realm, my Jesus,
Never wore thy crown of thorns.

‘Not of thee, but of that other                                                            273
Who usurps thine Earthly kingdom,
Spake I; not of thee, my Jesus,
But of him they name the Christ.’

He takes the poet to the silent city, to show him his kingdom. ‘Wheresoever human creatures wail in anguish, is my kingdom!’ And as he gazes on dead and dying, on the hollow eyes of famine, on the insane, on murder and disease, ‘his features misted were with tears of pity falling from his woeful eyes,’ while in piteous tones he charges God with creating Hell, and setting alight the fires of Pestilence, Disease, and Famine, adding:

‘Thus, in spite of the Almighty,
I have leaven’d its afflictions,
Teaching men the laws of Nature,—
Wisdom, Love, and Self-control.

‘Every year the Hell-fires lessen,
Every day the load is lighten’d,
’Neath my care the very devils
Grow benign and civilised!’

declaring that the pedant who avers that man’s affliction came from eating the forbidden fruit was the Prince of liars, and that whosoever has eaten it ‘has known his birthright and is free.’ He tells of his practical efforts to improve the world’s affairs, he being the father of science, most renowned in all the arts, and hygiene his youngest born.

‘“Take no heed about To-morrow,”
Said the man-God, “do no labour,
Be content with endless praying
And eternal laissez-faire.

‘But the Devil, being wiser,                                                                 274
Knows that he who fails to reckon
With the morrow, will discover
That To-morrow is To-day!

‘And To-day is, now and ever,
All Eternity or nothing—
He who sits and twiddles fingers
Now, hath done it evermore! . . .’

The Devil gives the poet a view of the world in its various actions, passes him over palaces and prisons, hospitals and brothels, over waters black with tempest, over battlefields, over famine-stricken countries, over cities foul with plague, over the plains and mines of Siberia:

Everywhere the strong man triumphed!
Everywhere the weak lay smitten!
Everywhere the gifts of Godhead
Rain’d on over-laden hands!

     Returning to the Heath, the Devil continues the story of his career, telling how in other days he had stood at the elbow of the Father, and had sung His praises until the evil hour when he wandered from His side to view Creation, and how at first His praise grew louder until he beheld His angels ‘watching for His lifted finger creating and destroying.’ Then his soul became wroth within him against all the needless suffering and pain of the world, and he cried forth his anger to his God. Cast forth into the abysses, and landing on the Earth, he opened his career by tempting the Woman:

‘Then I said (may Man forgive me!)
Better far to know and suffer,
Reach the stature of us angels,
Than be happy like the beasts;

275 and declaring that he knew better than believe that ‘Death was brought into the world out of sin and sorrow through that fruit forbidden,’ knowing that Death was born in the beginning by the will of God the Father.
     He speaks in sneering terms of the long processes of Evolution, ‘now selecting’ now rejecting, harking back and retrogressing,’ and of how ‘the Archetype was fashioned by perpetual vivisection, his passage to the Human being marked by swarms of martyr’d creatures.’ Meanwhile, whilst the Nations were shadowed with the pestilential darkness of Death, and priests rose and made sacrificial offerings to God, the Devil was busy teaching mankind the useful arts:

‘How to till the soil, to fashion
Roofs of stone against the tempest,
How to weave the wool for raiment,
Yoke the monsters of the field;

‘Fire I brought them,—teaching also
How to tame it to their uses,—
Turning ironstone to iron,
Frame the ploughshare and the sword;

‘Help’d by me they drain’d the marshes,
Lopp’d the forest trees, and fashion’d
Ships that floating on the waters
Gather’d harvest from the Deep.’

Wherever superstition darkened Heaven and Earth he went, east and west—to Zoroaster, Buddha, Chiddi, speaking to them of light. Still people toiled, suffered, and died; still the priests raved aloud and waited for wonders; everywhere the senses of the people were blinded by signs 276 and miracles, whilst the Devil went on with his scholastic task of teaching the world hieroglyphics, architecture, the measurement of earth and water, and astronomy. He speaks of the fall of Paganism and the decay of Hellas under the sway of the Priests of God and Death:

‘Vain was all my strife for mortals!
Vainly wrought my servant-angels!
Vainly toil’d Asclepios, vainly
Helen smiled, and Sappho sang!

‘As a rainbow dies from Heaven,
As a snow-white cloud of summer
Breaks and fades, the pride of Hellas
Brighten’d, melted, passed away!’

Through the dark streams of Roman history we are piloted, with the Devil putting his case as against the All-Father; coming betimes to the shores of Galilee, where he found the ‘king of poets and of dreamers,’ to whom in the desert he points out his delusion. He tells how he was met with the reply,


; and then in glowing rage he declares that the promises He fathered have turned into dust, and yet live and multiply as lies, while he, the Devil, has gone on preaching his doctrines of enlightenment:

‘“Pass from knowledge on to knowledge
Ever higher and supremer,
Clothe these bones with power and pity,
Live and love, altho’ ye die!

‘“Fear not, love not, and revere not
What transcends your understanding!
Keep your reverence and affection
For the brethren whom ye know!”’

Meanwhile he is busy with his first great attack 277 on the Church and darkness, the invention of printing, persuading first a learned monk to transcribe his carnal books, and then, fashioning tiny blocks of wood, ranged them patiently in order, ‘smeared them o’er with ink from Hades, stamped the words on leaves papyric,’ and so the miracle was done.

‘First I printed (mark my cunning!)
God’s own Book, the Christian Bible,
Turn’d it out in fine black letter,
So that he who ran might read!

‘Thus, observe, I pinn’d the churchmen
Down to very verse and chapter!
Thus, Sir, for the good times coming,
I was nailing Lie on Lie!’

Then suddenly arose man’s new tree of good and evil, and light and liberty were born! Larger and larger it grew despite the shrieks of the Popes and Churchmen. ‘Lop it! cut it down! destroy it! Shun that leafage diabolic. Ware that wicked fruit of knowledge,’ croaked the raven of the Churches. But the whole world became full of the joy of the new blessing. The magic runes of Norseland, the Tales of Troy, Shepherd’s songs of yore, became the common gift of mankind, and Fairyland seemed once more; even the monks in the monastery garden ‘slyly sow’d the seedlings of the tree.’
     And since that day the fight between Church and Devil has lasted.

‘I it was who put the honey
On the tongue of Ariosto!
I who cast a light from Heaven
On Boccaccio’s golden page!

‘In the ear of many a monarch                                                              278
I was whispering my reasons—
Taught by me, your bluff King Harry
Faced the Pope and flay’d the cowls!’

Proceeding, the Devil tells of his second great ‘coup,’ the upraising of the ‘Drama,’ ‘still by priestcraft shunn’d and curst’; at first bribing monks to help him by the production of miracle plays. Then arose the Devil’s temple, ‘The   Theatre,’ sunny as the soul of Nature, fearless, beautiful, and free:

‘“Shun it! shun the Devil’s dwelling!”
Shriek’d the jealous cowls; but straightway,
Loud, the prelude of the battle,
Thunder’d Marlowe’s mighty line!

‘There I taught your gentle Shakespeare
What no shaven monk could teach him—
Mingled wit and wisdom, foreign
To a God who never smiles!

‘Churchmen curst, and still are cursing
What transcends their sermonising,
Hating, in the way of traders,
Rival shops with smarter wares.’

In his Temple rose the voices of the Seers and Merry-makers, Song-makers and Romancers. Following came another ‘coup,’ the invocation of the Story-tellers—Cervantes, Fielding, Sterne, Dickens, Charles Reade—all of whom ‘struck the rock of human knowledge, and freed the founts of fun, still foreign to a God who never laughs.’
     In rapid succession the Devil gives us pictures of Voltaire, the darling son of his adoption, Condorcet, Diderot, day by day waging the war of 279 the Devil of Light against the God of Popes and Bibles; and in passing we are given an indication of the horrors of the French Revolution:

‘Midst that carnage all the cruel
Parasites of God were busy,—
IGNORANCE, his page-in-waiting,
DEATH, his master of the hounds!’

the Devil proclaiming loud throughout the world that Salvation abides in ourselves and not in God.
     Then the Devil takes upon him the invention of the Newspaper:

‘’Gainst the Church’s red battalions
Rose at last the thin black line!
Nought that Priests and Tyrants plotted,
Nought that mortals did or suffer’d,
Nought that passes on this planet,
Any more remained in darkness!’

‘On the walls of hut and palace flamed thy messages to mortals, all the affairs of Hell and Heaven being recorded, even to the doings in the Vatican’:

‘For the first time human creatures
Knew the affliction of their fellows—
Tyrants blush’d to find recorded
Deeds they had not blush’d to do!

‘Nought that God had done in darkness
Could escape his circumspection!
All the evils God created
Now were patent to the world!’

and this boast arouses a vigorous protest from the poet as to the prying and denying which makes nothing sacred to eyes profane; to which the 280 Devil replies that in a scheme so democratic, individual merit fails, and that with all its limitations the Press is a boon to mankind:

‘By the printed words, the record
Of the conscience of the people,
By my clamouring Printer’s Devil,
Freedom spreads from land to land:

‘Deeds of night no more are hidden,
Deeds of grace are multiplying;
Light into the dungeon flowing
Strikes the fetters of the slave.

‘At my printed protestation
On his throne the Tyrant trembles:
Words of hope, for Freedom utter’d,
Shake the footstool of the Czar!’

From this point the Devil gives us picturesque records of his work in unfolding to man all the story of Creation, Birth, Death, and Evolution; of his revelation of the arts and sciences by God forbidden, not forgetting the rise and growth of medicine and surgery, and the general opening of the eyes of Man to the sense of his own dignity, and of the cruelty and tyranny of God the Father as personified in Nature and its Evolution. ‘What avails,’ he cries, ‘a bliss created out of hecatombs of evil, out of endless years of pain? Thus,’ he says, ‘throughout the ages o’er the world my feet have wandered, watching in eternal pity endless harvest-fields of Death’:

‘All the tears of all the martyrs
Fall’n in vain for Man’s redemption!
All the souls of all the singers
Dumb for ever in the grave!

‘Ants upon an ant-heap, insects                                                          281
Of the crumbling cells of coral,
Coming ever, ever going,
Race on race has lived and died.’

He declares that God has been deaf to all the wails and the weeping, blind to all the woes of being, and that neither praise nor prayer nor lamentation availeth before the blind, pitiless, sure, Eternal Law:

‘Waste no thought on the Almighty;
Seek, with all thy soul’s endeavour,
How to make thine earthly dwelling
Bright and fair, in God’s despite!

‘Only for a day thou livest!
Make that day, so quickly fleeting,
For thyself, for all thou lovest,
Beautiful with Light and Joy!’

And as he vanishes, asking not to be called the Prince of Evil, but the Prince of Pity, since he alone has wept for human woes, and worked for human amelioration, the poet ends:

Tell the truth and shame the Devil!
Tell it, even tho’ it praise him!
Tell the truth for the Defendant,
Tho’ the Accuser be thy God!

Better still—let the Defendant
Plead his Case in his own person:
Tho’ it means thine own damnation
Let the awful truth prevail! . . .

Yet, alas! that happy Eden!
All the golden, gladsome Garden!
God the Father smiling on us,
Raining gentle blessings down!

The volume ends with a Litany, ‘De Profundis,’ in which prayers are offered up for light and happiness, and deliverance from Wars, Murders, 282 and Deaths, from Liars and those who would deaden Truth. The following is a sample of the invocations:

Father, which art in Heaven, not here below!
     Be Thy Name hallowèd, in that place of worth!
And till Thy Kingdom cometh, and we know,
     Be Thy will done more tenderly on earth!
Since we must live, give us our daily bread!
     Forgive our stumblings, since Thou mad’st us blind!
If we offend Thee, Lord, at least forgive
     As tenderly as we forgive our kind.
Spare us temptation, human or divine!
     Deliver us from evil, now and then!
The Kingdom, Power, and Glory all are Thine
     For ever and for evermore. Amen.

     Mr. Buchanan introduces us again to his Prince of Pity, his Æon, his Devil, in ‘The New Rome,’ which is an attempt at a satire on the times. This originated in a suggestion of Mr. Herbert Spencer’s, who had written thus to the poet: ‘There is an immensity of matter calling for strong denunciation and display of white-hot anger, and I think you are well capable of dealing with it. More especially, I want some one who has the ability, with sufficient intensity of feeling, to denounce the miserable hypocrisy of our religious world, with its pretended observances of Christian principles, side by side with the abominations which it habitually assists and countenances. In our political life, too, there are multitudinous things which invite the severest castigation—the morals of party strife, and the ways in which men are, with utter insincerity, sacrificing their convictions for the sake of political and social position.’ ‘Urged by this great 283 authority,’ writes the poet, ‘I did attempt to write a satire, but I soon found that I lacked the necessary equipment, and was drifting into mere imitation of defunct masters. Moreover, I was only pretending to be in a passion. In point of fact, I had no “hate” in me; I was too disheartened and sad, and too sorry for poor Humanity. The longer I lived, too, the more clearly I saw the hopelessness of mere denunciation. Rating priests and politicians for their inadequacy was simply repeating one of the very few blunders made by the gentlest and most benign of philanthropists. It was cursing the Barren Fig Tree.’
     Beside the experience of the Devil in ‘The New Rome,’ he reappears to our observation in ‘The Devil’s Sabbath’ in the same volume, which has for an ending the following epode:

This is the Song the glad stars sung when first the Dream began,
This is the Dream the world first knew when God created Man,
This is the Voice of Man and God, blent (even as mine and thine!)
Where’er the soul of the Silence wakes to the Love which is Divine!

How should the Dream depart and die, since the Life is but its beam?
How should the Music fade away, since the Music is the Dream?
How should the Heavens forget their faith, and the Earth forget its prayer,
When the Heavens have plighted troth to Earth, and the Love Divine is there?

The Song we sing is the Starry Song that rings for an endless Day,
The endless Day is the Light that dwells on the Love that passeth away,
The Love that ever passeth away is the Love (like thine and mine!)
That evermore abideth on in the heart of the Love Divine!



Next: Chapter XI. ‘THE NEW ROME’

or back to Contents








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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