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

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search

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





The volume which bears the title of ‘The New Rome’ embodies in a remarkable way the poet’s views on most of the questions that have concerned him in his outlook on life and in his prognostications of death and eternity. With a writer whose mental and spiritual history has been one of steady evolution, the last word is merely a more highly developed, a more keenly tempered first word, and the final outlook, though taken from a higher pinnacle than that from which the first glimpse is taken, yet embraces, with an altered perspective, the earlier view. This metaphor, of course, is only correct in so far as we bear in mind the changes made by thought and environment on the seeing eye and the reflecting soul.
     ‘I end as I began’ is the confession of the poet—not in method of thought, nor in method of expression, but in tendency and in belief.—What was first vague, wrapt in a cloud of doubt and hesitation, became definite and clear. The veil has been gradually thinned, though never lifted, and the face within, at least, may be known to 285 be there. Little by little the nebulosity weaved by what we call conscience (which often is merely a mental habit, attained by custom) round the sight and the ideas, with the expression of them, was spirited away by the eclecticism of the poet; one by one the barnacles which clung to his ship of thought were cleared away, and, however far from the mark the poet is in discerning the secret of Nature and the secret of creation and of life, the note is always honest, direct, and uncompromising.

When first I learnt to know
     The common strife of all,
My boy’s heart shared the woe
     Of those who fail and fall;
For all the weak and poor
     My tears of pity ran,
And still they flow, e’en more
     Than when my life began.

The creeds I’ve cast away
     Like husks of garner’d grain,
And of them all this day
     Does never a creed remain
Save this, blind faith that God
     Evolves thro’ martyr’d Man:
Thus, the long journey trod,
     I end as I began!

I dream’d when I began
     I was not born to die,
And in my dreams I ran
     From shining sky to sky;
And still, now life grows cold
     And I am grey and wan,
That infant’s Dream I hold,
     And end as I began!

The volume before us is truly a confession of 286 Faith, and in many ways the best epitome of the poet’s passions, feelings, and powers that he has given to the world. The old sympathy for the weak and oppressed, the hatred of wars, the hatred of lust, the joy in mere living, the godhead of personal manhood, the hatred of shams, the hatred of intellectual trimming, the scorn of priests and pedants, the cry against a pitiless God-Father, and the heart-breaking sympathy for the sleepless Dreamer of Dreams, all are evidenced here.
     He ends as he began in more ways than one. His first volume was dedicated to David Gray. The dedication to ‘The New Rome’ is ‘To David in Heaven,’ thirty years after:

                   Lone and weary-hearted
                   I think of days departed,
         The shining hope, the golden lure, that led our footsteps on!
                   That led me even hither
                   To Night and isolation,
         That crowns me with a weary crown of a sunless aspiration!
                   All I plead and pray for
                   Is one glimpse of Maytime,—
The light of Morning on the fields of the flower-time and the playtime!

                   Better cease as you did!
                   Star-eyed, divinely-mooded,
         Hoping, dreaming, passioning, fronting the fiery East!
                   Better die in gladness,
                   Than watch in utter sadness
         The lights of Heaven put slowly out, like candles at a feast!
                   You emerge victorious,
                   We remain bereaven:
Better to die than live the heirs of an empty Earth and Heaven!

                   Ah, the dream, the fancy!
                   No power, no necromancy,
         Peoples Heaven’s thrones again or stirs the poet-throng!
                   Nought can bring unto me                                                           287
                   You who loved and knew me,
         The boy’s belief, the morning-red, the Maytime and the Song—
                   Faintly up above me
                   Winter bells ring warning—
Ay me! the Spring, when we were young, at the golden gates of Morning!

But the final note of the poet is not one entirely of despair. He cannot cry that ‘God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world’; but he knows that there is still ‘the glad deep music of creation abiding, though men depart,’ and that though the sternness of God is inexorable, the love of a mother is tender and eternal. His belief in mankind is as firm as ever:

                                           In this dark world
What moves my wonder most is, not that Man
Is so accurst and warp’d from heavenly love,
But that, despite the pitfalls round his feet,
He falls into so few,—despite the hate
And anarchy of Nature, echoed on
In his own heartbeats, he can love so much!
He stumbles, being blind; he eateth dust,
Being fashion’d out of dust; flesh, he pursues
The instincts of the flesh; but evermore
He, struggling upward from the slough of shame,
Confronts the Power which made him miserable
And stands erect in love, a living Soul!

Out of the chaos of Night—which is really the despair which arises from the embracing of the letter and not the spirit of the law—‘suns shall rise though many a sun hath set,’ and the last word that God can speak to an anxious world will be ‘Love’—the solving word of all creation, without which the orient beams 288 of light will freeze the soul on the brink of eternity.
     The volume is divided into various parts, of which ‘Songs of Empire’ is the first. With notable fearlessness as of old, the poet faces the current and swims against the stream of popular tendencies with regard to Empire. At the very moment when the spirit of Imperialism tops the highest wave of the sea of contemporary political thought, he boldly asserts his political eclecticism, and suspects some of our aspirations and methods. This is not an uncommon position for a poet to assume, although as a rule there is an evident silence which is termed poetical reticence, but which by some is not designated by such a charitable title. Whilst the poet of the Empire sings of rampant Imperialism and the virtue of  strength, and is the singer of the hour, Mr. Buchanan recalls ancient theories of liberty, and sings the Song of the Slain.
     The first song is characteristic enough, and indicates the regardless, sweeping step that strength takes in the economy of the world—in other words, ‘The Lord Marching on’:

Awake, awake, ye Nations, now the Lord of Hosts goes by!
Sing ye His praise, O happy souls, who smile beneath the sky!
Join in the song, O martyr’d ones, where’er ye droop and die!
                   The Lord goes marching on!

’Mid tramp and clangour of the winds, and clash of clouds that meet,
He passeth on His way and treads the Lost beneath His feet;
His legions are the wingèd Storms that follow fast and fleet
                   Their Master marching on!

And in a later effort the poet contrasts the stern 289 omnipotence, that shows no mercy, of God the Father, with the human tenderness and pity that are the hallmarks of human endeavour:

If I were a God like you, and you were a man like me,
And in the dark you prayed and wept and I could hear and see,
The sorrow of your broken heart would darken all my day,
And never peace or pride were mine till it was smiled away,—
I’d clear my Heaven above your head till all was bright and blue,
If you were a man like me, and I were a God like you!

If I were a God like you, and you were a man like me,
Small need for those my might had made to bend the suppliant knee;
I’d light no lamp in yonder Heaven to fade and disappear,
I’d break no promise to the Soul, yet keep it to the ear!
High as my heart I’d lift my child till all his dreams came true,
If you were a man like me, and I were a God like you!

He then bemoans the fall of the glory of the Modern Rome, ‘Where is the glory that once was Rome, where are the laurels the Cæsar wore?’ and he sees in the modern forum the Christ who is the God of to-day, not Baal, but Christus- Jingo.
     His Song of Jubilee is written, not to the tune of patriotic jubilation in all that we glory in, but in a minor key of despair in the growth of the worst aspects of Imperialism and Stock-Exchange commerce, which seems to raise the hope of the nation, yet oppresses the soul of the poet.

‘The thin red line was doubtless fine as it crept across the plain,
While the thick fire ran from the black Redan and broke it again and again,
But the hearts of men throbb’d bravely then, and their souls could do and dare,
’Mid the thick of the fight, in my despite, God found out Heroes there!
The Flag of England waved on high, and the thin red line crept on,
And I felt, as it flashed along to die, my occupation gone!
O’er a brave man’s soul I had no control in those old days,’ said he,
‘So I’ve turned myself, ere laid on the shelf, to a Charter’d Companie!

‘The Flag of England still doth blow and flings the sunlight back,                       290
But the line that creepeth now below is changed to a line of black!
Wherever the Flag of England blows, down go all other flags,
Wherever the line of black print goes, the British Bulldog brags!
The Newspaper, my dear, is best to further such work as mine,—
My blessing rest, north, south, east, west, on the thin black penny-a-line!
For my work is done ’neath moon or sun, by men and not by me,
Now I’ve changed myself, in the reign of the Guelph, to a Charter’d Companie!

‘The Flag of England may rot and fall, both Church and State may end,
Whatever befall, I laugh at it all, if I pay a dividend!’

This is not Mr. Buchanan’s own ‘Devil’ who sings the song, but Belial, a very different person, with whom the poet is not even on bowing terms. The same distaste of the commercial spirit in war is found in that subtle piece of humour, ‘The Ballad of Kiplingson,’ whose very title suggests the metre and spirit of the rhyme. The following quotation will give some idea of the character of this parody:

‘For the Lord my God was a Cockney Gawd, whose voice was a savage yell,
A fust-rate Gawd who dropt, d’ye see, the ‘h’ in Heaven and Hell!
         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .         .          .

‘Alas, and alas,’ the good Saint said, a tear in his eye serene,
‘A Tory at twenty-one! Good God! At fifty what would you have been?

‘There’s not a spirit now here in Heaven who wouldn’t at twenty-one
Have tried to upset the very Throne, and reform both Sire and Son!’

     Despite his pessimism, there is no evidence that the poet breathes anything but the patriotic spirit, yet his patriotism is tuned to a key rather foreign to the intelligence manufactured under our modern imperialistic environment. His hatred 291 of the sword will not be modified. In this he remains the poet of old. Expediency to him in such a question as this is a vulgar, dishonest shibboleth.

Not love thee, dear old Flag? not bless
This England, sea and shore?
O England, if I loved thee less
My song might praise thee more,—
I’d have thee strong to right the wrong,
And wise as thou art free;
For thee I’d claim a stainless fame,
A bloodless victory!

Not love the dear old Flag? not bless
Our England, sea and shore?
O England, those who love thee less
May stoop to praise thee more.
To keep thy fame from taint of shame
I pray on bended knee,
But where the braggart mouths thy name
I hail no victory!

To most of us, philosophers or otherwise, the doctrines of strength and success are the doctrines of nature and of expediency, but the poet is of another mind. It is not the flag of victory that concerns him most, it is not the victor in the struggle. His is the ‘Song of the Slain,’ the song of the vanquished; not when ‘slain’ or ‘vanquished’ under the white flag of freedom, or upheld by hands with blood unstained, but when found under the black flag, which to the poet’s eye seems to wave wherever greed and mere desire for Empire is the motive force of war:

         This is the Song of the Weak
               Trod ’neath the heel of the Strong!
         This is the Song of the hearts that break
               And bleed as we ride along,—
From sea to sea we singing sweep, but this is the slain man’s Song!

292 And while the gospel of the strong right arm is preached, the gospel of the triumph of mere animal superiority, the poet reminds mankind that it was not alone the mighty arm and the keen ear and eye that compassed the mighty things of the past:

‘We are men in a world of men, not gods!’ the Strong Man cried;
‘Yea men, but more than men,’ the Dreamer of Dreams replied;
‘’Tis not the mighty Arm (the Lion and the Bear have that),
’Tis not the Ear and the Eye (for those hath the Ounce and the Cat),
’Tis not the form of a Man upstanding erect and free,
For this hath the forest Ape, yea the face of a Man hath he;
’Tis not by these alone, ye compass’d the mighty things,
Hew’d the log to a ship, till the ship swept out on wings,
Ye are men in a world of men, lord of the seas and streams,
But ye dreamed ye were more than men when ye heark’d to the Dreamers of Dreams!
And the Dream begat the Deed, and grew with the growth of the years,
So ye were the Builders of Earth, but we were the Pioneers!

‘We are men in a world of men, not gods,’ the Strong Man cried;
‘Then woe to thy race and thee,’ the Dreamer of Dreams replied;
‘The Tiger can fight and feed, the Serpent can hear and see,
The Ape can increase his kind, the Beaver can build, like thee.
Have I led thee on to find thee of all things last and least,
A Man who is only a Man, and therefore less than a beast?
Who bareth a red right arm, and crieth, “Lo, I am strong!”
Who shouts to an empty sky a savage triumphal song,
Who apes the cry of the woods, who crawls like a snake and lies,
Who loves not, neither is loved, but crawleth a space and dies,—
Ah, woe indeed to the Dream that guided thee all these years,
And woe to the Dreamers of Dreams who ran as thy Pioneers!’

His sympathy and love for animals is expressed strongly in the poems ‘The Man with the Red Right Hand,’ and ‘The Song of the Fur Seal,’ a sympathy he expressed in rather exaggerated language in ‘The City of Dream.’ His love of peace is the ‘motif’ of the poem ‘Peace not a Sword,’ and his distaste for the boastful 293 voices which cry aloud in verse of deeds about which Heroes of old were silent, is expressed vividly in ‘Hark now, what fretful Voices’:

The Hero then was silent,
The Martyr then was dumb;

for glory is wrought through deeds of heroes, ‘not shrieks of Chanticleer.’
     ‘Songs of Empire’ conclude with ‘The Last Bivouac’:

No sound disturbs those camps so chill,
     No banner waves, no clarions ring,—
Imperial Death sits cloak’d and still
     With eyes turned eastward, listening
               To that great throng
               Which sweeps along
With battle-cry and thunder tread,
To join the bivouacs of the Dead!
     .         .          .         .          .         .

Sentinel-stars their vigil keep!
     The hooded Spectre sitteth dumb,
While still to join the Hosts asleep
     The Legions of the Living come:
               ’Neath Heaven’s blue arch
               They march and march,
Ever more silent as they tread
More near the bivouacs of the Dead.

     In the second division, ‘Thro’ the Great City,’ we are brought to face again many of those realities of misery which the ‘London Poems’ suggested. The poet’s gift of tears is nowhere stronger than when in the gloom of mean streets, and under the shadow of vice and crime he discerns the pathos and tragedy of feeble lives struggling with the master powers of sin, temptation, and disease. ‘The Sisters of Midnight,’ who are those, lost 294 women whose very existence lessens the possibility of danger to others—‘the lost who die that you may live’—are painted in words which deaden the soul with despair for the misery and the hopelessness of the whole social scheme. Take one passage from ‘Annie, or the Waif’s Jubilee,’ which appears under the sub-title of ‘The Last Christians.’ We echo the poet’s cry, Can these things be, and men still say that Hell is but a dream?

. . . Who hath not seen her, on dark nights of rain,
     Or when the Moon is chill on the chill street,
Creeping from shade to shade in grief and pain,
Showing her painted cheeks for man’s disdain
     And wrapt in woe as in a winding-sheet?
Sin hath so stain’d it none may recognise
     The face that once was innocent and fair,
And hollow rings are round the hungry eyes,
     And shocks of grey replace the golden hair;
And all her chance is, when the drink makes blind
The foulest and the meanest of mankind,
To hide her stains and force a hideous mirth,
     And gain her body’s food the old foul way—
Ah, loathsome dead sea fruit that eats like earth,
     Her mouth is foul with it both night and day!
So that corruption and the stench of Death
Consume her body and pollute her breath,
And all the world she looks upon appears
A dismal charnel-house of lust and tears!
Sick of the horror that corrupts the flesh,
Tangled in vice as in a spider’s mesh,
Scenting the lazar-house, in soul’s despair,
She sees the gin-shop’s bloodshot eyeballs glare,
And creepeth in, the feverish drug to drain
That blots the sense and blinds the aching brain;
And then with feeble form and faltering feet
Again she steals into the midnight street,
Seeks for her prey, and woefully takes flight
To join her spectral sisters of the Night!

And with this take a passage from ‘Sisters of Midnight,’ and with eyes wide open to what 295 may be seen at every step we take in the very heart of the Modern Rome—ay, in Modern Anywhere—let us decide if the indication here is drawn on too strong lines:

Poisonous paint on us, under the gas,
     Smiling like spectres, we gather bereaven;
Leprosy’s taint on us, ghost-like we pass,
     Watch’d by the eyes of yon pitiless Heaven!
Let the stars stare at us! God, too, may glare at us
     Out of the Void where He hideth so well . . .
Sisters of Midnight, He damn’d us in making us,
Cast us like carrion to men, then forsaking us,
     Smiles from His throne on these markets of Hell!

Laugh! Those who turn from us, too, have their price!
     There, for the proud, other harlots are dressing,
They too may learn from us man’s old device—
     Food for his lust, with some sham of a blessing!
Sons of old Adam there buy the fine madam there,
     Bid with a coronet,—yea, or a crown!
Sisters, who’d envy the glory which graces them?
They, too, are sold to the lust which embraces them,
     Ev’n in the Church, with the Christ looking down!

     Of other divisions of this volume, ‘Latter-day Gospels’ views, for us, much of the spirit and tendencies of many of our later prophets. Of these, ‘Justinian’ is evidently inspired by the example of the two Mills. The ‘New Buddha’ lets us into the spirit of Schopenhauer, whilst there are poems on Nietszche and ‘The Lost Faith.’
     The volume is also enriched by half a dozen Land and Sea Songs, of which ‘The Mermaid’ is a splendid piece of broad comedy, and written evidently to be sung.
     Interest is also added by the fact that many of the poems are addressed in a personal note to 296 contemporaries and others, chiefly in the world of letters.—Tennyson:

Dear singing Brother, who so long
     Wore Galahad’s white robe of Fame,
     And kept it stainless like thy name
Thro’ dreary days of doubting song;

Who blest the seasons as they fell,
     Contented with the flowers they bring,
     Nor soar’d to Heaven on Milton’s wing,
Nor walked with Dante’s ghost thro’ Hell,


Full of flowers are his eager hands
     As by Eve or Lilith he lies caressed,
But he laughs! and they turn to ashes and sands,
     As he rains them upon her breast!

Nothing he spares ’neath the sad blue Heaven,
     All he mocks and regards as vain;
Nothing he spares—not his own love even,
     Or his own despair and pain!


There’s Zola, grimy as his theme,
     Nosing the sewers with cynic pleasure,
Sceptic of all that poets dream,
     All hopes that simple mortals treasure.


There’s Ibsen puckering up his lips,
     Squirming at Nature and Society,
Drawing with tingling finger-tips
     The clothes off naked Impropriety!

Walt Whitman:

The noblest head ’neath Western skies,
The tenderest heart, the clearest eyes,
Are thine, my Socrates, whose fate
Is beautifully desolate!

297 Kipling:

Come, Kipling, with thy soldiers three,
     Thy barrack-ladies frail and fervent,
Forsake thy themes of butchery
     And be the merry Muses’ servant!

Robert Burns:

God bless him! Tho’ he sinn’d and fell,
     His sins are all forgiven,
Since with his wit he conquer’d Hell
     And with his love show’d Heaven!
He was the noblest of us all,
     Yet of us all a part,
For every Scot, howe’er so small,
     Is high as BURNS’S heart!

Thomas Hardy:

Shepherd, God bless thy task, and keep thee strong
     To help poor lambs that else might die astray! . . .
Thy midnight cry is holier than the song
     The summer uplands heard at dawn of day!

Henry James:

Tell James to burn his continental
Library of the Detrimental,
And climb a hill, or take a header
     Into the briny, billowy seas,
Or find some strapping Muse and wed her.

Professor Blackie:

Confound your croakers and drug concoctors!
     I’ve sent them packing at last, you see!
I’m in the hands of the best of doctors,
     Dear cheery and chirpy Doctor B.!

And in fine Gilbertian swing the poet puts these rhymes into the mouth of the ‘Essential Christian,’ with whom he came into literary 298 contact at the time of the publication of ‘The Wandering Jew’:

If I desire to end my days at peace with all theologies,
To win the penny-a-liner’s praise, the Editor’s apologies,
Don’t think I mean to cast aside the Christian’s pure beatitude,
Or cease my vagrant steps to guide with Christian prayer and platitude.
No, I’m a Christian out and out, and claim the kind appellative
Because, however much I doubt, my doubts are simply Relative;
For this is law, and this I teach, tho’ some may think it vanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

In Miracles I don’t believe, or in Man’s Immortality—
The Lord was laughing in his sleeve, save when he taught Morality;
He saw that flesh is only grass, and (tho’ you grieve to learn it) he
Knew that the personal Soul must pass and never reach Eternity.
In short, the essence of his creed was gentle nebulosity
Compounded for a foolish breed who gaped at his verbosity;
And this is law, and this I teach, tho’ you may think it vanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

I freely tipple Omar’s wine with ladies scant of drapery,
I think Mahomet’s Heaven fine, though somewhat free and capery;
I feel a great respect for Joss, although he’s none too beautiful!
To fetiches, as to the Cross, I’m reverent and dutiful;
I creep beneath the Buddhist’s cloak, I beat the tom-tom cheerily,
And smile at other Christian folk who take their creed too drearily;
For this is law, and this I teach aloud to all Gigmanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

To all us literary gents the future life’s fantastical,
And both the Christian Testaments are only wrote sarcastical;
They’re beautiful, we all know well, when viewed as things poetical,
But all their talk of Heaven and Hell is merely theoretical.
But we are Christian men indeed, who, striking pious attitudes,
Raise on a minimum of creed a maximum of platitudes!
For this is law, and this we teach, with grace and with urbanity,
That whatsoever creed men preach, ’tis Essential Christianity!

Satire is no stranger to Robert Buchanan.






It is expedient, occasionally, for the wisest man to recall some of the commonplaces upon which he built his wisdom, and one of these is the truth that all criticism of literature and of life must depend upon the point of view. Not that we are to be blinded by the heresy, that every point of view conveys an equally good perspective of the Truth, and that one view is only better in a very comparative sense than another; but it is necessary to estimate not only the capacity of seeing aright, and the elevation from, which the sight is taken, but also what the view is chiefly meant to incorporate and interpret. The scientist, with cold eye bent upon the minutiæ of living things and of morbid products, interprets life and its decadences and evolutions in the light of phenomena. It is his duty to record facts. He may go further and join with those we call the philosophers, and enumerate principles, but the principles he is concerned with reach no further than the outer gates of the supreme


the governing spirit of Nature, the God of the worlds. 300 The mystery within he leaves to the Poets and the Dreamers. The Poets may not have strong enough wings to fly upwards to the golden gates, and then they are content to be mere birds, singing in the ears of the flowers or chanting an inspiring note in the bright beams, which, flashing from the gates above, are spent on the earth below. But to others, Life is viewed on none so inspiring levels. To some it is ‘vanitas vanitatum,’ philosophising on it, unworthy of the higher energies, the higher mentality of man. To others, the whole Book of Life is already writ under the eye of Authority and Tradition, and there is no Truth beyond its age-worn bindings. To the cynic, ‘the world is a bundle of hay, mankind the asses that pull’; to the mere man of muscle, it is a vantage-ground for physical struggle; to the weak, only a place where sooner or later one has to die. There are many who view life merely as an antechamber to death, like Browning, ‘counting life just a stuff to try the soul’s strength on,’ with the danger of making life a process of dying; to others again, the whole problem has to be solved in this world, before the passing into forgetfulness. The evidence of Nature teaches the serious thinker to uphold one of three distinct points of view. First, that the principle of Nature is the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest, and that it is right that the strong should accede to their lawful heritage; ‘that men are men in a world of men, not gods.’ Second, that an understanding 301 of this principle necessitates a moral recognition of the fact that the whole energy of humanity should be spent in assisting the weak in their competition with the strong, and here enter the religious systems of the world, especially that of Christianity. And third, that the Truth of the matter is reached, as Aristotle put it, by a balance of contraries.
     It is extremely difficult to take more than a partial view of Truth, a partial view of Life. The greater philosophers, with their brains at white heat, strive to attain it with some success; but however clear the point of sight, however free from astigmatism the mental lens, the view must remain partial, and in more senses than one arbitrary. Even though temperamental, racial, and class tendencies be inhibited, or modified, or at least controlled in the economies of actual life, there still remain, not only the general limitations of human conception, but also the insufficiency of knowledge, the unequal balance of emotion and reason, which prevent us holding the balance of Truth at an absolute level. And in a rich and varied world, where are we to find the unbiassed mind, the unimpassioned soul, that is to be crowned as the dispenser of justice between the several truths? The point of view of the philosophical scientist is viewed with distrust by the poet, in that the former is apt to undervalue those qualities and gifts which are generally classified outside the area of mere reason—the qualities of intuition and emotion, and the gifts of inspiration and suggestion; the scientist in return regarding 302 with suspicion a view of life whose interpretation is not perhaps directly through the medium of these spiritual qualities and gifts, but which is in a marked sense influenced by them. Add to this the knowledge that in the evolution of social life no man can well stand alone, and that time has driven him, consciously or unconsciously, into corporate bodies, religious, political, and moral, which prevent him speaking the Truth apart from the teachings and influences of these corporations.
     And although Mr. Buchanan is freer than most thinkers from the barnacles of convention and custom—untied by faithful adherence to organised systems—it is yet not very difficult for the critic who is sensitive to fine distinctions to indicate the partiality of the poet’s view. Even in his early probational poems his spiritualised conception of life in the ‘unsung cities’ streets’ is after all drawing us away from the true philosophical perspective of the lives he is dealing with, and his belief in the immortality of every living thing does not afford a very helpful solution to the problem of the higher improvement and evolution of nature. If Mr. Buchanan had viewed man as the criminologist and the practical philanthropist have to view him, he would have been suspicious of a point of view which concedes eternity to the born criminal and the habitual offender. The salvation of ‘The Man Accurst,’ however beautiful in its conception, is obtained at a risk to this higher evolution; and the partial view is 303 emphasised even more markedly by the fact that all this man’s villainy, baseness, brutality, and hatred of the fair paths would not be likely to find their ablution under the emotional conditions which prompted the decree of his salvation. Nature at least gives no glimpse of such a disastrous experiment in altruistic rewards.
     In his dramatic attack upon historic Christianity, the same partiality of view is evident. There is part of the truth, but not the whole truth, and that, as Goethe has put it, is often worse than a lie. The poet omits, what is a mere matter of justice, to pay a tribute to the beneficent altruism of the Christian Churches in the darkness of the middle ages, as far at least as it was used as a means of protecting women, and this even in view of the fact that this altruism was not untinged by a pernicious form of monkish egoism. Nor must it be forgotten that most of the philanthropic work in social life has been conducted under the inspiratory fervour of that Church which begs the name of the great Teacher of Nazareth.
     Partial too is his view of war, of vivisection, and of the various factors concerned in human amelioration and social evolution. His just hatred of the horrors of war leads him to forget that history has taught that the most warlike nations are the most manly, and that more than a touch of the Philistinism of mere physical contest is necessary to save nations from the artistic sleepiness of over-civilisation. It must not be forgotten that the 304 salvation of the more highly evolved states must be secured by an occasional appeal to those virtues which only an active participation in war can arouse. Nor must we omit to remember that war is one of the means by which Nature secures her evolutionary end, not only by the destruction of much of the waste material of states, but also by securing a means of placing those who are incapable of voluntary social altruism under the strict surveillance of organised discipline. When opposed to vivisection, on the other hand, apart altogether from the consideration of the exaggerations which are associated with its detractors, it must not be forgotten by one who views human happiness, human progress, and human love as the chief bases of all philosophy, that its practice is founded on the very principles which have sent scientific thought and scientific investigation—with their concomitant results in the way of the enlightenment of human sorrow—so rapidly to the front as social forces.
     Mr. Buchanan, a very strong man, is not alone in the tendency of his strength to ripen into despotism. Many of his ideas have tended in that direction; perhaps they appear to have done so in a more marked fashion in an age of feeble conviction and dilettante method. By this tendency to give full swing to great and eclectic ideas his view has been rendered more palpably partial. In most cases a sublime idealist, the poet is apt to become, to use Napoleon’s favourite phrase, an ideologist. Seizing hold of the teachings 305 of science to support him in his criticisms of life, he hesitates in following the scientific method to its logical conclusion. This hesitation, however, diminished in his later studies, and there is evident a larger consistency of treatment, and accordingly a less partial point of view, than there was when he first essayed his high flights in philosophical speculation set to the tune of noble rhythm.
     But it may seem the very height of crudeness of design to apply this method of criticism to the work of a writer of imaginative literature. To appreciate the poet, one must come into genuine emotional relationship with him, and it is cruel and idle to allow a stampede of rational cattle into the sequestered plot of ground where the poet keeps his delicate flowers. This is to borrow an analogy from Mr. Cadenhead. But Mr. Buchanan has not contented himself with the mere poetical or dramatical representation of his point of view; he has in nearly every case rushed into prose to augment the rationality of his contentions. In this fact is found the excuse of the critic.
     To Mr. Buchanan life is a serious concern and poetry a serious mission, and until the volume of life is closed and placed remote from strife in Death’s black library, everything is of importance that bears on the solution of life’s mystery and Nature’s cruelty. Literature to him is the merest waste of force, unless it tells us something new, or lends a new significance to what is old. ‘Mankind wants poetry and not criticism; it wants earnest thought and life, and not a philosophy 306 of the schoolroom; it wants fearless truth and imagination applied to all the great phenomena of creation; it wants, in one word, a living creed, not a rehabilitation of creeds that are indeterminate.’ ‘Literature,’ he says, ‘cannot be divorced from life any more than poetry can be from religion. The two are one, and a man is great or wise, not because by humouring his reputation he succeeds in hocussing the world into an opinion of his greatness or wisdom, not because he is corroborated by the folly of his inferiors, but because he is saner than his fellows in the purest sanity of goodness and love. The greatest writers are those who possess the grandest and most all-embracing power of sympathetic vision. For great writing is great wisdom, and great wisdom means great goodness, that is, love for sympathy with all created things animate and inanimate.’
     What is the special significance of Robert Buchanan as a poet? To understand what we mean by the word significance, let us glance at any of the great men who have drunk deep at the well of life, and have heralded some sort of dawn for the night of human darkness. What is the significance of Æschy1us but his supreme power of foreseeing great eternal truths, and realising them in terms of the noblest passion in immortal drama. Of Victor Hugo the same may be said, with the difference that here the medium is the poetical novel. Where lies the significance of Goethe but in his supremity as the analytical critic of human competition and human emotion—the first poet 307 of the new evolutionary movement, and primarily the apostle of egoism. Carlyle has his significance in his unique power of applying ethics to political speculation and action, and in his enormous capacity to rouse; Ruskin, in his capacity of giving his readers the sense of sight, of showing new wonders in the world that is ever before our eyes. Walt Whitman is ‘supreme in his power of conveying moral stimulation’; and the significance of George Meredith is his almost isolated power of expressing personal passion, together with his marvellous insight into the spirit of comedy, that nimble god who watches over all. Herbert Spencer, the recording angel of the newer evolutionary spirit, derives his significance from his power of unveiling the mystery of human responsibility in the face of a society based not on ideas, but on pure economics; Huxley, by bringing to bear on historical and theological criticism the deductions of the biological and other sciences; and David Ferrier, by applying his own experimental researches to the amelioration of suffering humanity. The process might be extended to infinity. Rudyard Kipling has his significance in not only voicing the instincts of a new Imperial spirit, but also absorbing in a dramatic fashion the spirit of science in ‘worshipping’ the god of things as they are; and even (to quote Mr. Lang’s majestic sonnet) when

                   From the songs of modern speech
Men turn, and see the stars, and feel the free
Shrill wind beyond the close of heavy flowers,
And through the music of the languid hours,
They hear like ocean on a western beach                                        308
The surge and thunder of the Odyssey,

they discern, on closer acquaintanceship, a significance even when under the sensuous influence of the ‘surge and  thunder,’ its supreme significance lying in its truth to the state of the civilisation which it reflects, ‘the description of its daily acts and the motives which make individuals act in the sense of their character and of their race.’ Again, what is the significance of such men as Dante or Shakespeare? To quote Victor Hugo, ‘Dante incarnated the supernatural, Shakespeare incarnated Nature.’ But we must not forget, in indicating the significance of a seer or a teacher, that circumstances and influences are capable of modifying the possibility of permanency in the quality of the significance. Instance, for example, the fact that ‘Milton lost much of his significance under the influence of modern thought, and that Virgil suffered from the influences of the Renaissance.’
     From this host of great lights let us come to our poet, and attempt to indicate his significance. Passing out of our memory for the present the thought of his earlier poems, we call into view the series of epics and odes, carols and  ballads, which extended from the publication of ‘The Book of Orm’ to that of ‘The New Rome.’ Throughout the whole of this work several ideas are reiterated. In the first place, that man is continually searching for a solution of life’s  meaning, and in that search calls to the God-Father for light. 309 To this cry there never comes an answer. The face of God is for ever hid behind the veil; the law of God, stern, inexorable, working on unchanged, is never broken—that law expressed in terms of science as the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. To ameliorate the suffering of mankind, human love springs supreme and eternal, together with a belief in a future life of reconciliation in the celestial ocean, in which some recompense shall be found for earthly inequalities. The essence of this human love is the Christ— the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth—and in his protest against the inexorable law of the Father, he, representing all the time the ambition of the human soul, is, in a sense


—atheist—that is, apart from God. All this we have indicated as we proceeded. The sublimity of Jesus lies not in his claim of divine fatherhood, or in his unfulfilled dream of the world’s salvation, but in his recognition of the despair of humanity under the cruelty of a despotic egoism. In this sense, God the Father is the Grand Egoist; Jesus, and with him Humanity in general, the Sublime Altruist. Oppressing the fair face of Christ’s noble altruism is the cloud of the Churches, and in striking contrast to the loving freedom of soul which is the essence of the teaching of the Nazarene, is the attempt by the theologies to strangle the Christ in creeds. Having accepted the evolutionary spirit in most of its bearings, the poet is consistent enough to conclude that if the records of miracles and the so-called historical documents are not to 310 be trusted as scientific evidence, then it follows that some other explanation must be found to account for many of the details of Jesus’ life. This position being adopted, there is nothing then of an abhorrent nature in the view the poet presents of the early life of Mary the Mother as it is found in the ‘Ballad.’ Only one conclusion could be drawn, and it adds to Mr. Buchanan’s significance that he seized hold of this matter and treated it boldly. The poet or seer must always discern the truth sooner than other men, and granting the acceptance of the eclectic position as it is conveyed, for instance, by Mr. Huxley, and there can be no future for any literary movement careless of science, the time will come when the logical sequence will be a question of commonplace acceptation.
     Mr. Buchanan’s significance lies then in the fact that he has used, as a subject for poetry, the great truths Science has taught, and those his own speculative imagination seemed to discern behind the cloud of conventional belief. Disdainful of using the mighty medium of poetry as a simple reflector of things as they are in a conventional sense, he has used these great truths, or attempts at truth, as the bases of his poetical aspirations, and in so doing has accomplished what he longed to see attempted in his earlier outlook on life. It is another question whether in so doing he has been true to literature and to history. Truth to literature is a much more difficult question to solve than truth to history. 311 History is a record of facts; literary methods are evanescent. They are born, they evolve, die, are renascent, and so on. We are not talking of metre or the mere grammar of literature, but of the method, dramatic or otherwise, used by the seer. Taking a man who has used similar material, though in a totally different spirit and with a totally different object in view, it would be as absurd to compare Milton and Buchanan, as it would be to compare, say, Offenbach and Wagner. There is a kind of gospel of grammar, metre, and rhythm, but none of the method by which any particular form of truth shall be presented in literary shape. Truth to history is easier. Here we are dealing with a comparison of facts.
     There is another form of truth less exact and less definite, varying in regard to the point of view. That is the truth of deduction—the inferences to be drawn from ascertained fact. If this aspect of the question is to be considered, the poet, —and there is nothing unnatural in this—clears away much of that nebulosity of doubt which the scientist is unable to do by the methods at his disposal. The poet is not content with the simple view of the concrete facts of nature; he is prepared to accept the longings of the soul as something as palpably true as those more material facts. Science, replying that it has a theory of the evolution of these longings which might relegate them to mere responses to sensuous emotions, depending for their basis on acquired knowledge and prejudices, gets no sympathy from the poet, 312 who sees in these yearnings the promise of the full light of the Celestial Ocean, and the joys of human reconciliation. Science, accepting the principle of the survival of the fittest as the only basis on which the higher evolution can be reached, and recognising that the struggle between natural forces, between the strong and weak, between health and disease, is the only means to secure the prolongation of natural vitality in its highest form, is passed by the poet, who demands from the All-Father the reason of this cruel principle. The same spirit makes him protest against all forms of investigation that necessitate injury to lower organisms, and against wars between creatures of the same instinct, the same possibilities, and the same aspirations.
     In this we venture to indicate the criticism of science; the criticism of the theological position is evident, and need not be insisted upon.
     To this must be added Mr. Buchanan’s very significant study of the Devil, the parallels of which we have already considered. If the Devil is to be referred back to the original Daëvas of Zoroastrian Scriptures as the Spirit of Evil working conjointly with the Spirit of Good in the organisation and evolution of the nature of man, then Mr. Buchanan’s Devil is both sophistical and paradoxical, and loses in being so, much of its significance. But if we are to study him as he was viewed by the Churches, and as in later days made responsible for an appearance as the serpent in the Mosaic story of the Garden of Eden, 313 then the poet’s Devil, claiming to be the spirit of knowledge and the spirit of progress, is logical and consistent enough. In this case he comes to be the Æon of Science, the herald of light, he who, in face of the direct and indirect opposition of ecclesiasticism, fought for centuries at the head of the great army of secularists, an army which went to war for the sake of the great principle of eclecticism, that is,—absolute freedom of thought, and for the sake of emancipation from those superstitious fears which kept mankind from facing the truths of nature, and using them for its own purpose. Viewed from this point of view, there is a deep significance in the poet’s conception of the Æon, who added to his schemes, not the defiance of the laws of nature, but the discovery of the means by which the apparent cruelty of these laws might be modified. In this sense he becomes the pioneer of scientific altruism.
     This love of altruistic action, and this hatred of the cruel egoism of nature, which latter is, after all, reply the scientists, ultimately altruistic, are the essentials at the base of all the poet’s work. ‘God shall cast away no man’ is the continued note of his most impassioned writing, whether found dramatically expressed in ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,’ ‘The Vision of the Man Accurst,’ or in the tragedies of common life as they are conveyed in his ‘London Poems’—the later of which, in their sublimity in surrounding tragic commonplaces with a spiritual halo, add a fresh significance to Mr. Buchanan as a poet.
314 As we have indicated, there are in many of the poet’s more brilliant attempts evident signs not only of anachronisms, but of sophistries and paradoxes; yet the underlying principle of Revolt in the name of mankind against the Father of suffering and death, set to poetical expression, cannot fail to individualise the work of Mr. Buchanan. The failure of his significance cannot be prophesied, or if prophesied, relegated with any definiteness to futurity. Whatever he has failed to do, he has at least satisfied the standard set up for himself—he has given us fearless truth and imagination, applied to the great phenomena of creation; he has not rehabilitated creeds that are indeterminate. He has faced fearlessly the problems that must come to all of us, however cynical, sceptical, or dilettante we may be, concerning man’s relation to man, and to the revelations of the Godhood in nature. However inadequate has been his expression, however partial his view, however sophistical his general expression, he has at least faced truth fearlessly and eclectically, and in so doing has laid claim to the highest intellectual morality. For let it not be forgotten by those who are startled by the poet’s eclecticism, who even shudder at his view of what has been to them truth sacred in the holy of holies of their soul, that to men of speculation and of fearless outlook, the unforgivable sin is intellectual immorality. The eclectics can only lift up their faces fearlessly to mankind, they can only express their prayer to a God-Father by speaking the truth as 315 they find it; and however wrong they may be, however far they may drift away from the white throne where Truth sits in her lonely splendour—espied occasionally, but never reached, by poet or thinker—yet in the very sincerity of their search they find their salvation and their justification. And it is necessary to remind mankind occasionally with regard to the question of susceptibility, that those of orthodox faith do not hold a monopoly either of conscience or of feeling. The constant reiteration of inconsequent and illogical dogmas is as distasteful to an eclectic searcher after truth, as are the fearless analyses of doctrine and dogma at the hand of the eclectic distasteful to the faithful adherent of the venerable creeds. The susceptibilities of the one deserve as much consideration as those of the other. In the words of Carlyle, ‘He who builds by the wayside has many masters,’ and members of a church militant need not be surprised if the enemy they are attacking use as effective, or even more effective, weapons than they use themselves. Reverence can be monopolised by no particular theology or particular school of thought. The eclectic thinker demonstrates his reverence not only by the use of the abilities which Nature has assigned to him, but also by the very fact that he is suspicious of systems which parochialise the worship of the supreme


by cramping it in creeds. The universal recognition of that simple fact will go far to bind humanity by the bond of a common love. As for our poet, although ecclesiastics may say that he has acceded too much 316 to the autocracy of reason, and even though scientists may be suspicious inasmuch as he has demanded an equal right for the spiritual emotions, yet the poet will reply that spiritualism and naturalism—using them here conventionally as distinctive terms— are necessary elements of every work of art, and the predominancy of one over the other has no certain or unchangeable ratio. Finally, let it be remembered to Mr. Buchanan’s honour that he has never attempted to humour his reputation, and has never been led to follow the false gods of those who ensured him a certain place in contemporary estimation if he would but promise to sing a poem occasionally to the gods of the moment, however much he suspected their divinity. His methods of dealing with these deities were not always pleasant or delicate; but having at a very early stage of his career been driven into the wilderness, he could not, as an Ishmael, use the methods of a pampered Isaac. It will probably be found that the poet will not come to his own till the remembrance of these, what may appear to some as, literary blasphemings is forgotten, and certainly not till contemporary thought comes up to the point reached by the seer.
     Nor must we omit the significance of Mr. Buchanan apart from his more prophetic and speculative utterances. The author of ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,’ of ‘White Rose and Red,’ and of ‘Poet Andrew,’ must always be regarded with serious attention by students of poetry, even if neglected by many of the 317 petulantly ignorant collectors of anthologies and their numerous friends. The foremost Scoto-Celtic poet of our time, as he is called by Mrs. Sharp in the ‘Lyra Celtica,’ can allow his phantasies and realities in verse to be independent of the indifference of cliques, as long as they touch the larger heart and the more far-seeing criticism. ‘His deep insight into Nature, and his fine interpretation of the mystical sentiment bred of man’s contact with her, his delicate fancy, his semi-Celtic phantasy,’ to quote Dr. Japp, ‘which in his treatment of certain themes impart such glow and glamour of colour, and weird witchery of impression, as no other poet of the time has approached, not to speak of his realistic, dramatic perception, as seen in such ballads as “Liz” and “Nell” and “Meg Blane,” combine to place him apart amid the select few, the best of whose work is to “live.” He touches the most commonplace things with the light that never was on sea or shore, and yet nothing of truth is sacrificed. This is the true test of poetry. Then in his “Book of Orm” he translates us to a world of dream, yet a world in which the grand realities of life stand out bold, like vast mountains whose lofty heads are lost in mist, yet faintly outlined. You are moved to a sense of some vast, vague, shadowy presence, which, felt or unfelt, is weird, fateful, and inevitable, hovering over all life, and touching it with awe and wonder. The manner in which Mr. Buchanan traces out and justifies, in a poetic sense, the bliss of gradual dissolution is at once 318 elevated and powerful. The picture of the void left on the sense and the imagination by the sudden disappearance of all trace, even of the poor body, as the dewdrop melts in the sun, the horror, as of some awful fate for ever hovering above and around, is suffused with the sense of mystery and awe, and the recovery, as if from some nightmare, is equally fine. In Mr. Buchanan’s genius,’ says Dr. Japp, ‘is wedded the grace and witchery of delicate phantasy with the directest and boldest realism. Nature and man stand between the two, as it were, and the force of his sympathies unites them, and brings them into accord. . . . He is alive to every thrill of the intellectual, social, and moral atmosphere, and translates, as his genius dictates, the impression into art. . . . He is in touch with all that makes men feel, that makes men suffer, and that makes men lonely, dissatisfied, and despair and  doubt.’
     Let Mr. Buchanan be tested on well-defined lines, and what is the result? If the question of pure human Drama is concerned, excluding altogether ‘The Drama of Kings,’ of which the poet himself is suspicious, let us take such poems as ‘Fra Giacomo’ and ‘Hakon of Thule.’ In each of these we have a single idea, presented in a perfect dramatic fashion, fearlessly true to the central ‘motif,’ without any critical intrusion to mar the simple directness of the idea. In ‘ballad  metre,’ let the severest and most academically critical spirit be applied to ‘The Battle of Drumliemoor’ and ‘The Ballad of Judas Iscariot,’ and let the 319 result be realised. When simplicity of character and equal simplicity of surroundings are to be spiritualised in poetic expression, what is more perfect than ‘Willie Baird’? Among genre and pastoral pictures, ‘The Churchyard’ and ‘Down the River’ must always occupy a notable position; and although Mr. Buchanan has written few lyrics, his lyric-descriptive poems, of the type of ‘Spring Song in the City,’ contain some of his finest work, and are in every sense worthy of more than mere contemporary estimation.
     It has been suggested more than once, that all Mr. Buchanan’s ‘aberrations’ have sprung from a want of the sense of humour. It is this sense, certainly, which gives us, more than any other, the sane, the healthy estimate of life; but a civilisation which charges a man with the want of a virtue should be certain, first, of its own righteousness. ‘My critics,’ says the poet, ‘presume, I suppose, that I ought to perceive the joke of the Nonconformist conscience and latter-day Christianity.’ Let us prove to our own mental and spiritual satisfaction that modern civilisation and the concurrent pursuit of an idealised religion are compatible, and then we may be free to talk of the want of sense of humour in others. If we face facts as they are, and acquiesce in the charges that the essential elements in modern, political, and social life are incompatible in their practice with the Faith of which our Royal master is the defender, we may then be justified, by our intellectual honesty at any rate, in viewing the want 320 of humour in one who is mortal like the rest of us, yet perceives the hollowness of making an eternal compact between the rush for power and the worship of show, and the doctrines of abnegation and humility as preached on the Mount of Olives. We recall, in this instance, what the present Laureate wrote to Mr. William Watson at the time when the latter was calling upon his countrymen to risk international complications by plunging into a piece of vague, benevolent altruism in favour of a suppressed people. Mr. Austin reminded Mr. Watson that if he ‘were but with him in his pretty country-house, were but comfortably seated by the Yule-logs’ blaze, and joining with him in seasonable conviviality, the enigmas of providence and the whole mysteries of things would become transparent to him.’ That is what we are virtually saying to our poet—‘God is in His heaven, all’s right with the world.’ There is still laughter, and love, and song, and although we have not yet discovered the universal tabloid for natural egoism and ‘original sin,’ at any rate out of this mixture of personal egoism and social altruism, the love of war and the gospel of peace, worship of strength and love of weakness, essential Materialism and professed Christianity, social purity and organised vice, legalised monogamy and polygamy in camera, we have made an excellent social broth that will warm the national conscience, and make us forget the submerged dissatisfaction in the general sense of good-fellowship that this mess of pottage inspires!
321 The present writer firmly believes that the point of view of the poet is often neither absolutely true to history, nor, in a few cases, to his own personal experience, but at the same time, he doubts whether the test of humour can be applied in the case of the poet’s more serious efforts, for the very reasons he has been attempting to indicate. If there is a want of the sense of humour, it springs from a belief that there is a likelihood of any radical changes taking place in human paradoxes. The poet himself owns that the law of God is never broken, and therefore he is unlikely to get much help from Nature, and if he but recall that there is little evidence to show that the altruistic spirit is evolving, he may rest satisfied that the advance to human salvation will continue to be a slow one, and checked by many retrograde steps. Despite Mr. Herbert Spencer, man is born an egoist as of yore. The change, if there be one, lies not in the evolution of an altruistic spirit, but in the accumulation of altruistic ideas, which become the capital of Society. Man does not come into his legacy in the mere process of being born; he inherits it as a member of a social state. ‘That man is susceptible of a vast amount of improvement by education, by instruction, and by the application of his intelligence to the adaptation of the conditions of life to his higher needs, I entertain not the slightest doubt. But so long as he remains liable to error, intellectual or moral, so long as he is compelled to be perpetually on guard against the cosmic forces, so long as he is haunted 322 by inexpugnable memories and hopeless aspirations, so long as the recognition of his intellectual limitations forces him to acknowledge his incapacity to penetrate the mystery of existence, the prospect of attaining untroubled happiness, or a state which can, even remotely, deserve the title of perfection, appears to me to be as misleading an illusion as ever was dangled before the eyes of poor Humanity.’1
     For the paradoxes and inconsistencies of social life, what is wanted is not rhetoric but ridicule, not passion but satire. And although the poet in much of his work seems to lose sight of this fact, he discerned at one time its essential truth: ‘It has been repeatedly forced upon me of late, that of all things wanted by the present generation, a satirist is wanted most; one who would tell the world its sins and foibles, not with the sneaking snigger or familiar wink of a society journalist, but with a voice loud and clear enough to reverberate from Land’s End to John o’ Groat’s. It would matter little where the voice was first heard. It might be in the pulpit, it might be on the stage. It might sound as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, or it might be heard, as more than once heretofore, from the very heart of the crowd. Since Dickens dropped the scourge, satire has been sadly at a discount, and we are in reality worse off for “censores morum” than were our prototypes, the prosperous “bourgeoisie” of the Second Empire. . . . Meanwhile Society,


1 Huxley.

323 Mænad-like, twines flowers in her hair, and goes from bad to worse. The only individuals who tell her of her vices are those who flourish through them, and the cue of these is to lament over the ideals they first overthrew, and to pretend that goodness is useless, since there is no power but evil left. Well, even a comedy of the Empire would be better than this. . . . The only straightforward and truth-telling force at present at work is modern Science, but it is not sufficiently aggressive in the social sphere to be of much avail. So the feast goes on, so the soothsayer is put aside, and the voice of the prophet is unheard. Some fine day, nevertheless, there will be a revelation—the handwriting will be seen on the wall in the colossal cipher of some supreme Satirist. How much of our present effulgent civilisation will last till then? How much will not perish without any aid from without, by virtue of its own inherent folly and dry-rot? Meantime, even a temporary revelation would be thankfully accepted. Such satire as Churchill suddenly lavished upon the stage would be of service to Society just now. Even satire as wicked as that with which Byron deluged the “piggish domestic virtues” of the Georges would not be altogether amiss. Only, it must come in simple speech, not in such mystic dress as that worn by St. Thomas of Chelsea when he gave forth his memorable sartorial prophesies.’ That embodies the spirit of wisdom. When angry rhetoric is but a douche of hot, and indifference a douche of cold water, and reason a 324 slow lethal process, ridicule and satire are deadly poisons. A fuller recognition of this fact might have led Mr. Buchanan nearer to that ‘sense of humour’ without which life, whether we view it on its social, moral, or intellectual sides, becomes a very anarchic concern. But the sense of humour is a two-edged sword, and many people are apt to take it by the blade, and not by the handle. If it brings us nearer to sanity, it also may tend to paralyse our holiest convictions. In fact, in an age when human ambitions and human aims drift easily into social and conventional moulds, when materialism and the principles of social compromise are the fashionable gods, there is a tendency to blur the face of aspiration, to reduce the purple of hope and ambition to a dull grey of indifferent acquiescence. And those who preach control and sanity most fervently see most clearly the dangers which lie before us if this control and sanity are allowed to be systematised into a gospel. After all, control as a virtue is only of a negative sort; and sanity does not mean mediocrity and tameness, it simply means wisdom. When we pursue the normal level of living, let us not despise the man on the look-out; while we hew stones and draw water, let us not sneer at him who interrogates the stars. And is it wise, in the ease of our own calm sanity, to cherish a hatred of that hot blood and indomitable persistence which inspire the dreamer, the poet, and, in a more vicious sense, the fanatic?
325 It is this blood that has inspired forlorn hopes, this spirit which may drive a man to be crucified for his belief. It would be a black day for the world when emotion had fuller sway than reason, when sensibility became a higher virtue than sense, and passion a nobler pursuit than sanity; but it would be a blacker when the worship of the evident in life and the pursuit of the commonplace were raised to such a pitch that the dreamer or the impassioned poet, voyaging on seas for which Science has no chart, nor Experience any compass, were counted as men free from their wits, or, to come back to the phrase we beg, ‘wanting in the sense of humour.’ Mr. George Meredith—always rapid as the dart to pierce the heart of things—holds that it is the first condition of sanity to believe that our civilisation is founded on common sense, and taking his fellow-men to be as wise as himself, he stepped no further into the elaboration of his terms. But might it not be judicious to suggest that it is wise always to understand that the essence of the word, that is ‘sense,’ is to have a more emphatic emphasis than the prefix ‘common,’ and that in the aggregate, common sense is not necessarily the philosophy of mediocrity. And it is wise also to remember that there is more in the scheme of life than mere foundations. And even when we are allowed to turn our minds to the gods, we must not be accused of worshipping alone that Spirit of Comedy which the genius of Mr. Meredith has idealised in godhead—that spirit with its brows 326 flung up like a fortress lifted by gunpowder, which looks humanely malign, and roars with laughter whenever men wax out of proportion, are self- deceived and hoodwinked, and are given to run riot in idolatries, and drift into vanities. The older gods command our worship, and although we may not discern them in the market-place, let us not limit the world by the boundaries of the bazaar, but let us recognise a world in which poets may dream and voyage forth to catch the message which they tell us the gods hold for mortals; a message which it will do us no harm to hear, if not to embody in our philosophy. Keats, in a memorable sonnet dedicated to Homer, reminds the poet:

For Jove uncurtained Heaven to let thee live,
And Neptune made for thee a spermy tent,
And Pan made sing for thee his forest-hive.

And though Wordsworth, keenly alive to the sanity which the pursuit of things as they are only can bring, reminds us that ‘to the solid ground of Nature trusts the mind that builds for aye’; yet he, like all seers, was conscious of the deadening power which a life in the fair paths of common truths tends to have upon the human soul:

The world is too much with us; late and soon
     Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
     Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon,
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
     The winds that will be howling at all hours,
     And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers.
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
     A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,                                       327
     Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn,
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
     Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

The true humour, in fact, is reached by a knowledge of good and evil evidenced from fact and comparison with a beatitude derived from an inspiratory fervour which comes to us at those times when, ‘from the songs of modern speech, men turn and see the stars.’
     Finally, to the poet, belief and living are twin conceptions, and his faith is

                                           Not far away
In the void Heaven up yonder, not on creeds
Upbuilded ’mid the ever-shifting sands,
Not in the Temple of God’s sycophants,
But here, among our fellows, down as deep
As the last rung of Hell.

     Hatred of mankind and love of God cannot exist together:

Hate Man, and lo! thou hatest, losest God;
Keep faith in Man, and rest with God indeed.

He who has gone with us with any care, to view the poet’s outlook, will have a clear enough vision of his philosophy. It is in the long-run a glorious optimism, inasmuch as it implies belief in the eternity of living, in the holiness of human love. His distaste for creeds springs from a simple belief that the last word of the soul can never be written, and that an ever- winged bird, soaring higher and higher in the eye of God, cannot be brought to earth to sing in the dreary cage wherein every note is formulated and catalogued.
328 He believes in Love, but not as it is painted by the creeds. He finds no love in the great struggle for life—therefore he sees none in the will of the God-Father. He can praise and he can pray, but he cannot love. God sends nothing but  agony, a struggle, and death.

                             Walk abroad; and mark
The cony struggling in the foumart’s fangs,
The deer and hare that fly the sharp-tooth’d hound,
The raven that with flap of murderous wing
Hangs on the woolly forehead of the sheep
And blinds its harmless eyes; nor these alone,
But every flying, every creeping thing,
Anguishes in the fierce blind fight for life!
Sharp hunger gnaws the lion’s entrails, tears
The carrion-seeking vulture, films with cold
The orbs of snake and dove. For these, for all,
Remains but one dark Friend and Comforter,
The husher of the weary waves of Will,
Whom men name Peace or Death.

But he believes in human Love, and cries out his belief in the ears of priests and ascetics. ‘Is there any honest man that doubts that Love, even so-called “fleshly Love,” is the noblest pleasure that man is permitted to enjoy; or that sympathy of woman for man, and of man for woman, is in its essence the sweetest sympathy of which the soul is capable. Only one thing is higher and better than Love’s happiness, and that one thing is Love’s sorrow, when there comes out of loss and suffering the sense of compensation, of divine gain.’
     After all, the wisest of men have occasionally to wipe away the dew that dims the glass of their philosophy. All efforts are comparative, all 329 Truth is comparative. Good and bad are not yet writ on the scrolls of the absolute, and to the present writer Mr. Buchanan’s merit lies not so much in that he has dreamed often, and has fluttered his poetical wings often, but in that he has dared to bring the charm of poetical expression to bear on themes which were originally considered the sole property of philosophers and speculators. While Tennyson is the mirror of the present age, Carlyle its censor, and Macaulay its panegyrist; while Herbert Spencer is its recording angel, and George Meredith the true discerner of its comic spirit, Robert Buchanan is the herald of its revolt, the mouthpiece of a sphinx-like woe, which, as a seer, he knows is buried deep down in the heart and soul of contemporary thought, and he realises that at the last.

God and the gods shall abide, wherever our souls seek a token,
Speech of the Gods shall be heard, the silence of Death shall be broken,
And Man shall distinguish a sign, a voice in the midnight, a tremor
From every pulse of the Heavens, to answer the heart of the Dreamer!
Faces of gods and men shall throng the blue casements above him!
Heaven shall be peopled with throngs of Spirits that watch him and love him!

     Mr. Linley Sambourne in a moment of inspiration1 has depicted the idealised figure of the New Century springing from the wing of Time, and buoyant and unconscious of the ‘shades of the prison-house,’ straining forward with inquiring,


1 ‘Punch’s Almanac,’ 1901.

330 fearless, inspired gaze into the meshes of the veil that hides the future. In her hand the staff of Faith and the lamp of Science. No longer do we espy an allegory of twin souls, Reason and Faith; Reason with his eyes fixed to the ‘solid ground of nature,’ groping, in the shadows, his uneven way with difficulty to Truth; and Faith with eyes to heaven, sailing in the full light of inspiration, unchecked to the Sungates. Faith and Reason now unite in the spirit of Imaginative Science, in the ideal of the aspiring Searcher after Wisdom. In the Ideal figure we see personified Imagination guided by Reason, Prophecy lighted by Science. This is what the Nineteenth bequeaths to the Twentieth Century. Hereafter, Superstition must creep warily and be an outcast from the newer Heaven, and Sacerdotalism assume a lower grade in the temple of human aspiration. For the construction of this Ideal, which is to lead mankind to the brink of the Celestial Ocean, Robert Buchanan has ever been an impassioned advocate, appealing not with the mere egoism of rhetoric, but with a yearning desire to bring human hopes and aspiration to a higher level than what to him appears to be the parochialised methods of the Churches, and the paralysing doctrines of mere materialism.
     In the gradual reconstruction of human hopes and human ideals, parochial truths will fade, yet flicker on for a while, whilst Eternal Truth will flash up anew to guide nations in the process of time to the basis of a common ideal and a common 331 religion. The methods that shall assist in the embodiment of this ideal and this religion will differ widely, and may continue to be the ground of strife and dissension, yet in the evolutionary process the teaching of Jesus will gain new life and a new significance, whilst Christian theology will lose its supremity and its vitality. The tendency will be to combine the essential truths of all great ethical systems, and in the attainment of that combination the process of the survival of the fittest will continue to have its legal sway. Not for the first time shall Jewish, Greek, Roman, and Hindu thought meet on the banks of the Jordan. With a tenderer reconciliation in view shall the priests of the newer gods rouse from their slumber their older brethren. No longer shall Christ walk in the wilderness, where despair, melancholy, and gloom dwell, but in the purified groves of Pan; and at the gateway of the new heaven Apollo, Prometheus, Balder, Bhudda shall sing with the Nazarene a new song of Hope. That song may sound clearer in the East than in the West, in that Far East, perhaps, where a young nation is springing eagerly forward to grasp and use what is best in the garden and storehouse of the world. Yet clear against the sky of human endeavour shall be written that sign which Mr. Buchanan discerned so clearly in his later days: ‘The Law of God is never broken.’ With that Truth impressing itself upon human reason and human imagination, no man, however inspired, will attempt to break or suspend that Law.
332 With the dead century the pen of the poet is laid aside. Ending as he began, he takes his final steps towards the brink of the Valley of the Dark Shadow, with few of his contemporaries to give him the grand hailing sign of sympathy. But the militant poet has had the last bay leaf snatched from his brow, and hereafter must begin to take an assured place amongst the poets that he loved of English race. The present writer, standing as he does by training, by instinct, and in the general conduct of life, at nearly opposite poles to Mr. Buchanan, lays this introduction to his poetry with affection at the side of his bed of sickness, with the hope that it may serve to reveal to many a new aspect of a man who is known to them only as a novelist, playwright, and publicist, believing that a sympathetic study of the poet will light at least one new fire in the temple of human aspiration, and add one more interpreter for the mystic language of the human heart.

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

Solemn before the poet, as before all of us, is veiled the dark portal, and until that is passed, we know not if all the glory and the dream of the poet be merely the rainbows of his sorrow, or ‘whether 333 in some more mystic condition the Gods sweep past in thunder,’ and if the Immortals are remembering all the melodies and the ideals that we on earth have forgot, and are plucking again the living bloom from the rose-trees of life’s Maytime. Though that riddle of the gods cannot be answered by Seer or by Dreamer—

Yet shall the River of Life wander and wander and wander,
Yet shall the Trumpet of Time sound from the Sungates up yonder,
Yet shall the fabled Sphinx brood on the mystic To-morrow,
While newer Cities arise, on the dust that is scatter’d in sorrow!




Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, (late) Printers to Her Majesty
at the Edinburgh University Press



‘Non Crux sed Lux.’




Back to Contents



Reviews of Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt


The Scotsman (1 April, 1901 - p. 2)

     ROBERT BUCHANAN. The Poet of Modern Revolt. An Introduction to His Poetry. By Archibald Stodart-Walker. London: Grant Richards.

     The many-sidedness of Mr Robert Buchanan has astonished and bewildered his contemporaries. He has achieved distinction in so many different walks of literature that many of his admirers have been tempted to believe that if he had concentrated his genius in one or two channels, and shown more sanity of judgment in choice of theme and of  expression, he might have taken an easy first place among the seers and singers of the day. His verse poetry alone provides a field sufficiently rich, spacious, and curious for the researches and analysis of a host of critics of poetry and investigators of the spirit of the age, who have yet as a class shown a marked disinclination to enter upon the task. Dr Stodart-Walker is bolder; but even he begins by carefully guarding himself from the charge of presuming to attempt a criticism or an estimation of Buchanan. His method is the “panoramic;” he seeks to look at things in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth from the point of view of the poet—no easy thing to do, especially by one whose own point of view towards the seen and the unseen is, as is indicated, almost diametrically different from that of Robert Buchanan. In a brief introduction and concluding chapter an endeavour is made to discover and explain “the significance” of Buchanan, whose great merit is considered to lie, “not so much in that he has dreamed often, and has fluttered his poetical wings often, but in that he has dared to bring the charm of poetical expression to bear on themes which were originally considered the sole property of philosophers and speculators.” It is just possible that the judgment of posterity, like the judgment of the past and present generations, may be given against this employment of poetical expression as confusing and out of place; in which case the merit would become only a reproach. But this is the significance of the author of the “Book of Orm” and of “The City of Dream” summed up:—
     “While Tennyson is the mirror of the present age, Carlyle its censor, and Macaulay its panegyrist; while Herbert Spencer is its recording angel and George Meredith the true decerner of its comic spirit, Robert Buchanan is the herald of its revolt, the mouthpiece of a sphinx-like woe, which, as a seer, he knows to be hidden deep down in the heart and soul of contemporary thought.”
     Granting—which is perhaps a large admission—the existence of this “sphinx-like woe” as underlying the cheerful- seeming surface of our times, one may still take exception to the peculiar expression which it finds from the lips of Buchanan as disagreeably querulous and egotistical, and almost wanting in the saving grace of humour. One may think that the times and the laws of nature are out of joint without holding it to be his duty to assume the role of a “minor Devil”—a title which Dr Stodart-Walker believes would please Mr Buchanan—and flout and insult the Creator. In fact, one suspects it is Mr Buchanan’s transgression of the canons of taste rather than his aggressive heterodoxy that has stood, and may continue to stand, in the way of the popularity of poetry which is full of beauty and infused with the spirit of love for suffering humanity. Dr Stodart-Walker has gone conscientiously over Buchanan’s poems, and by the aid of paraphrase, explanation, and liberal extract has opened what for many readers is still a sealed book; and, although he appears sometimes to be struggling with ideas that are too big or too vague for him to master, he has produced what may on the whole be described as an able as well as a sympathetic study of the typical poet of the “Zeit-Geist.”



The Academy (20 April, 1901 - p.341)

A Poet of the Too-Much.

Robert Buchanan: an Introduction to his Poetry. By Archibald Stodart-Walker.
(Grant Richards. 6s. net.)

MR. STODART WALKER is nothing if not an enthusiast. He expressly disclaims in his preface any critical value for his work: it is not even an “estimation.” He wants to explain what Mr. Buchanan’s poetry is, and for this purpose allows him as much as possible to speak for himself. Well, he attains his aim. After laying down the volume, you understand pretty well the nature and scope of Mr. Buchanan’s poetical work, even if you were previously a stranger to it. And that is no small thing to say for Mr. Stodart-Walker, especially since his own views (he states) incline towards canonic science rather than Buchanonic science. But he writes as a convinced admirer of the poet, and no man undertaking such a task can avoid expressing his own estimate of the writer with whom he deals. Mr. Stodart-Walker is certainly not that man: his estimate of Mr. Buchanan as a philosophic poet is writ large over these pages—large and loud; and it is seldom out of superlatives. Most things that Mr. Buchanan has done appear to be the finest of their kind in the language. In what he says Mr. Stodart-Walker is obviously too fiery a guide to be a safe one; but he explains and illustrates so well that every reader has the opportunity of forming his own judgment—if he have a judgment to form.
     Leaving out of view his restless other activities, even as a poet Mr. Robert Buchanan has in his time played many parts; so many that it becomes a necessity to keep the main line of his work. There can be no doubt, fortunately, what he would himself regard as the main line, and that is also what we consider his typical work. He threw himself, an unknown young Scot, on the conquest of London in the early ’thirties. It was a time when form was little studied in poetry—the Tennyson influence not yet having induced English poets to set their artistic house in order. The Dobells and Alexander Smiths and others of the earlier time between the setting of Shelley and the culmination of Tennyson were reckless violators of order, symmetry, proportion. Mr. Buchanan only too readily received, and has only too defiantly retained, the stamp of that day. The long poems, which are the deliberate and representative achievement of his maturity, trample symmetry under foot. The “Book of Orm,” for instance (perhaps the best), is a tangle of variegated metres, almost surpassing the manifold metrical forms of Shelley’s “Prometheus,” without the choral-dramatic convention which imposes shape and keeping on that poem, as without the metrical genius which gives justifying music to its various versification. “Orm,” indeed, seems born from the mingled influence of “Prometheus” and “The Excursion,” and makes harder reading than either. Yet in his first volumes, “Undertones,” together with poems loose and diluted enough, there were others, on classic themes such as have not since tempted him, which showed a very different spirit and influence—much of Keats, somewhat perhaps of Tennyson. Here are things fine, ordered, and with an even distinction of knitted phrase, as this, describing the effect of Pan’s music:

Whence, in the season of the pensive eve,
The earth plumes down her weary, weary wings;
The Hours, each frozen in his mazy dance,
Look scared upon the stars, and seem to stand
Stone-still, like chisell’d angels mocking Time;
And woods and streams and mountains, beasts and birds,
And serious hearts of purblind men, are hush’d;
While music sweeter far than any dream
Floats from the far-off distance, where I sit
Wondrously wov’n about with forest boughs.

Or this other, a personification of Memory:

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

Here, also, one lights upon noble imagery, while the images at most times are seldom less than effective. “Antony in Arms” (too long to quote) is a fine and strongly dramatic little poem, level from first stanza to last.
     But in his next volume, London Poems, he struck a realistic vein which made a name for him, and there was no further chance of his developing on the lines of the poems just quoted. As a whole, this second volume seems to us overrated. We prefer the longer poems which followed, for all their defects. In these he gave free play to his growing mysticism, while he was still intent on ultra-modernity, to be gained by treating the problems of modern life. “The Book of Orm,” we have said, appears to us best, and it is, at any rate, typical. It has deep thought, and is full of meaning, if the meaning be remote and difficult. It has imagination, too, on a large scale: conceptual imagination, we might call it. In execution, the imagination is much thinner than in the early poems already quoted; and fine imagery, though it exists, is much wider apart. Diffuseness, indeed, is the radical sin of this and the longer poems generally. They are diffuse in plan and in execution. Rarely you come across a single passage which keeps its feet throughout, like this striking imagination of what the world would be if the physical preludings of death were absent:

And suddenly my little son looked upward,
And his eyes were dried like dew-drops; and his going
Was like a blow of fire upon my face.

There was no comfort in the slow farewell,
Nor gentle shutting of belovèd eyes,
Nor beautiful brooding over sleeping features.

There were no kisses on familiar faces,
No weaving of white grave-clothes, no last pondering
Over the still wax cheeks and folded fingers.

The whole from which we quote these lines is beautiful, and original in conception. But, for the most part, we never get sustained distinction in workmanship; a passage promising to be fine is marred by interspacing with weaker matter; we have well-cut stones set in rubble, or, rather, the edges crumble away into the rubble, leaving none of them well cut. The poet can never stop in time. So there is a general laxity and loquacious dilution about the verse, leaving it distinction only in moments and for a short lifting of the wing. Which is a pity; for here is a poet of no inconsiderable power, whose “vaulting ambition” and revolt against all restraint and measure have shorn his most earnest work of its potential effect; so that it seems doubtful to us whether it can last much longer than “Kehama.” Now, that is an injustice done by Mr. Robert Buchanan to Mr. Buchanan’s self; for he is a poet, and Southey was not.



The Echo (27 April, 1901 - p.1)


(By Our Own Bookworm.)

     Robert Buchanan! “Bonny fighter,” novelist, publicist, dramatist, and poet. What a congeries of qualities the name conjures up. Truly a knight of the pen if ever there was one. Ever ready for the joust and the tournament, he smoked for the affray, for the lists where sarcasm, satire, and wit were the weapons of offence and defence. His career (for alas! it must be spoken of in the past tense) has been so comet-like, so brilliant and changeful, so errant and evanescent that it has never had time to impress itself as anything uncommon or extraordinary on our somewhat obtuse and impervious intelligences. But here was a fine and a rare genius, clouded indeed to our view by aberrations perverting to our vision, although comforting to our baser metal that genius is after all like unto other men except in its genius. It is, however, less humiliating to him than to us that his imperfections have partially blinded us to the unalloyed excellence of his work.


     If greatness is to be measured by the hostility of other men, then assuredly Robert Buchanan is one of our most heroic figures. Even in his novels and dramas he has not been able to lay aside his love of fire-eating. In his political, social, and religious essays he has thrust us in our most cherished beliefs, and over-toppled the idols we have most idolised. But it is in his poetry that we find his true self, the revelation of the spirit of “the poet of modern revolt.” It is in this light that Mr. Buchanan’s poetry has to be considered if we are to find his true significance, and we are therefore grateful to Mr. Stodart-Walker for the fine judicious discrimination and judgment he displays in his estimate (Grant Richards) of the poetical attainments of one who must undoubtedly be placed in the front rank of modern poets. Mr. Walker wisely believes that in viewing Mr. Buchanan as a poet he is concerning himself with the Buchanan that is of importance in contemporary literary aspirations.


     What was Robert Buchanan’s mental attitude? An attitude of revolt against accepted traditions, of opposition to conventional formula. He could never bring himself to believe that the opinion of the majority was necessarily right. It was thus he set himself against the national idols, the Church, our political and ethical nostrums. The impostor who had foisted himself into high position was his especial object of attack. In his own picturesque and forcible language he said, “I’ve popt at vultures circling skyward, I’ve made the carrion hawks a byeword, but never caused a sigh or sob in the breast of a mavis or cock robin.” In another place he says, “My errors have arisen from excess of human sympathy, from ardour of human activity.” Indeed, it was this excess of human sympathy for the downtrodden and the helpless that raised in him the spirit of revolt.


     His song is always for the poor and the distressed, of “The Little Milliner” and her lover, the poor clerk, of Liz, whose “all I want is sleep, under the flags and stones,” and the dreamy labourer,

Who toiled away, and did his best
To keep his glad heart humble.

It was said of him by a supercilious critic, who meant it unkindly, that his idylls were of the gallows and the gutter, of costermongers and their trulls. Such an impeachment would be rather out of date if brought forward now. But Mr. Buchanan could write of other things when he chose. Some of his poems, as, for instance, “To Galatea,” have an almost Ovidian lusciousness and voluptuousness. Others again have a Byronic gloominess and mysticism. For poetic idealism and for a sympathetic and reverential treatment of a subject for which he was not commonly reputed to have much reverence, his ballad of “Mary the Mother” stands alone and unrivalled. While the hostility and enmity aroused by his strenuously expressed opinions continue to exist we can hardly hope that his work will receive the consideration it deserves. But with the rise of a new generation it may be confidently hoped that he will be assigned his proper place.

                                                                                                                                                   D. M. S.



The Speaker (4 May, 1901)

Mr. Robert Buchanan as a Diabolist

Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt. By A. Stodart-Walker. London: Grant Richards. 6s.

It is a very dangerous and even destructive thing to have a large supply of righteous indignation. Having a large supply of unrighteous indignation hurts nobody; it is merely a series of human interludes. But righteous indignation possesses the whole man, and that way madness lies, particularly when the man has a surplus stock of ideal passion, and nobody in particular to work it off upon. This one essentially noble frailty is the chief of the difficulties of Mr. Robert Buchanan, a study of whose distinguished poetical career now lies before us. He has constantly been led by a mere inward prompting for battle, and struck out powerfully right and left at his contemporaries, often without disagreeing with them, and always without listening to them. This would matter little, for it is only one phase of an otherwise humane man, but that the author of the sketch of Mr. Buchanan now under our consideration selects this ferocious aspect of the matter for special study, and calls his book “Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt.”

Now, this resounding title does not impress us by any means. It may be questioned whether poets, as a class, are the better for being poets of revolt, or whether, as a class, they ever are poets of revolt. Poets sing of the common and therefore of the ancient things. Even where they do celebrate a kind of revolt, their revolt is commonly rather a reaction. They are a kind of Legitimists; when they rebel against the very stones of the street it is commonly in the interest of the rightful dynasty of trees. Few poets have ever rebelled against the oldest things; few have ever criticised the colour of the grass or the pattern of the stars, and Mr. Buchanan would certainly be the very last to do this. His mind is of the loyal type essentially; he defends the elementary charities against a mushroom crop of kings and priests. To call him a poet of revolt is simply to state his philosophy in negative instead of positive terms. Nor is there anything intellectually creditable in being in a constant condition of revolt. A thinker who calls himself simply a revolutionist is as foolish as a surgeon who should call himself an “amputationist”: it can mean nothing except an enduring mania for extreme measures. But Mr. Stodart-Walker has chosen to treat Mr. Buchanan from this, as it seems to us, frivolous and pugnacious point of view, and it is necessary for us to follow him.

The idea that the glory of Mr. Buchanan consists in being in “revolt,” is most strongly and completely expressed in the chapter called “The Devil,” which is devoted to the study of Mr. Buchanan’s poem entitled “The Devil’s Case.” We are used nowadays to sombrely sympathetic studies of Satan, and are perhaps inclined to ask for a little more devilry in our devils. We ourselves doubt very much whether the Devil is as white as he is painted. But literature has never seen so thoroughly impeccable a fiend as Mr. Buchanan’s, who is described as a “spirit of pity” leading men to light and knowledge, praising Christ for his tenderness and helping the weak and humble. This certainly impresses us, not as revolt, but as the most aimless sort of sentimentalism. To justify Satan against the saints by making him saintly seems to have no intellectual significance whatever. And we lose patience altogether when Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Stodart-Walker openly vaunt their emasculated Arimanes over the sublime lost spirits of Milton and Goethe. This is what Mr. Buchanan, in one of his worst moments, we suppose, says about the conception of Mephistopheles in “Faust”:

“Goethe's Mephisto is as crude a conception as even the Scotch ‘De’il,’ 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. . . ‘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.”

To the dim and rambling mind of Goethe it never occurred, we conceive, that the object of a devil was to save people. Goethe had uncommonly little respect for that amateurish “spirit of revolt” which can tolerate an angel perfectly so long as he is called a devil. His object in describing Mephisto was not to gain the boyish delights of a Devil-worshipper, but to give a high and philosophic version of what he conceived to be actually the evil and baffling element in things. And this was the object of all the great poets who have dealt with the Devil in literature, and whose various performances Mr. Stodart-Walker passes in lofty and disdainful review. Milton, for instance, asked himself the question, “What force can be conceived as really fighting against and often frustrating the normal health and order of things?” His answer was that Will, or the deification of Will, was such a force: that the Devil was the personal unit who would not be reconciled or assimilated or destroyed or even forgiven. To Milton, as to many modern Socialists, the Devil was the Individual. Then came Goethe and asked the same question, but gave a different answer. The Will, he said in effect, was essentially right in its tendency: but the utterly sterile and uncelestial element in things was the cold and cruel intellect, which seems to itself to see everything from heaven to hell, but cannot even see the heart of man. Both these devils are real devils, for they are forces broken loose and blindly fighting against good. But Mr. Buchanan’s devil is nothing at all but a sort of shadowy Christ. To say that “intellect implies heart” is merely to take refuge in vague words. It is painfully like “the vulgar view held by every parson.”

But in truth Mr. Robert Buchanan is not what Mr. Stodart-Walker designates him, a poet of revolt, but something very much better. In some cases he has even carried conservatism too far, as in the case of “The Fleshly School,” in which he treated other poets of revolt as purely revolting. But from Mr. Stodart-Walker’s book alone could be deduced a sufficient mass of evidence to show that Mr. Buchanan’s genius is, at its best, as cheerful a champion of the beaten paths as that of Aristophanes or Mr. Anstey. The beautiful poem which deals with the sorrows of the Virgin Mary is profoundly conservative, and only has the appearance of theological audacity because motherhood is a much older thing than Christianity. Mr. Buchanan shows his bitter and abiding Toryism in the quatrains about contemporary writers which Mr. Stodart-Walker quotes

“There’s Ibsen puckering up his lips,
Squirming at Nature and Society;
Drawing with tingling finger-tips
The clothes off naked Impropriety.”

This is entirely unworthy of Mr. Buchanan; in fact, we have a suspicion, in reading it, that he has never read any Ibsen. Ibsen has many defects; in some moods we would give all his clear and callous criticisms for one featherheaded song by Mr. Buchanan. But the theory of Ibsen’s indelicacy of language is an entire invention of the Daily Telegraph. There is not, so far as we can remember, one sentence in the whole of Ibsen which approaches to the coarseness of the above four lines. But whether this note on the great Norwegian be justifiable or no, no one can question the reactionary sentiment, the almost rich antiquity, of the mental attitude. The truth is that Mr. Buchanan has made one of the few mistakes of his life in attempting to be blasphemous and novel. It does not come from his heart, which is emphatically in the right place. Swinburne could do this sort of thing, because he had really “wearied of sorrow and joy” at a certain period: Mr. Buchanan is no more weary of sorrow and joy than when he was a boy catching butterflies. There will always be those who really are what Mr. Stodart-Walker would call “poets of revolt.” It is the chief aim of most of us to adapt ourselves to the universe; there will always be a certain number of persons who spend an exciting, if brief, career in endeavouring to adapt the universe to themselves. But Mr. Buchanan is not one of these pitiable irreconcileables. He has had his frenzies and his denunciations, and his storms in a tea-cup, but he is, at the end of all, a man with a clean and universal appetite. Purity would always touch him, if it were not legalised; sanity would be his motto if it were not the motto of the Philistines; Christianity would enrapture him if it had not succeeded. Whatever may be his faults, he has nothing in common with that race of bloodless sensualists who sicken of the plain colours of earth and sky as a man might sicken after a heavy meal. The carnation in his button-hole is red.

—G.K.C. (Gilbert Keith Chesterton)



The New York Times (11 May, 1901)


William L. Alden.

     LONDON, May 3.—

     . . . Mr. Robert Buchanan is still living, though in a state which makes it certain that he will do no more literary work. Mr. Stodart-Walker has just written a book in praise of Mr. Buchanan as a poet, and, although most people will be of the opinion that he overestimates the worth of Mr. Buchanan’s verse, the book is, on the whole, just and discriminating. The question suggests itself whether Mr. Stodart-Walker would not have done better to have waited for Mr. Buchanan’s death before publishing his book. It is the sort of book that is frequently published after an author’s death, and the reader inevitably finds himself looking upon Mr. Buchanan as already dead. Is it quite in good taste thus to assume that because a man is very ill he is virtually dead? I merely make the inquiry, for in the circumstances I am by no means sure that Mr. Stodart-Walker has made a mistake in publishing the volume, although some of the critics evidently think he has. On the other side, it might be said that it can do an author no harm to print while he is living the praises which we are so ready to print after he is dead. Why should we not give an author the happiness of feeling that he is appreciated? If he is already vain, it will not make him any the worse, and if he is not vain it will encourage and help him.



Pall Mall Gazette (20 June, 1901 - p.11)


THIS is a well-meant and laborious piece of work, conceived and executed with much mental and verbal confusion. We gather that what Mr. Walker would have liked to produce was an appreciation of the late Mr. Buchanan’s poetical works, but that he did not feel equal to the task. In the preface he calls his book a study of the poet’s “significance,” but hastens to add that he “is not bold enough to allot to his work any definite valuation.” In fact, he goes so far as to say that no contemporary critic could do this, as though the sole or chief function of criticism was to determine the value which posterity will attach to literature. Accordingly, the book is neither “of the nature of a criticism nor of an estimation,” and our author’s plan is to allow “the poet to speak for himself, and suggest his own significance and teaching.” The reader is destined to become very tired of the word “significance” before he finishes the volume.
     In practice Mr. Walker’s plan breaks down. No further than the second page we find him referring to himself as a critic, and he is very soon at work “appreciating” and “estimating” with entire unconcern. The early poems are pronounced to be “tragic in their interests, true in their perspective, and eloquent beyond words in the very simplicity and forcibleness of their language.” It is true that we have to wait till we reach the last chapter before we are told, of these same poems, that Mr. Buchanan’s “spiritualized conception of life on the ‘unsung cities’ streets’ is, after all, drawing us away from the true philosophical perspective of the lives he is dealing with; and his belief in the immortality of every living thing does not afford a very helpful solution to the problem of the higher improvement and evolution of nature” (!)
     There is, we must note, a good deal of unconscious humour in Mr. Walker’s announcement that he is going to let Mr. Buchanan “speak for himself.” No such permission was needed, as reticence on the subject of himself and his works was by no means one of the poet’s characteristics. This book teems with Mr. Buchanan’s views on the subject of his won publications; and we doubt if he has written anything in verse without furnishing, at the same time or later, a prose commentary on its “significance” or on the spirit in which it was composed.
     We are not now concerned with the criticism of Mr. Buchanan’s works, and will merely state our opinion that Mr. Walker has overrated their importance, and that the “significance” of their author is, in fact, summed up in the homely fact that a pint pot cannot contain a gallon. The astonishing egoism of the man does not seem to have struck his admirer, who reproduces, without a sign of queasiness such remarks as these: “My manhood has never been stained by any sham hate or sham affection;” “My errors have arisen from excess of human sympathy;” “Lacking the pride of intellect, I have by superabundant activity tried to prove myself a man among men.” It is these trumpet solos in the key of mi, together with his notable lack of sweetness, that have prevented Mr. Buchanan from winning such popularity as he deserves; not any profundity (or repulsiveness) in the doctrines which he has expounded at length in many volumes of verse.
     Mr. Walker admits few if any spots on his sun; he even says that that melancholy exhibition of rancour called “Kiplingson” contains “subtle humour.” But then we must remember that he calls “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” “a great ballad,” and thinks that by future ages Robert browning may be remembered only as its writer. This kind of obiter dictum is encouraging to those who differ from Mr. Walker in his opinion of the other “R. B.” He is himself, as he tells us, a man of science (or, as he would say, a “scientist”), and is presumably more skilful in managing a microscope than a pen—at least we hope so. He speaks of Bismarck’s “hatred-stenched” words, and of “virtuosity” when he appears to mean “virtue.” He says that somebody “soliloquizes a sleeping figure,” and refers to questions “that lie beyond mere ephemeræ.” Some of his sentences are almost, and others quite, unintelligible; for instance:

     It is the helping meed, as we have said, of most religious systems, to step in and help the fallen, becoming in so doing what Mr. Buchanan has somewhere said, in a spirit of antagonism to Nature, and in consequence to God the Father.
     If there is a want of the sense of humour, it springs from a belief that there is a likelihood of any radical changes taking place in human paradoxes.
     But we must not forget, in indicating the significance of a seer or a teacher, that circumstances and influences are capable of modifying the possibility of permanency in the quality of the significance.

     Language of this foggy kind wraps up a great many disquisitions on such lofty matters as eclecticism, nature’s evolutionary end, and the higher mentality. We do not profess to understand them all, but they produce in us (like the “phenomena” of the professional medium) a profound scepticism as to their value.

     * “Robert Buchanan, the Poet of Modern Revolt: An Introduction to his Poetry.” By A. Stodart Walker. (London: Grant Richards.)



The Yorkshire Post (24 July, 1901 - p.5)

     The recent death of Mr. Robert Buchanan may direct attention to Mr. A. Stodart-Walker’s volume, “Robert Buchanan: The Poet of Modern Revolt” (Grant Richards, 6s. net). The book is neither a biography nor is it a complete survey of Mr. Buchanan’s literary work. It is an attempt to view him as a poet, and to understand his message to the world. In this way it will be helpful to those who wish quietly and fairly to judge a curiously complex character. Probably the author reads into the poet’s words a good deal they were not meant to convey; and his sense of the importance of Mr. Buchanan seems rather exaggerated. But the work has its interest, and to the critical mind its value.



The British Medical Journal (31 March, 1934)

     The death took place in London, on March 13th, of Dr. ARCHIBALD STODART-WALKER of Denham, Bucks. He was born in 1870 at St. Fort, Fife, and was a nephew of Professor John Stuart Blackie, the celebrated professor of Greek at Edinburgh University. Dr. Stodart-Walker was educated at Liverpool College and at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.B., C.M. in 1891. He studied also in London, Paris, and Bologna. After acting as resident house-physician to the late Professor Grainger Stewart in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, he subsequently became assistant professor in physiology and clinical tutor at Edinburgh University. He joined the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh as a Member in 1895, proceeding to the Fellowship in 1897. After considerable research in the subjects of psychology and neurology Dr. Stodart-Walker abandoned the profession of medicine for that of literature in the year 1898. During his medical course at Edinburgh University he took an active interest in student affairs, being president of the Students’ Representative Council in 1890 and president of the Students’ Union in 1891; he also acted for a time as editor of The Student. He served in the R.A.M.C. during the war with the rank of major, being mentioned in dispatches and receiving the M.B.E. for his services. From 1919 to 1925 he acted as president of the Joint Survey Board at the Ministry of Pensions. Dr. Stodart-Walker published many works dealing with literary subjects, including The Letters of John Stuart Blackie in 1909; The Struggle for Success, 1900; Habit and Control, 1901; Robert Buchanan, the Poet of Modern Revolt, 1901; A Volunteer Haversack, 1902; A Beggar’s Wallet, 1905; and Occasional Verse, 1920. He was a keen art critic, and founded in 1907 the Scottish Modern Arts Association, of which he was appointed chairman.


[Portrait of Archibald Stodart-Walker by James Guthrie.]


Back to Robert Buchanan - The Poet of Modern Revolt contents

or The Critical Response to Robert Buchanan








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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search