Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Buchanan, Robert (1841–1901)
Author:
Leon, Philip W.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born in Aversall, Lancashire, poet and critic Robert Buchanan grew up in Scotland and attended the University of Glasgow. He became acquainted with Dickens, George Eliot, and Browning, but ran afoul of the Pre-Raphaelites with his article "The Fleshly School of Poetry," appearing in the Contemporary Review of October 1871, in which he attacked the eroticism in their work. Dante G. Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne were his particular targets, both of whom ironically also admired Whitman at that time. Swinburne, who later wrote some strongly deprecating remarks about Whitman, also unleashed his vitriol on Buchanan, calling him a "hack rhymester" (qtd. in Stephens 795). Though Buchanan later apologized to Rossetti, whom he never met, this article irreparably damaged his career.

Lamenting the lack of his critical and popular reception in America, Whitman wrote to Rudolf Schmidt of Copenhagen in January 1872 that "Robert Buchanan, Swinburne, the great English and Dublin colleges [Edward Dowden], affectionately receive me and doughtily champion me" (Whitman 1001). In stark contrast to his condemnation of the "fleshly" Pre-Raphaelites, Buchanan regarded Whitman as a moral poet and admired his pioneering spirit. He solicited from friends funds to send to Whitman in 1876 and 1877, and in 1884 he traveled to Camden and met Whitman, forming a lasting friendship with him and calling him in 1898 "Socrates in Camden" (qtd. in Cassidy 32).

Bibliography

Browning, D.C., comp. Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography. New York: Dutton, 1969.

Cassidy, John A. Robert W. Buchanan. New York: Twayne, 1973.

Stephens, James, Edwin L. Beck, and Royall H. Snow, eds. Victorian and Later English Poets. 1934. New York: American, 1949.

Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Selected Prose and Letters. 1938. Ed. Emory Holloway. London: Nonesuch, 1967.


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