25 MARCH 1882, Page 18


How many of these ballads are new,—a few certainly have been published in earlier volumes of Mr. Buchanan's,—we are not able to say ; but a considerable number of those which are to us new, do not appear to fall under any one of the three heads of "Ballads of Life, Love, and Humour," in which they are classed on the title-page, but to be rather ballads of pure fancy, in which we do not think that Mr. Buchanan excels. There is nothing in his "Green Gnome," "Fairy Foster- mother," "Peery Reaper," " Midian-Mara," "The Minister and the Elfin," "The Changeling," with its prologue, "The White Deer," or "Giant Despair," not to mention the "Sere- nades," "Earth and the Soul," dm., which seems to us at all worthy of Mr. Buchanan's genius, and we cannot help re- gretting that so much of the present volume is composed of poems in which Mr. Buchanan, for want of any personal initia- tive proper to his characteristic genius, has followed so conven- tional a movement. Mr. Buchanan's genius is beyond question, but, so far as we can judge, it is not by any means genius of the fanciful kind. He has not the peculiar power,—which is, indeed, somewhat rare,—to give a meaning and life of its own to what is essentially unreal,—to charm to sleep those portions of our nature which interfere with the truth of fanciful crea- tions, as Shakespeare, for instance, so often does, and magnetise into a sort of moonlight vitality the Calibans, the Ariels, and the Pucks, all of which represent, indeed, something real in man, but something which, as we know it in ourselves, is usually under so much constraint, so altered in kind by the companion- influences to which it is subject, that we can with difficulty realise it at all when it is completely insulated and separately vivified. Take, for instance, Mr. Buchanan's "Green Gnome." We read it without the smallest feeling that fairy-land is any- thing but a childish fable, and without even any of that yearning that it were not altogether a childish fable, which good fairy-stories excite:— "THE GREEN GNOME.


"Ring, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells !

Chime, rhyme ! chime, rhyme ! through the dales and dells!

Rhyme, ring ! chime, sing ! pleasant Sabbath bells !

Chime, sing ! rhyme, ring ! over fields and fells !

And I gallop'd and I gallop'd on my palfrey white as milk, My robe was of the sea-green woof, my serk was of the silk ; My hair was golden yellow, and it floated to my shoe, My eyes were like two harebells bathed in little drops of dew; My palfrey, never stopping, made a music sweetly blent With the leaves of autumn dropping all around me as I went ; And I heard the bells, grown fainter, far behind me peal and play, Fainter, fainter, fainter, fainter, till they seemed to die away ; And beside a silver runnel, on a little heap of sand, I saw the green Gnome Bitting, with his cheek upon his hand ; Then he started up to see me, and he ran with cry and bound, And drew me from my palfrey white, and set me on the ground : 0 crimson, crimson, were his locks, his face was green to see, Bat he cried, '0 light-hair'd lassie, you are bound to marry me !' He clasped me round the middle small, he kissed me on the cheek, He kissed me once, he kissed me twice—I could not breathe or speak :

He kissed me twice, he kissed ice thrice—but when he kissed again, I called aloud upon the name of Him who died for men !

Ring, sing! ring, sing ! pleasant Sabbath bells ! Chime, rhyme ! chime, rhyme ! through the dales and dells!

Rhyme, ring ! chime, sing ! pleasant Sabbath bells! Chime, sing ! rhyme, ring ! over fields and fells ! 0 faintly, faintly, faintly, calling men and maids to pray, So faintly, faintly, faintly, rang the bells afar away ; And when I named the Blessed Name, as in our need we can, The ugly green, green Gnome became a tall and comely man ! His hands were white, his beard was gold, his eyes were black as sloes, • His tunic was of scarlet woof, and silken were his hose ; A pensive light from Faeryland still linger'd on his cheek. His voice was like the running brook, when he began to speak : Oh, you have cast away the charm my step-dame pat on me, Seven years I dwelt in Faeryland, and you have set me free ! 0 I will mount thy palfrey white, and ride to kirk with thee, And by those little dewy eyes, we twain will wedded be !'

Back we gallop'd, never stopping, he before and I behind,

And the autumn leaves were dropping, red and yellow in the wind, And the sun was shining clearer, and my heart was high and proud, As nearer, nearer, nearer, rang the kirk bells sweet end load,

And we saw the kirk before us, as we trotted down the fells,

And nearer, clearer, o'er us, rang the welcome of the bells !

Ring, sing! ring, sing! pleasant Sabbath bells! Chime, rhyme ! chime, rhyme ! through the dales and dells ! Rhyme, ring ! chime, sing ! pleasant Sabbath bells ! Chime, sing ! rhyme, ring ! over fields and fells!!!

• Ballads of L;fe, Love. tin(' Honour. By Robert Bnohsusin. With a Prontts- pieoe by Arthur Hughes. London : Matto and Winds's. That seems to us wholly devoid of the spell which fancy some- times throws over legends of this kind; the chime of the bells is hard and jingly ; the little maid's description of herself utterly unreal ; while the whole thing suggests the suspicion of a mechanical manufacture, rather than of poetical growth. And though there are better things among the fanciful poems than this, they are none of them, to our thinking, —unless, indeed, "The Will o' the Wisp" may be called a fanciful poem, — really good; they do not carry you into the moonlit sphere ; they do not make you believe in the half-natured beings ; they only puzzle you with the artificial pallor which a poet who has no genius for pallor, tries in vain to diffuse through his fanciful world. His "Midian-Mara," " Asrai," and so forth, leave us absolutely cold, never spell-bound. And what we say of the ballads of fancy, we should say also of those of mere sentiment, like "A Curl," "Stanley Farm," "Love in Winter," which need some- thing of delicacy and refinement which they have not got, to give them the soul they want. They aim at a sort of tender- ness they do not reach ; there is something in them which dis- appoints or even vexes us ; there are repeated false notes, as, for instance, in the half-vulgarly quizzical, but also half-sym- pathetic tone of several of the stanzas of "Love in Winter." In the region of the tenderer ideal sentiment, no less than in that of pure fancy, Mr. Buchanan seems to us by no means at home.

On the other hand, when you come to poems of real passion or humour,—especially if the humour be a little grim,—there is no sign of the decay of that power which was so remarkable in Mr. Buchanan's earlier volumes. "The Lights of Leith" has much, lurid power. "The Wedding of Shon Maclean," and " O'Connor's Wake," are as good as poems of that sort could possibly be ; while "The Devil's Peepshow," "Will o' the Wisp," and "Vanity Fair" are all striking in their way, though we do not fully grasp the drift of the close of the poem last mentioned. Mr. Buchanan is at his best,—in this volume at least,—when he is painting a scene of either broad merriment (with a jarring chord in it) or of grim pathos and passion, a scene in which a realistic touch makes itself all the more keenly felt for the whirl of social emotions by which it is accompanied. What can be better than this picture of the Highland Duke and Duchess at Shon Maclean's wedding ?— " At the wedding of Slum Maclean

'Twat; wet and windy weather ! Yet, thro' the wind and the rain Came twenty Pipers together ! Enrach and Dougal Dhu, Sandy of Isla too, Each with the bonnet o'blue, Tartan, and blackcock feather: And every Piper was foe, Twenty Pipers together !

The knot was tied, the blessing said, Shoe was married, the feast was spread.

At the head of the table sat, huge and hoar, Strong Sandy of Isla, ego fourscore, Whisker'd, grey as a Haskeir seal, And clad in crimson from head to heel.

Beneath and round him in their degree Gathered the men of minstrelsie, With keepers, gillies, and lads and lasses, Mingling voices, and jingling glasses.

At soup and haggis, at roast and boil'd, Awhile the happy gathering toil'd,— While Shon and Jean at the table ends

Shook hands with a hundred of their friends,—

Then a came a hush. Thro' the open door

A wee bright form flash'd on the floor,—

The Duke himself, in the kilt and plaid, With slim soft knees, like the knees of a maid.

And he took a glass, and he cried out plain, '1 drink to the health of Slum Maclean !

To Shim the Piper and Jean his wife, A clean fireside and a merry life!'

Then out he idiot, and each man sprang

To his feet, and with ' hooch ' the chamber rang ! 'Clear the tables!' shriek'd out one—

A leap, a scramble,—and it was done !

And then the Pipers all in a row Turned their pipes and began to blow, While all to dance stood fain :

Sandy of Isla and Earach More,

Dougal Dhu from Kilflannan shore, Played up the company on the floor At the wedding of Shon Maclean.

At the wedding of Shon Maclean, Twenty Pipers together Stood up, while all their train

Ceased to clatter and blether. Full of the mountain dew, First in their pipes they blew, Mighty of bone and thew, Red-cheek'd, with lungs of leather : And every Piper was fou, Twenty Pipers together!

Who led the dance ? In pomp and pride The Duke himself led out the Bride !

Great was the joy of each beholder, For the wee Duke only reach'd her shoulder ; And they danced, and turned, when the real began, Like a giantess and a fairie man !

But like an earthquake was the din When Shoe himself led the Duchess in !

And she took her place before him there, Like a white mouse dancing with a bear !

So trim and tiny, so slim and sweet., Her blue eyes watching Shoe's great feet, With a smile that could not be resisted, She jigged, and jumped, and twirl'd, and twisted !

Sandy of Isla led off the reel, The Duke began it with toe and heel, Then all joined in amain ; Twenty Pipers ranged in a row, From squinting Shamus to lame Bilcroe, Their cheeks like crimson, began to blow, At the wedding of Shoe Maclean.

At the wedding of Shon Maclean They blew with lungs of leather, And blithesome was the strain Those Pipers played together! Moist with the mountain dew. Mighty of bone and thew, Each with the bonnet o' blue,

Tartan, and blackcock feather : And every Piper was foe,

Twenty Pipers together."

But, perhaps, the most interesting poem in the volume is the very curious onelis original in form as it is in conception, called "The Devil's Peepshow." "The Devil's Peepshow" is meant to show how the Devil, according to the proverb, can quote Scripture so as to use it to inspire despair, and is nothing but a peepshow in which the earliest scenes presented to us in the first book of the Old Testament are set forth, but set forth in a fashion to make it appear that the only purpose of God was the retribution of sin, and not any yearning for the ultimate redemp- tion of the sinner. Let us take a specimen :— " Now wipe the glass. And we will pass

To quite another scene : In a strange land two Altars stand, One red, the other green ; The one of blood right sweet and good, The other weeds, I ween !

And there, full plain, stands frowning Cain, And Abel spruce and clean.

I pull a string; and everything

Grows dark and sad anew,—

There Abel lies with dying eyes !

And this, God wot, is true.

The wicked Cain has Abel slain All with a burning brand ; And now, sad sight, an Angel bright Doth mark him with his hand.


What specks so red are those that spread Behind them as they stand ?


The sparks you see the wild eyes be, Countless as grains of sand, Of all those men who have, since then, Shed blood in any laud!

In grief and pain they look at Cain, Aghast on that sad spot ; And all around blood soaks the ground ; And this is true, God wot.

My bell I ring ; I pull a string; Now Father Noah you mark— Sleeping he lies, with heavy eyes, All full of wine, and stark.

But now, behold ! that. good man old A Voice in dream doth hark ; And the Voice cries, '0 Noah, arise!

And build thyself an Ark.' Again I ring; and pull a String; And all is water blue, Where, floating free, the Ark you see ; And this, God wot, is true.

Thus God the Lord, with his great Word, Did bid the waters rise, To drown and kill all things of ill He made beneath the skies.

The Lord saved none. but Noah alone,

His kith and kin likewise ; Two of each beast, both great and least ;

Two of each bird that thee. My bell I ring; I pull a string; And on the self-same spot, The water sinks, the bright Bow blinks ; And this is true, God wot.

0 day and night, unto your sight Such wonders shown might be.

But to conclude this Peepshow good, You Heaven and Hell shall see : The shining things, with spangled wings, Who smile and sing so free ; The crew of shame, who in hell flame Complain eternallie!

My bell I ring; I pull a string ; And you them both may view—

The blest on high, the carat who cry :- And this, God wot, is true.


How can they bear, who sit up there In shining robes so gay, From Heaven to peer, without a tear, On those who scream and pray ?


Why, those who burn had, you must learn,

As fair a chance as they—

But Adam's fall doth doom them all Upon God's judgment-day.

I thus conclude with moral good, Not soon to be forgot ; And you must own what I have shown Is solemn Booth, God wot.


0 look at him, that showman grim, A frown is on his cheek : Come away quick, for I am sick Whene'er I hear him speak !"

That is vivid and telling enough, but Mr. Buchanan fails when he comes to represent the real Christian teaching, as it was pre- sented to the children by way of contrast to "the Devil's Peep- show," and shows us nothing but a child Christ of smiles and sweetmeats. He ought to have given us something much more beautiful than he has, by way of justifying the poor, old, diabolic showman's final lament that his repellent pictures of theology are obsolete, and that the demand now is for something more attractive to the heart than the old, grim teaching which Calvinist and Devil alike agree upon :—

" SHOWMAN (80/240.

Folk, I'm afraid, are changed ; my trade Grows worse each day, I know.

How they did throng when I was young,

To see this very Show !

My rivals pass, and lad and lass Follow where'er they go, While up and down, from town to town,

I creep, most sad and slow.

I, too, must try some novel cry, Lest I be quite forgot :

These pictures old that I unfold Have ceased to please, God wot !"

On the whole, though there are few sincerer admirers of Mr. Buchanan's earlier poems, of the "London Ballads," " Liz " and "Nell," of "Willie Baird " and" Poet Andrew," and "The Last of the Hangmen," and also of "White Rose and Red," we cannot say that this volume impresses us nearly as much as his earlier productions. There are five or six fine poems in it, not all of them very carefully finished. There are a few graceful pieces of inferior power, but in something like half the volume we are unable to find the trace of Mr. Buchanan's genius ; and it is a pity that any man who can write so vigor- ously should write anything which has no mark in it of vitality, that might have been written, indeed, by a maker of verses, and not by a poet.