Robert Williams Buchanan (1841-1901), British poet, novelist and dramatist, son of Robert Buchanan (1813-1866), Owenite lecturer and journalist, was born at Caverswall, Staffordshire, on the 18th of August 1841. His father, a native of Ayr, after living for some years in Manchester, removed to Glasgow, where Buchanan was educated, at the high school and the university, one of his fellow-students being the poet David Gray. His essay on Gray, originally contributed to the Cornhill Magazine, tells the story of their close friendship, and of their journey to London in 1860 in search of fame. After a period of struggle and disappointment Buchanan published Undertones in 1863. This "tentative" volume was followed by Idyls and Legends of Inverburn (1865), London Poems (1866), and North Coast and other Poems (1868), wherein he displayed a faculty for poetic narrative, and a sympathetic insight into the humbler conditions of life. On the whole, Buchanan is at his best in these narrative poems, though he essayed a more ambitious flight in The Book of Orm: A Prelude to the Epic, a study in mysticism, which appeared in 1870. He was a frequent contributor to periodical literature, and obtained notoriety by an article which, under the nom de plume of Thomas Maitland, he contributed to the Contemporary Review for October 1871, entitled "The Fleshly School of Poetry." This article was expanded into a pamphlet (1872), but he subsequently withdrew from the criticisms it contained, and it is chiefly remembered by the replies it evoked from D.G. Rossetti in a letter to the Athenaeum (16th December 1871), entitled "The Stealthy School of Criticism," and from Mr Swinburne in Under the Microscope (1872). Buchanan himself afterwards regretted the violence of his attack, and the "old enemy" to whom God and the Man is dedicated was Rossetti. In 1876 appeared The Shadow of the Sword, the first and one of the best of a long series of novels.
Buchanan was also the author of many successful plays, among which may be mentioned Lady Clare, produced in 1883; Sophia (1886), an adaptation of Tom Jones; A Man's Shadow (1890); and The Charlatan (1894). He also wrote, in collaboration with Harriett Jay, the melodrama Alone in London. In 1896 he became, so far as some of his work was concerned, his own publisher. In the autumn of 1900 he had a paralytic seizure, from which he never recovered. He died at Streatham on the 10th of June 1901.
Buchanan's poems were collected into three volumes in 1874, into one volume in 1884; and as Complete Poetical Works (2 vols., 1901). Among his poems should also be mentioned: "The Drama of Kings" (1871); "St Abe and his Seven Wives," a lively tale of Salt Lake City, published anonymously in 1872; and "Balder the Beautiful" (1877); "The City of Dream" (1888); "The Outcast: a Rhyme for the Time" (1891); and "The Wandering Jew" (1893). His earlier novels, The Shadow of the Sword, and God and the Man (1881), a striking tale of a family feud, are distinguished by a certain breadth and simplicity of treatment which is not so noticeable in their successors, among which may be mentioned The Martyrdom of Madeline (1882); Foxglove Manor (1885); Effie Hetherington (1896); and Father Anthony (1898). David Gray and other Essays, chiefly on Poetry (1868); Master Spirits (1873); A Poet's Sketch Book (1883), in which the interesting essay on Gray is reprinted; and A Look round Literature (1887), contain Buchanan's chief contributions to periodical literature.
More valuable is The Land of Lorne (2 vols., 1871), a vivid record of yachting experiences on the west coast of Scotland.
See also Harriett Jay, Robert Buchanan; some Account of his Life (1903).