Robert Buchanan was born in Caverswall, Staffordshire (his mother was the daughter of a Staffordshire lawyer). His father was Scottish and originally a tailor by craft, later becoming an itinerant teacher in support of Robert Owen’s schemes for a better, more egalitarian society. His father later moved to London as journalist and Robert attended schools in Hampton Wick and Merton. When Robert was nine the family moved to Glasgow and Robert was educated at Glasgow High School, then briefly at Glasgow University before deciding to leave for London with his friend and fellow poet David Gray in search of literary fame.
He had already published a couple of undistinguished collections of poetry whilst in Scotland but he achieved moderate success with His collection Undertones in 1863 which he dedicated to David Gray who had died two years previously. However, it was his Idylls and Legends of Inverburn (1865) which really made his name. This was followed by London Poems in 1866, North Coast and Other Poems 1868 and The Book of Orm (1870).
Thereafter he started to write prose fiction and drama, producing a plethora of plays that filled the London theatres night after night. He also wrote novels, including God and the Man which he dedicated to Dante Gabriel Rosetti in an attempt to patch up an earlier quarrel after his attack on the pre-Raphaelites and The Shadow of the Sword, probably his best novel, a story of a family feud. He also wrote two poems in honour of David Gray, Poet Andrew and To David in Heaven as well as a biography of him.
Although Buchanan’s plays provided his best source of income, poetry was his first love and he reverted to it in the last decade of his life. He died in London in 1901, having suffered a paralytic seizure the previous year. His poetry was collected in three volumes in 1874 , consolidated into one in 1884 and in two in 1901. During his career he produced an immense output of verse covering a vast range of genres and themes. His London Poems, such as The Little Milliner, display pathos, dramatic interest and graphic description and portray his love of humanity, especially the downtrodden. His sonnets have a high spiritual theme, encompassing love, death, sin, doubt, belief and eternity. The Poet Francis Duggan wrote the poem The Caverwall Poet in his honour, describing him as “a genius of words”. He is chiefly remembered today as a successful late 19th century dramatist but deserves to be much better known as a poet.