Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Buchanan, Robert (1813-1866)

BUCHANAN, ROBERT (1813–1866), socialist, was born at Ayr in 1813. He was successively a schoolmaster, a lecturer advocating the socialistic views of Robert Owen, and a journalist. Manchester was an important centre of Owenism, and Buchanan settled in that town, where his small books were published. These are: 1. 'The Religion of the Past and Present Society, founded upon a false fundamental principle inimical to the extension of real knowledge opposed to human happiness,' Manchester, 1839. 2. 'The Origin and Nature of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectral Illusions generally, fully and familiarly explained and illustrated,' Manchester, 1840; this is a sensible pamphlet, in which some of the commoner causes of hallucination are exposed. 3. 'An Exposure of the Falsehoods, Calumnies, and Misrepresentations of a Pamphlet entitled "The Abominations of Socialism Exposed," being a refutation of the charges and statements of the Rev. Joseph Barker,' Manchester, 1840; this went through two editions. 4. 'Concise History of Modern Priestcraft, from the time of Henry VIII until the present period,' Manchester, 1840; this is a bitter attack on the church of England. A chapter is devoted to the 'persecution of the socialists,' and another sets forth the 'crimes of the clergy.' 5. 'The Past, the Present, and the Future,' Manchester, 1840. In the preface to this work the author disclaims 'pretensions to the character of poet,' but adopts blank verse, from a strong natural love of poetry and a belief in its superiority as a vehicle for instruction. 'The object of the writer is . . to contrast the perils of the old world with advantages of the new moral world of Robert Owen.' 6. 'Socialism Vindicated' is a reply to a sermon preached by the Rev. W. J. Kidd, Manchester, 1840. Mr. Kidd was the rector of St. Matthew's, which was opposite to the 'Hall of Science' built by the Owenites in 1839. The socialists were prosecuted for having lectures on Sunday and charging for admission, contrary to the statute of Geo. II, c. 79. They were prepared to show that the 'collection' had been a voluntary one, but as their witnesses declined to take the oath there was no legal defence, and they were fined. The building was registered as the meeting-house of a society of dissenters by the name of 'Rational Religionists.' Mr. Kidd, aided by Mr. T. P. Bunting, the son of the well-known Wesleyan minister, the Rev. Jabez Bunting, D.D., induced the stipendiary magistrate to tender to Buchanan the oaths which by statute were required from dissenting ministers. Mr. Bunting then managed to elicit from him a declaration that he did not believe in the orthodox doctrines of damnation. This was a fatal objection, and after several adjournments Buchanan was fined 50s. for refusing to take the oaths of supremacy, &c. After the decline of Owenism, Buchanan, who was a contributor to the 'Northern Star,' the organ of the chartist movement, but never joined its physical force section, removed to Glasgow, where he engaged in literary work as the editor of a newspaper, and there his son Robert, who has since attained distinction as a poet and dramatist, was born. Buchanan died at this son's house at Bexhill, Sussex, 4 March 1866.

[Sutton's List of Lancashire Authors; information supplied by Mr. Abel Heywood, J.P., Manchester: Manchester Guardian, June and July 1840.]

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