Graham, R(obert) B(ontine) Cunninghame

views updated

GRAHAM, R(obert) B(ontine) Cunninghame

Nationality: Scottish. Born: London, 24 May 1852; son of the laird of Ardoch, Dunbarton. Education: Harrow School, Middlesex, 1865-67; at a private school in Brussels, 1868-69. Family: Married the poet Gabriela Balmondière in 1878 (died 1906). Career: Traveled in Argentina, 1870-71; surveyor and worked in tea trade, Paraguay, 1873-74; horse dealer in Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, 1876-77. Lived in New Orleans, Texas, and Mexico, 1879-81. Inherited his family's Scottish estates, 1883; Liberal member of Parliament for North-West Lanarkshire, 1886-92, but became a socialist and follower of William Morris; founder, with Keir Hardie, and first president, Scottish Labour Party, 1888; Labour parliamentary candidate for Camlachie division of Glasgow, 1892; prospected for gold in Spain, 1894. Traveled in Morocco, 1897. Sent by War Office to South America to buy horses for British troops, 1914; cattle surveyor in Colombia for British government, 1916-17; Liberal parliamentary candidate for Western Stirling and Clackmannan, 1918; justice of the peace and deputy lieutenant for Dunbarton; justice of the peace for Perth and Stirling. Member: Scottish National Party (founder), 1918. Died: 20 March 1936.



The Essential Graham, edited by Paul Bloomfield. 1952.

Selected Writings, edited by Cedric Watts. 1981.

Short Stories and Sketches

The Ipané. 1899.

Thirteen Stories. 1900.

Success. 1902.

Progress and Other Sketches. 1905.

His People. 1906.

Faith. 1909.

Hope. 1910.

Charity. 1912.

A Hatchment. 1913.

El Rio de la Plata (in Spanish). 1914.

Scottish Stories. 1914.

Brought Forward. 1916.

The Dream of the Magi. 1923.

Redeemed and Other Sketches. 1927.

Thirty Tales and Sketches, edited by Edward Garnett. 1929.

Writ in Sand. 1932.

Mirages. 1936.

Rodeo: A Collection of Tales and Sketches, edited by A. F. Tschiffely. 1936.

The South American Sketches, edited by John Walker. 1978.

Beattock for Moffat, and the Best of Graham. 1979.

The Scottish Sketches, edited by John Walker. 1982.

The North American Sketches, edited by John Walker. 1986.


Notes on the District of Menteith for Tourists and Others. 1895.

Father Archangel of Scotland and Other Essays, (includes fiction) with Gabriela Graham. 1896.

Aurora la Cujiñi: A Realistic Sketch in Seville. 1898.

Mogreb-el-Acksa: A Journey in Morocco. 1898.

A Vanished Arcadia, Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay 1607 to 1767. 1901.

Hernando de Soto. 1903.

Bernal Diaz del Castillo. 1915.

A Brazilian Mystic, Being the Life and Miracles of Antonio Conselheiro. 1920.

Cartagena and the Banks of the Sinú. 1920.

The Conquest of New Granada, Being the Life of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. 1922.

The Conquest of the River Plate. 1924.

Inveni Portam: Joseph Conrad. 1924.

Doughty Deeds: An Account of the Life of Robert Graham of Gartmore, Poet and Politician 1735-97. 1925.

Pedro de Valdivia, Conqueror of Chile. 1926.

José Antonio Páez. 1929.

Bibi. 1929.

The Horses of the Conquest. 1930; edited by R. M. Denhardt, 1949.

Portrait of a Dictator: Francisco Solano Lopez (Paraguay 1865-70). 1933.

With the North West Wind. 1937.

Three Fugitive Pieces, edited by H. F. West. 1960.

Translator, Mapirunga, by Gustavo Barroso. 1924.



A Bibliography of the First Editions of Graham by Leslie Chaundy, 1924; The Herbert Faulkner West Collection of Graham, 1938; Graham and Scotland: An Annotated Bibliography by John Walker, 1980.

Critical Studies:

Don Roberto by H. F. West, 1936; Don Roberto, Being an Account of the Life and Works of Graham by A. F.

Tschiffely, 1937, as Tornado Cavalier, 1955; Graham: A Centenary Study by Hugh MacDiarmid, 1952; Prince-Errant and Evocator of Horizons: A Reading of Graham by R. E. Haymaker, 1967; Graham: A Critical Biography, 1979, and Graham, 1983, both by Cedric Watts; Robert and Gabriela Cunninghame Graham by Alexander Maitland, 1983.

* * *

R. B. Cunninghame Graham (Don Roberto, as he was affectionately known in South America) was born into a noble Scottish family, the paternal line of which went back to Robert II and the Earls of Menteith. He was also a descendant of Robert Graham (whose biography he wrote), the poet of "If Doughty Deeds My Lady Please." Between 1886 and 1892, as a liberal member of Parliament for the mining constituency of North-West Lanark, he rode on his horse to the House of Commons. This flamboyant gesture was typical of the man, as was his unremitting fight for better working conditions for the colliers, chain makers, and others of the underprivileged whom he considered to be the victims of cruel exploitation and an appallingly unfair class system. That he himself came from an aristocratic background in no way deterred him in his struggle. Always politically active, he had a social conscience that led to a sentence of six weeks in prison for his part in the 1888 Trafalgar Square Riots.

Although born a Scottish landowner, Graham and his Chilean-born wife, Gabriela (a writer of not inconsiderable talent), spent much of their time abroad. Fluent in Spanish and a prolific writer in English of sketches, essays, polemical articles, travel books, histories, and stories, Graham wrote of the pampas and grouchos, amongst whom he lived and worked, and his beloved horses in The Horses of the Conquest, one of his last books, as well as in The Ipané and Rodeo. In these collections he describes in vivid detail the people and animals of South America. At heart an adventurer, Graham was in his element riding under the South American sun and exulting in the freedom the wide pampas offered, which he described as "all grass and sky, and sky and grass, and still more sky and grass."

In his well-known collection Success Graham contrasts material, worldly success with gallant failure, to the former's disadvantage. Perhaps his most consistently interesting volume is Scottish Stories, a compilation of all his stories about Scottish personalities. There is a typical and entertaining irony in "Christie Christison" (1912), which recounts the experience of a sailor home on leave and full of lust. He finds in the brothel not only his daughter but also his wife, whom he excuses on the grounds that he had given her a "daud" (hit her) before he left.

Graham included many authors among his circle of friends—Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, and Bernard Shaw, among others. Indeed, Shaw used Graham as a basis for Sergius in Arms and the Man, and he admitted that without Graham's incomparable Mogrebel-Acksa, an account of his attempt to reach the forbidden city of Tarudant, Captain Brassbound's Conversion would not have been written.

Although Graham wrote more than 30 books, he never wrote a novel, confining himself in fiction to the short story. While he enjoyed personal notoriety during his lifetime and his literary significance was recognized, his work later was sadly neglected. The vitality of the man is reflected in the vigor of his prose, his meticulous eye for detail in his flashing descriptions of people and animals, and his lyric sensitivity in the manner in which he encapsulates the essence of time and place.

—Joyce Lindsay

See the essay on "Beattock for Moffat."

About this article

Graham, R(obert) B(ontine) Cunninghame

Updated About content Print Article