Lionel Johnson (1867-1902)


Life
[Lionel Pigot Johnson]; b. Broadstairs; educ. Winchester and New Coll., Oxford [1st Class]; descended from Sir William Allen Johnson of Bath (bart.), and third son of Capt. Willia Victor Johnson, anIrish army officer; his grandfather created baronet for services in 1798; b. Broadstairs, Kent; ed. Winchester College and Oxon; ed. The Wykehamist [at Winchester], 1884-86; became journalist in 1890 following brilliant academic career; converted to Catholicism 1891; joined Rhymers’ Club, 1891; introduced Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, 1891; influenced by Yeats, he took a lively interest in the Irish Literary Society;
 
compelled Yeats to read a copy of Plato; introduced Yeats to his cousin Olivia Shakespear, 1894; first volume of poems expressed ‘Catholic Puritanism’; Ireland and Other Poems (1897) shows intense love for Ireland; made his final trip to Ireland for 1798 centenary; the Abbey Theatre opened with a prologue by him; issued The Art of Thomas Hardy (Elkin Mathews 1894), ed. Irish Home Reading Magazine with Eleanor Hull; died following a fall caused by insomnia and drink;
 
Johnson was represented in William Sharp’s Lyra Celtica and subsequent Irish anthologies; notable poems incl. ‘Ways of War’, ‘Celtic Speech’, and ‘To Morfydd’; he is described in Yeats’s Autobiographies (1955 Edn., p.222), and also in ‘In Memory of Robert Gregory’; he was a nominal editor of the Irish Literature (1904) anthology edited by Justin McCarthy; and Post Liminium: Essays and Critical Papers (1911); the Complete Poems were edited by Iain Fletcher for Unicorn Press in 1953 (rep. 1981); he introduced Wilde to Bosey [Lord Alfred Douglas]. JMC DBIV OCIL

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Works
  • The Art of Thomas Hardy (London: Elkin Matthews [sic] 1894; new rev. ed. 1923);
  • Poems [1st edn.] (London: Elkin Mathews 1895), 116pp.;
  • Ireland and Other Poems (London: Elkin Mathews 1897);
  • Twenty-One Poems by Lionel Johnson, selected by W. B. Yeats (Dundrum: Dun Emer Press 1904);
  • contrib. essay to Prose Writings of Mangan, ed. D. J. O’Donoghue (M. H. Gill; London: A. H. Bullen 1904) [Centenary Edn.].
  • Selections from the Poems of Lionel Johnson, including some now collected for the first time with prefatory memoir by C. Shorter (London: Elkin Mathews 1908), 64pp. [available at Internet Archive - online];
  • Poetry and Ireland: Essays by W. B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson (Dublin: Cuala MCMVIII [1908]) [incls. “Poetry and Patriotism” by Johnson, delivered to the National Literary Society, Dublin, 1894];
  • T. Whittemore [with Louise Guiney], eds., Post Liminium: Essays and Critical Papers (London: Elkin Mathews 1911), xiv, 307pp.;
  • Poetical Works, pref. Ezra Pound (London: Elkin Mathews 1915);
  • The Religious Poems of Lionel Johnson, pref. W. Meynell (London: Elkin Mathews 1916);
  • Earl Russell, ed., Some Winchester Letters (London: Elkin Mathews 1919);
  • R. Shaffer, ed., Reviews and Critical Papers (London: Elkin Mathews 1921);
  • also Selected Poems (1st, Augustan Books ser., Benn 1931) 30pp.;
  • I. Fletcher, ed., Collected Poems (NY: Unicorn 1982).
 

Query: an essay in Matthew Arnold: Poetry and Prose, ed., E. K. Chambers (OUP 1936, rep. 1967)

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Criticism
W. B. Yeats wrote of Lionel Johnson as one of the founders of the Irish literary movement and, more precisely, one of those who thought it possible to marry Irish passion to the standards of European literature.
  His most extended remarks on Johnson in this vein are to be found in “Poetry and Tradition”, and essay which follows, as to title, the pattern of Johnson’s own lecture on “Poetry and Patriotism”.
 Though largely devoted to the memory of John O’Leary, Yeats’s essay finds room to speak about Johnson’s hopes for Irish literature and to develop his own theory according to which all art is created by the aristocrat, the peasant (here called ‘countrymen’) - and to berate the new class which is none of these. See extracts, infra.]

  • D. Scott, in Men of Letters (London 1916);
  • [notice], in Irish Book Lover, Vol. 7 (1916) p.56;
  • A. W. Patrick, Lionel Johnson, poete et critique 1867-1902 (Paris: Flammarion 1939);
  • Ian Small, ‘Yeats and Johnson on the Limitations of Patriotic Art’, in Studies, Vol. LXIII (Dublin 1974), pp.379-88;
  • Warwick Gould, “Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, in Yeats and the Occult, George Mills Harper (London: Macmillan 1975), pp.255-84.
 
See also brief notice in W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894).

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Commentary

Clement Shorter - “Lionel Johson” (Introduction to Selected Poems of Lionel Johnson (London 1908).

I have been asked to write a few words of introduction to the following selection from the poems of the late Lionel ! Johnson. I am impressed by the fact that this should have h been done by one who knew him more intimately - by Mrs. Tynan Hinkson or by Mr. Selwyn Image, for example. My only claim to write is based upon a profound esteem for Mr. Johnson’s literary work; he was distinguished alike as a poet and a prose writer, and in both departments he must ultimately command a larger public than has hitherto been his. He was a true poet and a true critic. Those who knew Lionel Johnson mourned him deeply when his life was cut short in 1902 at the early age of thirty-five. That slight boyish frame enclosed a brilliant intellect, remarkable intuitive power as to the best in literature, and an extraordinary fund of knowledge. With some people the capacity for assimilating books at an early age seems well nigh miraculous. When Dr. Johnson said that he knew more at seventeen than “now,” speaking as an old man, he did but note the facility with which youth, in certain isolated cases, can acquire knowledge. In the same way, there was something incredible, passing wonderful, in the quantity of good books that Lionel Johnson had absorbed at the age of twenty-two, when I first made [5] his acquaintance. He was at home with every phase of Church History, and able to expose with accurate learning the numerous errors in a certain Biographical Dictionary of the Fathers in many volumes that appeared some fifteen years back. He knew his Boswell’s Johnson well nigh by heart: that was a small matter; but he knew the period from a hundred other books with an equal familiarity. His knowledge of the 18th century was indeed profound, and he had the same keen knowledge of the 19th. His appreciation of Thomas Hardy’s genius led him to write a book on that subject, only less masterly than his appreciations of a hundred other authors of the Georgian or Victorian eras.
 Born at Broadstairs in 1867, Lionel Johnson was educated at Winchester and at New College, Oxford, where in 1890 he came out in Class I. in the Final Classical School. It was then that he threw himself with enthusiasm into all questions concerning Ireland, although his relations with that country were originally of the slightest, and could not in the least have influenced the bend of his mind towards sympathy with Ireland’s aspirations. In fact his grandfather had been a Captain of Yeomanry at New Ross in 1798.* It pleased Lionel Johnson, however, in those years in which I knew him, to consider himself an Irishman, and he threw himself with zeal into all movements affecting the welfare of that imaginative people; he loved the land, visited it frequently, assimilated its traditions, its aspirations. Those of us who knew him in the years of his London life between 1890 and 1902, found him in intimate friendship with the Irish colony in London and, indeed, essentially an Irishman fighting the battles of that country’s literature, sympathising heartily with all its efforts to preserve individuality and national character. Again and again in stirring lines he breathed the spirit of enthusiasm for Ireland’s great men past and present. Addressing the late John O’Leary, a dear friend who was destined to survive him but a few short years, he wrote in “Ways of War”:

”A terrible and splendid trust
   Heartens the host of Inisfail,
Their dream is of the swift sword-thrust,
   A lightning glory of the Gael.”

 

We find the earliest poems by Lionel Johnson in the Book of the Rhymers’ Club, of which two series are on our shelves. After these he published, in 1895, a volume entitled Poems, and in 1897 one called Ireland, with Other Poems. Here, fairly complete, we have the poetical work of Johnson, but, as I have said, he was also a prose writer of distinction. We read his essays and reviews in the Academy, the Daily Chronicle, and in the now extinct Anti-Jacobin, I have often wished that the best of these essays might be collected by one of his friends - by Mrs. Hinkson, or by Mr. H. W. Nevinson for example. Let us hope that the publication of this little volume will give an impetus to the wider distribution of much other work from the same pen.

CLEMENT SHORTER       
Great Missenden, Bucks.

*Lionel Johnson was of the family of Sir Henry Allen Johnson of Bath, 4th baronet, and was the son of Captain William Victor Johnson, second son of the 2nd baronet. An elder brother of Lionel fought at Atbara and Khartoum and was mentioned in despatches. Lionel Johnson’s Irish descent was through the 1st baronet, Sir Henry Johnson of Ballykilcaven, who was Governor of Ross Castle.


W. B. Yeats, Dublin Daily Express (27 Aug. 1898); rep. in A Treasury of Irish Poetry, ed. T. W. Rolleston & stopford A. Brooke (London 1900), pp.465-67: ‘Mr. Lionel Johnson has in his poetry completed the trinity of the spiritual virtues by adding Stoicism to Ecstasy and Asceticism. He has renounced the world and built up a twilight world instead, where all the colours are like the colours in the rainbow that is cast by the moon, and all the people as far from modern tumults as the people upon fading and dropping tapestries. He has so little interest in our pains and pleasures, and is so wrapped up in his own world, that one comes from his books wearied and exalted, as though one had posed for some noble action in a strange tableau vivant that cast its painful stillness upon the mind instead of the body. He might have cried with Axel, “As for living, our servants will do that for us.” As Axel chose to die, he has chosen to live among his books and between two memories - the religious tradition of the Church of Rome and the political tradition of Ireland. From these he gazes upon the future, and whether he writes of Sertorius or of Lucretius, or of Parnell or of “Ireland’s dead,” or of ’98, or of St. Columba or of Leo XIII, it is always with the same cold or scornful ecstasy. He has made a world full of altar lights and golden vesture, and murmured Latin and incense clouds, and autumn winds and dead leaves, where one wanders remembering martyrdoms and courtesies that the world has forgotten. / His ecstasy is of combat, not of submission to the Divine will; and even when he remebers that “the old Saints [258] prevail,” he sees “the one ancient Priest” who alone offers the Sacrifice, and remembers the loneliness of the Saints. Had he not this ecstasy of combat, he would be the poet of those peaceful and happy souls, who, in the symbolism of a living Irish visionary, are compelled to inhabit when they die a shadowy island Paradise in the West, where the moon always shines, and a mist is always on the face of the moon, and a music of many sighs is always in the air, because they renounced the joy of the world without accepting the joy of God.’ (Quoted in Warwick Gould, “Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, in Yeats and the Occult, ed. George Mills Harper, London: Macmillan 1975, pp.258-59.)

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W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan 1955) - Early Years, ‘The Tragic Generation’ [chap.], makes reference to Johnson at pp.165-68 [with other members of the the Rhymers’ Club], 189 [‘Johnson … you are the only man I know whose silence has beak and claw’]; his background, character and life, 221-24 [‘Lionel Johnson was to be our critic, and above our theologian, for he had been converted to Catholicism, and his orthodoxy, too learned to question, had accepted all that we did, and most of our plans. Historic Catholicism … stirred his passion like the beauty of a mistress, and the unlearned priests who thought good literature or good criticism dangerous were in his “all heretics”. He belonged to a family that had called itself Irish some generation …’]; 300 [‘… Johnson had private means …’], 304-08 [‘nor was there any branch of knowledge that Johnson did not claim for his own …’; ‘in some half-conscious part of himself desired the world he had renounced’], 310 [‘at the autopsy … discovered never to have grown up’], 314 [quotes “Dark Angel”; cf. “Mystic and Cavalier”, p.224 supra]; Johnson and Wilde, 285 [Yeats receives a letter from Johnson ‘denouncing Wilde with great bitterness’]; 290 [‘Johnson had changed with the rest’]; his reading, 301 [‘his musical monotone’]; 302 [‘Johnson’s favourite phrase, that life is ritual’]; Johnson and Pater, 302-03 [‘would visit our sage at Oxford’]; 310-11 [Yeats meets Dowson at Johnson’s]; 312 [Yeats thinks Johnson’s best poems ‘immortal’]; 318-19 [… from whom I was slowly separated by a scruple of conscience’], also brief references at pp.119, 318, 325, 493, 494.

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W. B. Yeats, Memoirs, ed. Denis Donoghue (London: Macmillan 1972) - writes that Johnson as who one ‘who had been advised by some doctor to take stimulant for his insomnia, [and] had developed into a solitary drunkard’, and ‘read little but the classics’ (p.3.) Further: ‘Johnson had refused rather than failed to live, and when an autopsy followed his accidental death during intoxication it was found that in him the man’s brain was united to a body where the other organs were undeveloped, the organs of a child.’ (p.97.) Yeats also remarks on his habit of sleeping days and waking nights (p.34). Further: ‘[Johnson] became for a few years my closest friend’; Johnson remarked to Yeats: ‘I need ten years in the wilderness ... you ten years in a library’ (p.35)]; Yeats calls recalls his version of Catholic religion: there is no God and Mary is his mother ; that he ‘hated all thoughts of sex’ (p.36.). Further references: 037 [‘often made us feel provincials’], 69 [‘came to Ireland ... drinking habit had grown ... “I believe in nothing but the Holy Roman Catholic Church”’], 74n [cousin to Olivia Shakespear], 83 [most intimate friend through these years], 84 [‘new literature of AE and Johnson, Standish O’Grady and myself’], 94-5 [‘could forgive a mere sinner but not a heretic’]; 184 [his work ‘carried on the dream in a different form’]; 185 [‘could be taken [as] material for .. literary nationalism’], 224 [WBY on Rymers’ Club: ‘we sought not abundance of energy but preciseness of form’].

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W. B. Yeats: review of Ireland and Other Poems, in Bookman (Feb. 1898): ‘It mirrors a temperament so cold, so austere, so indifferent to our pains and pleasures, so wrapped up in one lonely and monotonous mood that one comes from it wearied and exalted, as though one had posed for some noble action, in a strange tableau vivant, that casts its painful stillness upon the mind instead of upon the body.’ (Cited in John P. Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. 1, 1970, Pref., p.75.)

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W. B. Yeats: ‘When I went every Sunday to the little lecture hall at the side of William Morris’s house, Lionel Johnson said to me, his tongue loosened by slight intoxication, “I wish those who deny eternity of punishment could realise their own unspeakable vulgarity.” I remember laughing when he said it, but for years I turned it over in my mind and it always made me uneasy.’ (Irish Statesman [q.d.], in the Hone Papers; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, London: Methuen 1950, 1965, p.291.)

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W. B. Yeats, “Tradition and Poetry” (1907): ‘When Lionel Johnson and Katharine Tynan (as she was then), and I, myself, began to reform Irish poetry, we thought to keep unbroken the thread [247] running up to Grattan which John O’Leary had put into our hands, though it might be our business to explore new paths of the labyrinth. We sought to make a more subtle rhythm, a more organic form, than that of the older Irish poets who wrote in English, but always to remember certain ardent ideas and high attitudes of mind which were the nation itself, to our belief, so far as a nation can be summarised in the intellect. If you had asked an ancient Spartan what made Sparta Sparta, he would have answered, the Laws of Lycurgus, and many Englishmen look back to Bunyan and to Milton as we did to Grattan and to Mitchel. Lionel Johnson was able to take up into his art one portion of this tradition that I could not, for he had a gift of speaking political thought in fine verse that I have always lacked. I, on the other hand, was more preoccupied with Ireland (for he had other interests), and took from Allingham and Walsh their passion for country spiritism, and from Ferguson his pleasure in heroic legend, and while seeing all in the light of European literature found my symbols of expression in Ireland.’ (In The Cutting of an Agate [1912], rep. in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1961, pp.247-48; see full text in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” > W. B. Yeats, via index, or attached.)

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W. B. Yeats, “Tradition and Poetry” (1907): ‘[...H]e never talked ideas, but, as was common with his generation in Oxford, facts and immediate impressions from life. With others this renunciation was but a pose, a superficial reaction from the disordered abundance of the middle century, but with him it was the radical life. He was in all a traditionalist, gathering out of the past phrases, moods,. attitudes, and disliking ideas less for their uncertainty than because they made the mind itself changing and restless. He measured the Irish tradition by another greater than itself, and was quick to feel any falling asunder of the two, yet at many moments they seemed but one in his imagination. Ireland, all through his poem of that name, speaks to him with the voice of the great poets, and in Ireland’s Dead she is still mother of perfect heroism, but there doubt comes too. [Here quotes “Can it be, thou dost repent / That they went, thy chivalry, / Those sad ways magnificent?”, and “A dream! a dream! an ancient dream! [...]” [258] I do not think either of us saw that, as belief in the possibility of armed insurrection withered, the old romantic Nationalism would wither too, and that the young would become less ready to find pleasure in whatever they believed to be literature.’ (In The Cutting of an Agate [1912]; rep. in Essays and Introductions, Macmillan 1961, pp.258-59.)

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Warwick Gould, “Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, in Yeats and the Occult, ed., George Mills Harper (London: Macmillan 1975), pp.255-84: ‘[...] A child prodigy and undergraduate extraordinary, a retired Buddhist received into the Catholic Chruch, he lives for us in the myth Yeats wrapped about him in Autobiographies.’ (p.256.) ‘the Trembling of the Veil offers the best ground for comparison of Yeats’s mythologized portrait of the long-dead Johnson with his earlier counterpart, Owen Aherne. Yeats writes of Johnson that “his doctrine, after a certain number of glasses, would become more ascetic, more contemptuous of all that we call human life.” [A., 223.]’ (p.257.) Notes Johnson’s contributions to the Savoy which published Yeats’s stories excluded by A. H. Bullen from The Secret Rose (1897), and in particular a sonnet, “Hawker of Morwenstow” which expresses solidarity in ‘Catholic faith and Celtic joy’ (Gould, op. cit., pp.260-61.) Gould quotes “Munster 1534” [as infra] and also Michael Fixler upon it: ‘the antinomian animus of the frenzied millenarian Anabaptists who with swords in their hands sought to usher in the age of the Holy Spirit’ (‘The Affinities between J. K. Huysman and the “Rosicrucian” Stories of W. B. Yeats’, in PMLA, 74, 1959, pp.464-69; p.465n.). Gould calls this less a source for the “Tables of the Law” than ‘an area of mutual concern’ (p.262); quotes from “Tables of the Law” regarding Aherne’s doctrine: ‘the beautiful arts were sent into the world to overthrow nations, and finally life herself, by sowing everywhere unlimited desires, like torches thrown into a burning city’ - and remarks: ‘Aherne in this heresy is clearly the mask of both Yeats and Johnson, indeed of all whose personal involvement in the Irish movement was as spiritual as it was political.’ (p.262.) Gould believes that Johnson whom Yeats saw as the “theologian” of the movement (Autobiographies, p.221) was his authority on Joachim (p.266.) [For longer extract, see under Yeats, Commentary, infra.]

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Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book (1988), pp.93-106, gives extract from ‘Poetry and Patriotism’, published in book form in 1908 by Cuala Press as Poetry and Ireland, Essays by WB Yeats and Lionel Johnson. The first essay, Yeats’s, dates from August 1907 [no. 14, Storey, op. cit.]; Johnson’s piece was originally given as lectures both to the Irish Literary Society in London, and the National Literary Society in Dublin, in 1894. The essay was published posthumously in Post Luminium, Essays and Critical papers by Lionel Johnson, ed. Thomas Whittemore (London 1911). [‘it appears to be the creed of some critics, that ... in the poetry of The Nation ... we have fixed an unalterable standard whereby to judge all Irish poetry ... Against any living Irish poet who writes in any style uncultivated then, is brought the dreadful charge of being unartistic, and sometimes, if it be a very flagrant case, the unspeakable accusation of being English. Now I heartily hate the cant of ‘Art for art’s sake’, I have spent years in trying to understand what is meant by that imbecile phrase. also, I have a healthy hatred of the West Briton heresy. Further, no Irishman living has a greater love for the splendid poetry of Davis, Mangan, and their fellows. But I dislike coercion in literature, and it seems to me an uncritical dictation ... ‘ [p.93]; ... ‘The tumult of our political passions is apt to disturb our judgments’ [100]. See Storey bibl. notice: ‘for the full significance of Johnson’s essay, especially in relation to Yeats’s thinking, see Ian Small, ‘Yeats and Johnson on the Limitations of Patriotic Art, in Studies, 63 (Winter 1974), pp.379-88.’

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Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography (London: Macmillan 1976), notes that Johnson introduced Wilde to Bosey at Oxford, and later hated Wilde for his ‘triumph and power’ in the knowledge that he was guilty of the sin that would turn the his social audience against him if they knew, addressing to him a sonnet called ‘The Destroyer of a Soul’ [about Douglas], ‘Soul of a saint, whose friend I used to be / Till you came by! a cold, corrupting fate.’ (Tuohy, pp.83-84).

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Quotations
Poetry and Patriotism” [lecture delivered to the National Literary Society, Dublin, 1894] in Poetry and Ireland: Essays by W. B. Yeats and Lionel Johnson, Dublin: Cuala MCMVIII [1908]), opens with remarks: ‘attention to form is apparently an English vice’; warns against poetry becoming ‘a national weapon’; cites God Save the Queen as example of doggerel; ‘Let others write for cliques and coteries, and live upon academic applause or mutual admiration, we are content with a poetry popular and patriotic. It sounds very manly and independent, a refreshing contrast to the affected aestheticism of certain schools, but it cuts us off for ever from the company of the great classics.’ (p.30); refers to Irish qualities in Farquhar, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and Steele; claims that poetry and patriotism are inseparable; ‘a living literature cannot help being national, it must feed upon the literature of the past, and of other nations; but if it be good literautre, it must bear the sign and seal of its own nationality, and of its own age’ (p.360); ‘Is Ireland to be the only nation which influences from without are bound to ruin and unnationalise; the onoy nation incapable of assimilating to herself, of nationalising and naturalising, the heritage of art and learning, left by other nations’ (p.39-40); ‘But I do not see, why Irishmen should not make raids upon other countries, and bring home the spoils, and triumphantly Celticise them, and lay them down at the feet of Ireland’ (p.43); [recommends Irish writers to] ‘introduce beauties and graces into English verse, which in psirit and effect shall be truly Irish’ (p.51.). Further: ‘Poetry and patriotism are each other’s guardian angels, and therefore inseparable.’ (rep. in Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800’, 1988, p.101; quoted in Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, London: Pluto Press 1998, 74.)

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Ireland’s Dead

Ireland’s Dead Immemorial Holy Land!
At thine hand, thy sons await
Any fate: they understand
Thee, the all compassionate.

Be it death for thee, they grieve
Nought, to leave the light aside:
Thou their pride, they undeceive
Death, by death unterrified.

Mother, dear and fair to us,
Ever thus to be adored!
Is thy sword grown timorous,
Mother of misericord?

For thy dead is grief on thee?
Can it be, thou dost repent,
That they went, thy chivalry,
Those sad ways magnificent? [33]

What, and if their heart’s blood flow?
Gladly so, with love divine,

 

Since not thine the overthrow,
They thy fields incarnadine.

Hearts afire with one sweet flame,
One loved name, thine host adores:
Conquerers, they overcame
Death, high Heaven’s inheritors.

For their loyal love, nought less,
Than the stress of death, sufficed:
Now with Christ, in blessedness,
Triumph they, imparadised.

Mother, with so dear blood stained!
Freedom gained through love befall
Thee, by thraldom unprofaned,
Perfect and imperial!

Still the ancient voices ring:
Faith they bring, and fear repel.
Time shall tell thy triumphing,
Victress and invincible!

—from Selected Poems (1908), pp.33-34 - available online; accessed 04.01.2015.

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“Ways of War”
 

A dream! a dream! an ancient dream!
Yet, ere peace come to Inisfail,
Some weapons on some field must gleam,
Some burning glory fire the Gael.

That field may lie beneath the sun,
Fair for the treading of an host:
That field in realms of thought be won,
And armed minds do their uttermost:

Some way, to faithful Inisfail,
Shall come the majesty and awe
Of martial truth, that must prevail.
To lay on all the eternal law.

   

Quoted in W. B. Yeats, “Tradition and Poetry”, in The Cutting of an Agate, rep. in Essays and Introductions, London: Macmillan 1961, pp.258-59.

 

Note: The same poem is excerpted in Clement Shorter’s introduction to the Selected Poems (1908), while Yeats here remarks: ‘And in Ways of War, dedicated to John O’Leary, he dismissed the belief in an heroic Ireland as but a dream.’ (Ibid., p.259.)

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Strictures on Young Ireland: ‘An attention to form and style is apparently an English vice. ... an Irish poet of to-day may lack a thousand Irish virtues: but if he give a devoted care to the perfecting of her art, he will have at least one Celtic note, one characteristic Irish virtue ... Passionate impulse and patient pains are not incompatible ... Is Ireland to be the only nation which influences from without are bound to ruin and unnationalize: the only nation incapable of assimilating to herself, of nationalizing and naturalizing, the heritage of art and learning, left by other nations?’ In the same article, Johnson criticises the usual metric of Anglo-Irish verse, those swinging anapaests and dactyls which, while possibly borrowed from the Gaelic, have a very different and much coarser effect in English.’ (Quoted in Louis MacNeice, W. B. Yeats, 1941, pp. 55-6).

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His apothegms are quoted by W. B. Yeats: ‘Life must be a ritual’; ‘One should be quite unnoticeable’; ‘I wish people who disbelieve in eternal punishment would realise their unspeakable vulgarity’; ‘God asks nothing from even the highests souls but attention’; ‘I need ten years in the wilderness, you need ten years in a library’; cited in Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.143; et al.) ‘After all, who is to decide what is, absolutely and definitely, the Celtic and Irish [many a] time I have shown my English friends Irish poems, which Irish critics have declared to be un-Irish; and the English verdict has constantly been: “How un-English! How Celtic! what strange, remote far-away beauty in the music and colour!”’ (Essays and Critical Papers, 1911; cited in Marcus, 1970, p.2.)

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James Clarence Mangan: ‘As he broods over the lamentations of the ancient bards, raising a keen over Ireland desolate and derelict, over Irish princes exiled or dead, over Irish hopes frustrated and Irish chivalry in defeat, his own immense melancholy kindles into a melancholy of majestic music.’ (Introduction to the Treasury of Irish Verse; quoted by William J. Maguire, in on Irish Literary Figures, 1945.)

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Munster 1534” [ded. to Richard Ashe King]: ‘We are the golden men, who shall the people save: / For only ours are visions, perfect and divine; / And we alone have drunken of the last, best wine; / And very Truth our souls bath flooded, wave on wave. / Come, wretched death’s inheritors who dread the grave! / Come! for upon our brows is set the starry sign / Of prophet, priest, and king: star of the lion line: / Leave Abana, leave Pharpar, and in Jordan lave! // It thundered, and we heard: it lightened, and we saw: / Our hands have torn in twain the Tables of the Law: / Sons of the Spirit, we know nothing now of sin. / Come! from the Tree of Eden take the mystic fruit: / Come! pluck up God’s own knowledge by the abysmal root: / Come! you, who would the reign of Paradise begin.’ (Quoted in Warwick Gould, “Lionel Johnson Comes First to Mind”: Sources for Owen Aherne’, Yeats and the Occult, ed. George Mills Harper, London: Macmillan 1975, p.261.)

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Latinity (1) - Johnson’s Latin poem in thanks for a copy of Dorian Gray received from the author him: ‘Benedictus sis, Oscare! / Qui me libro hoc dignare / Propter amicitias: / Modo modulans Romano / Laudes dignas Doriano, / Ago tibi gratias. //Juventus hic Formosa / floret inter rosas rosa / Subito dum venit mors: / Ecce Homo! Ecce Deus! / Si sic modus esset meus / Genius misericors. / Amat avidus amores, / Miros, miros carpit flores / Saevus pulchritudine. / Quanto anima nigrescit, / Tanto facies splendiescit, / Mendax, sed quam splendide! // Hic sunt poma Sodomorum; / Hic sunt corda vitiorum; / Et peccata dulcia. / In excelsis et infernis, / Tibi sit, quit tanta cernis, / Gloriarum gloria.’ Leonellus Poeta [sign.] (Note that the version printed in Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton 1987, contains errors incl. roasas [for rosas] and saerus pulchritudine [for saevus &c.]; information a supplied by Portia Isaksen, St. Hilda’s Coll., Oxford.)

Latinity (2) - We know that the Latin phrases in the story were supplied by Lionel Johnson from Yeats’s prose because of the inscription of 1901 on John Quinn’s copy - viz., The Tables of the Law. The Adoration of the Magi (1897). See George J. Watson, ed., Short Fiction of W. B. Yeats (Penguin 1995), p.261 [n.17.]

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References
Dictionary of National Biography, gives details: b. Broadstairs, Kent, son of Army captain [... &c.]; ‘His interest in nationalist politics and in the Irish literary revival was fostered by a visit to Ireland in Sept. 1893, which he often repeated, but his own alleged Irish origin was a literary pose, and Celtic influences had reached him first through Wales.’

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904) gives extract from Ireland, Historical and Picturesque. The note on Allingham in Rolleston and Brooke’s Treasury of Irish Poetry is by Johnson, who says, ‘song upon song makes no mention, direct or indirect, of Ireland, yet reveals an Irish atmosphere and temperament. ... always essentially an Irishman of the secluded west, with ancient visions and ponderings in his hear, and the gift of tears and smiles. ... etc.’ (See A. P. Graves, Irish Lit. & Mus. Studies, Nelson 1913, p. 79.)

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978): Lionel, Johnson, ‘Clarence Mangan,’ in Academy 53 (189), rpt. in Post Liminium, ed. Thomas Whittemore (1911) [a review of O’Donoghue’s Life paying tribute to ‘greatest Irish poet who has ever sung in English’]; also prefatory essay in O’Donoghue’s centenary edition of The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan (1904). SEE also Warwick Gould’, Lionel Johnson comes first to mind’, Sources for Owen Aherne, in ); G. M Harper, ed., Yeats and The Occult [Yeats Studies Series] (Macmillan 1975), pp.255-84.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects from Poems, ‘Mystic and Cavelier’; ‘The Dark Angel’ [‘...with thine aching lust/To rid the world of penitence, /Malicious angel, who still dost / My soul such subtile violence!’; ‘By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross’; from Ireland, and Other Poems, ‘Ninety-Eight’ [beginning ital. ‘Who fears to speak of Ninety-Eight’? / He, who despairs of Ireland still: / Whose paltry soul finds nothing great / In honest failure ... ‘ and ‘The man, who fears to speak of death’, and ‘The enemy of Ireland fears!’ and ending ‘True harts that beat in Ninety-Eight’], ‘Parnell’ [‘Her morning light, that fled; / Her morning star, that fell’], 745-48; remarks and refs, appropriate ... that Lionel Johnson, one of the best known of the English decadent poets, should be an honorary Irishman. Whistler’s London was not sufficiently twilit; Yeats’s Ireland had more of the tremulous glimmer so beloved of the decadent school. Yet Johnson’s poems on Irish subjects are very far from his best. Ireland (and Yeats) managed to be an avocation without ever becoming an inspiration. But Johnson remained relatively unread. His contribution to Irish poetry important only as a reminder of the appeal of Ireland as a minority cause to the intellectuals and writers of the decadent era [Seamus Heaney, ed.], 720; Wilde become more English than Johnson could ever become Irish [ibid.], 721; (his Parnell poem one of many, cf. Seamuas O’Sullivan), 755; Yeats, ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’, Lionel Johnson comes first to mind,/That loved his learning better than mankind,/Though courteous to the worst, much falling he/Brooded upon sanctity/Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed/A long blast upon the horn that brought/A little nearer to his thought/A measureless comsummated that he dreamed’, 801-02; DP Moran criticises the inclusion of so much of ‘the symbolic school’ in Stopford Brooke, 971n; Lionel Johnson cited with Nora Chesson by Thomas MacDonagh as ‘one of a few ‘who were born and who lived their whole lives out of Ireland, and yet are truly Irish (Literature in Ireland, 1916), 990; 780 [BIOG, WORKS & COMM as supra.]

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Eric Stevens (Cat. 1992), lists Poems (Elkin Mathews 1895) [1st ed., 750 copies], 116pp, title page designed by HP Horne, finely printed at Chiswick Press, bookplate Holbrook Jackson [£135].

Peter Ellis (Cat. 10; 2002) lists Reviews & Critical Papers (London: Elkin Mthews 1921), 109pp., 1st ed., with 8pp. intor. by Rober Shafer; armorial bookpl. of William Marchbank; no dw [£75].

D. J. O’Donoghue, Irish Ability, 1906, endpapers: Prose Writings of Mangan, now first collected, and edited by D. J. O’Donoghue, with an essay by Lionel Johnson, and a new port., nearly 400pp.

Belfast Public Library holds Poems (1908); Religious Poems (1916); Twenty One Poems (1904).

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Notes
Had such friends: Lionel Johnson was Yeats’s ‘most intimate friend’ during 1880-90s in London (see Memoirs, 1972, and was the dedicatee of The Rose and Other Poems (1893) [q. title]

Portrait, a juvenile half-profile appeared in The Gael, Oct. 1899.

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