Brenda Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats (NY: HarperCollins 1999), 474pp.

O’Faolain (who contemplated a biography of Yeats, to Brenda Maddox): ‘“There was no Yeats!”, he exploded. “I watched him invent himself.’

Further: ‘I found that W. B. had, in his time, dived down so many caverns of knowledge and so quickly returned, bringing pearls with him, that if I were to write about him with any [xiii] athority of knowledge I should have to dive down the same caverns[,] stay much too long, and bring back very little - all to write about his voyagings with an assurance about things I could not be interested in for their own sakes. Blavatsky is one such. Indian philosophy is another. Occultism is a third.’ (Brenda Maddox [interview], ‘Relative Values’, in The Sunday Times, 1 April 1984; quoted in Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts, HarperCollins 1999, p.[xiii-iv].)

Yeats’s Vision Papers, 3,600pp., 450 sittings over 20 months.

Elizabeth B. Cullingford writes that the Script helped Yeats make sense of his sexual life: ‘she points out how it directs Yeats’s attention to the need for sexual satisfaction of ‘the medium’ (his wife).’ (See Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, Gender and History in Yeats’s Love Poetry, 1993, p.111.)

Maddox takes issue with the editors’ of the Vision Papers’ assumption that the phantasmal cast of the Automatic Script (Aymor, Thomas of Dorlowitz, Democritus, Leo) are real - viz., ‘Aymore [may] have been thinking of the Yeats’s imminent visit to Ireland [YVP1, 18]’ and remarks: ‘Phrases such as these, even if used as a matter of convention, suggest that “Aymor” could inform, “Thomas” could thing, and that “Leo” could stay George Yeats’s hand. I do not believe this. I see the Automatic Script as an oblique form of communication between a young wife and an aging husband who did not know each other very well and needed it for things they could say to one another in no other way.’ (p.xvii.) ‘If feminism has yielded a new Yeats, so too has molecular biology. Advances in the understanding of genes has shed a kindlier light on the promise that of eugenics held for pre-Holocaust generations.’ (p.xviii.)

W. B. in receipt of Civil List pension of £150 due to influence of Asquith and others since 1910; Academic Committee of English Letters; member of United Arts, Sackville St., and Stephen’s Green and Kildare St. clubs; in London, Royal Societies, and Savile Club (after Jan. 1917); offered membership of the Athenaeum, 16 Feb. 1937, without entrance fee (Rule 2).

Golden Dawn, middle-class, unisex, based on The Kabbalah Unveiled (1887) of MacGregor Mathers

“Leo”: WBY went to Chambers’ Biographical Dictionary to find that “Leo Africanus was otherwise known as Al-Hassan Ibn-Mohammed al-Wezar Al-Fasi, sixteenth-centuiry Spanish Arab poet, explorer and one-time Roman slave.

WBY to Sir William Barrett (past pres. of Society for Psychical Research): ‘I think that one should deal with a control on the working hypothesis that it is genuine. This does not mean that I feel any certainly on the point, but even if it is a secondary personality that should be the right treatment.’ (YVP, 1, 75; here p.11.)

Yeats with a fellow member of the GD (an amateur boxer), repulsed Alaistair Crowley when the latter attempted to secure the secret rituals of the Temple located in rooms above a builder in London, April 1900 (‘Battle of Blythe Road’ ) [12]

His lectures on “Dreams and Ghosts” (Dublin, Nov. 1913) mocked by The Irish Times [12]

With Maud Gonne, Yeats visited supposed blood-secreting oil painting of Sacred Heart at Mirabeau; Maud Gonne fell to her knees; Lister Institute tested exudate swabbed by the local curé and found it to be other than human [13]

An American survivor of the Lusitania had been telling people that [Sir Hugh] Lane had virtually committed suicide by wedging himself into the companion ladder as the ship was sinking. [15]

Pound called the theories ‘very, very bughouse’ on publication of A Vision. [16]

WBY born 10.40 p.m. 13 June 1865.

Affair with Olivia Shakespear, 1895-97; Olivia, m. Henry Hope Shakespear; a loveless marriage; dg. Dorothy; Yeats impotent out of excitement at the first attempt [28] but later enjoyed ‘many days of happiness’ ]

Affairs with Mabel Dickinson, masseuse [recte, physiotherapist] and occasional actress and sis. of Dublin architect and critic, 1908-May 1913, ending in pregnancy scare and threat of ‘an ugly undignified forced marriage’ , acc. Lady Gregory.

‘These woods are in their autumn colours / But the Coole Water is low’: first draft of “Coole Park”, opening lines [35]

Maud Gonne expelled from Cumann na nGaedhael for lack of an Irish pedigree on information from John MacBride during the separation; she supplied genealogy dating her family’s arrival in Ireland to 1560, to no avail. [45]; charges against MacBride incl. suggestion that he molested Iseult veiled in terms of drunkenness: ‘cette ivresse devait conduire MacBride aux pires immoralités’ , but more explicitly recounted in English press. [46]

WBY m. Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees, aetat. 25, 20 Oct. 1817, Harrow Road Reg. Office, Paddington; George dg. of William Gilbert Hyde-Lees (d. Nov. 1909, aetat. 45), ed. Eton, Wadham College, and Army; black sheep; accused of introducing his son to Parisian vice.

JBY and Susan Pollexfen, m. St. John’s Church, Sligo; Jack m. Cottie White, Emmanuel Church, Gunnersbury, W. London.

Robert Gregory, ed., Harrow (first classical schol.) and New College, Cambridge; d. 23 Jan. 1918.

While house-hunting, Maud went out to Dundrum to visit the sisters. They had long disliked her strident theatricality. Lily was now incredulous at the spectacle of Maud’s calling herself Madame MacBride and sporting widow’s weeds and veil for the late husband everybody in Dublin knew she did not lament. Maud, however, needed the martyr’s name for political purposes and for her son’s sake Sean MacBride had come over from London to join her and was enrolled in Mount St. Benedict School in Co. Wexford, while her “adopted” neice, as the illegitimate Iseult would continue to be known in Ireland, remained in London. (p.110).

Childers, executed 24 Nov.; reputedly said, ‘Take a step forward, lads, it will be easier that way.’

Yeats in 1932: ‘Ireland will not be a pennyworth more loyal because Ireland has taken the Oath ... Personally I have no objection to the Oat. I have taken it myself, but a considerable part of our population object to it, and it is very difficult for us to keep the peace in Irelnad until everybody feels that he can safely enter the Dail and agitate for his rights. As long as we have the Oath we shall have little revolutionary bodies disturbing the peace. It is as much, therefore, in the interests of Great Britain as of Ireland that we be rid of the Oath or modify it.’ (‘No Question of Disloyalty: Mr Yeats’s on Objection to the Oath’ , The Times, 4 April 1932, p.14; here p.225.]

Sailed for America, Oct. 1932; lectured on “The Irish Renaissance”, Bowdoin Coll., Maine, Nov. 1932.

WBY to Olivia Shakespeare (13 July 1933): ‘Politics growing heroic ... A Fascist opposition is forming behind the scenes to be ready should some tragic situation develop. I find myself constantly urging the despotic rule of the educated classes as the only end to our troubles. (Let this sleep in your ear.).’ (Wade, pp.811-12; here p.271.)

Yeats introduced to Gen. O’Duffy by Capt. MacManus.

Eight years after Yeats’s death, helping Richard Ellmann prepare his short life of the poet, George said that while the Steinach operation had immensely increased her husband’s sense of well-being, it had failed to restore his capacity to have erections. But she may not have been the best judge. / Yeats had at least four serious sexual liaisons in the years following the Steinach operation.(p.279.)

Margot Ruddock (aka Margot Collis), Oct.-Nov. 1934.

‘Ethel Mannin was a rationalist and skeptical, he mystical and credulous. Politics divided them too. She was left-wing, just short of being a Marxist, and had recently returned starry-eyeed from the Soviet Union; his leanings were firmly the other way. But that hardly mattered when, as a companion, she was brilliant, fun, and full of the salty talk that Yeats adored. She was not worried about his cultural baggage: “Yeats full of Brugundy and racy reminiscence was Yeats released from the Celtic Twilight and treading the antic hay with abundant zest.” / When their relationship became actively sexual is not known. [Norman] Haire had enlisted Ethel specifically to reassure Yeats about the success of the Steinach operation, and she had ... dress[ed] as seductively as possible.’ (Privileged Spectator, p.81; here p.281.)

George collapsed from drinking at a public dinner in the late 1920s [295].

relationship with Dorothy Wellesley, lesbian and owner of Penn on the Rocks, and separated from Gerald, her homosexual, diplomat husband.

A Mrs Fodens accompanied Yeats and the Swami to Majorca [304]

‘Then in 1900 everybody got down off his stilts; henceforth nobody drank absinthe with his black coffee; nobody went mad; nobody committed suicide; nobody joined the Catholic Church; or if they did I have forgotten.’ (Oxford Book of Modern Verse, p.xi; here p.321.)

Mannin took Yeats to task for drawing a pension from the British Crown and elicited this reply: ‘It was given at a time when Ireland was represented in parliament and voted out of the taxes of both countries. It was not voted annually, my surrender of it would not leave a vacancy for anybody else ... The second time it was offered it was explained to me that it implied no political bargain. ... I consider that I have earned that pension by services done to the people.’ (Letter to Mannin, 11 Dec. 1936; Wade, ed., Letters, pp.872-73.)

Maddox cites Kenner’s calculation that Yeats spent less time in Ireland than Joyce, the professional exile’ had done. (Kenner, Colder Eye, p.41; here p.329.)

Edith Shackleton, aka The First Lady of Fleet Street, quoted the poet Yeats’s saying: “My father says, ‘A man does not love a woman because he thinks her clever or because he admires her, but because he likes the way she scratches her head.’ (Quoted in Journal, 23 Jan. 1909, and Autobiogs., p.463; prev. in Estrangement, Cuala Press 1926; also printed in London Mercury and in Dial, 1926; here p.330.)

Maddox reprints photograph of Edith Heald sunning herself without her blouse in a garden at The Chantry House in Steyning, Sussex (jointly built with Nora Heald, also determinedly single), watched comfortably by Yeats in a deck-chair [pls.]; Yeats brought there by Dulac, April 1937; first acquaintance, 1910, renewed 1929 (then writing in Daily Express);

WBY receives 3,000 dollars (£600) from Testimonial Committee chaired by James A. Farrell, pres. of U.S. Steel. [341]; committee wrote that the gift was not to defend ‘old Ireland’ against the charge of being a country of peasants but rather to express a genuine admiration for Yeats and to prove that ‘we Irish can clothe our dreams in reality and be as practical as the best.’ (James D. Mooney to WBY, 7 April 1937, NLI; here p.341.)

Yeats viewed the Irish as a scattered race of twenty million ‘held together by songs’ (13 Aug. 1937, Letters to Dorothy Wellesley, p.157; hre p.343.)

”My Own Poetry Again”, broadcast, BBS Oct. 1937; The Words Upon the Window-Pane, during Experimental Hour, BBC, National Programme, 22 Nov. 1937.

Reorganised Cuala so as not to be a burden on George after his death; 36 of 82 publications, 1903-1945, were works of WBY (’an old family magazine’ ).

On the Boiler (Cuala 1937) written in Monte Carlo, where WBY stayed on ‘to do an abominable thing’ (letter to Mannin): ‘Since about 1900 the better stocks have not been replacing their numbers, while the stupider and less healthy have been more than replacing theirs. Unless there is a change in the public mind every rank above the lowest must degenerate, and, as inferior men push up into the gaps, degenerate more and more quickly.’

‘[Educational needs of Ireland:] nothing but ploughing, harrowing, sowing, curry-combing, bicylce-clearing, drill-driving, parcel-making, bale-pushing, tincan-soldering, door-knob polishing, and laying upon the Squiffer, all things that serve human dignity, unless indeed it decide that these things are better taught at home, in which case it can leave the poor children at peace.’ (On the Boiler, p.18, 27-28; also in Explorations, pp.407-53; here p.353.)

Michael Yeats, ed., St. Columba’s .

”The Statues”: a ‘eugenic love poem’ acc. Elizabeth Butler Cullingford

Declan Kiberd: ‘Many of Yeats’s most striking lines (like the end of “The Second Coming”) are remarkable without being lucid ... This need not necessarily be a bad thing, for great poetry often has the capacity to communicate before it is fully understood.’ (Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.312-13).

Purgatory, a play of 223 lines (Abbey 10 Augh, 1938), deals with the universal hatred between the generations and the power of the dead over the living. The Old Man says, after killing his own son: ‘He would have struck a woman’s fancy, / Begot, and passed pollution on.’ (here. p.361.); ending: ‘O God, / Release my mother’s soul from its dream! / Mankind can do no more. Appease / The misery of the living and the remorse of the dead.’

WBY wrote many of the Last Poems in his room at The Chantry House.

“A Bronze Head”, based on cast of Maud Gonne by Lawrence Campbell: ‘Human, superhuman, a bird’s round eye,/Everything else withered and mummy-dead.’ ; ‘But even at the starting-post, all sleek and new,/I saw the wildness in her.’ (here. p.367.)

Yeats lampoons Francis Stuart in “Why Should not Old Men be Mad?”, the poem that introduces On the Boiler (viz, ‘... .. live with a dunce’).

Alfred George Hollis, in the neighbouring grave to Yeats, had a steel corset, as Yeats had a steel truss for a hernia problem.

As to the interrment and exumation, Maddox suggests DNA testing, but echoes Yeats on being told that he had confused Missolonghi with Mussolini: ‘But ... does ... it ... really ... matter?’

[ back ]

[ top ]