Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2452
Mary Battle was George Pollexfen’s housekeeper and had worked for the Pollexfen family for many years. She was ‘‘second-sighted,’’ according to Yeats. For example, she would know without being told when her employer was bringing someone unexpected home for dinner and would arrange the table with an extra setting before he arrived. So impressed was Yeats with Battle’s psychic abilities and storytelling that much of his book The Celtic Twilight ‘‘is but her daily speech,’’ he noted.
Madame Blavatsky was one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society in London, an organization that promoted a philosophical system associated with mysticism and claimed particular insight into the nature of God and the world. Between 1887 and 1890, Yeats was a member of the organization and spent much time at Madame Blavatsky’s house discussing theosophy and mysticism. He remembered her as an intelligent and personable woman. Eventually, one of Madame Blavatsky’s associates asked Yeats to leave the group after the author expressed doubts about the accuracy of some of the society’s beliefs.
Thomas Davis, with Charles Gavan Duffy, launched the Dublin newspaper The Nation, in which many writers, including Yeats, published verse and prose that underscored the need for Irish independence. From this publication came much of the impetus for what became known as The Young Ireland Movement, a group of writers, again including Yeats, who sought to encourage Irish nationalism and identity through their literary efforts.
John Butler Yeats introduced Edward Dowden to his son William. Dowden was a poet and professor who, much to the elder Yeats’s disappointment, wrote very little after his first collection of poems and focused primarily on criticism. As a young man, Yeats often talked with Dowden about philosophy and literature.
Sir Charles Gavan Duffy
Charles Gavan Duffy was one of the founders of the newspaper The Nation, which published Irish nationalistic poetry and prose. He and Yeats both sought the editorship of the New Irish Library series of books about Irish history and literature, but Duffy got the job. The two also struggled over the direction of efforts to achieve Irish independence in the 1890s, with Yeats on the less radical and less violent side of the argument.
Florence Farr was an English actress. Yeats wrote a number of plays for her and also cast her in shows at the Abbey Theatre. Like Yeats, she was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a mystical society. According to Yeats, she was a beautiful woman with a strong and curious mind who did not fathom all of her gifts. The two had a long and enduring friendship; however, Yeats described their relationship as an ‘‘exasperation’’ because he felt she did not play enough roles that displayed her beauty and skill.
In 1889, Yeats met Maude Gonne, an Irish nationalist activist, and began a long but ultimately unrequited romantic pursuit of the woman, who was renowned for her beauty and energy. According to Yeats, ‘‘her complexion was luminous, like that of apple-blossom through which the light falls.’’ Her fiery nature was legendary, and in one instance she praised war ‘‘as if there were some virtue in excitement itself,’’ wrote Yeats.
Lady Augusta Persse Gregory
Lady Gregory was an Irish playwright who did not begin her writing career until she was middleaged. She met Yeats in 1896 and became his patron and close friend. Yeats spent much time at her Irish estate, Coole Park, resting from his work and collecting stories and folktales from neighboring farmers and peasants. Lady Gregory and Yeats founded the Irish Literary Theatre, the Irish National Theatre Society, and the Abbey Theatre.
W. E. Henley
W. E. Henley was an English editor and poet. Yeats did not express much love for Henley’s poems but acknowledged that his own education began through the regular discussions Henley led at his house in London. The group invited to Henley’s meetings also included Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling, and these and other young men sought out Henley’s praise in much of what they did. ‘‘Henley was our leader, our confidante,’’ wrote Yeats, remembering that the group listened to Henley partly because he was ‘‘quite plainly not on the side of our parents.’’
Henley started two publications, Scots and the National Observer. Yeats was a frequent contributor to the National Observer. As an Englishman, Henley acknowledged to Yeats that Ireland had the right to independence but also said that England could not allow it. Henley began to deteriorate after the death of his daughter in the mid-1890s, as Yeats noted in his essay The Tragic Generation.
See MacGregor Mathers
MacGregor Mathers, originally named Liddell Mathers, was the English leader of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Yeats became a member of the order and, in his words, ‘‘began certain studies and experiences that were to convince me that images well up before the mind’s eye from a deeper source than conscious or subconscious memory.’’ Members, who included many of Yeats’s fellow writers and artists, were required to illustrate that they held some competence in mysticism. Their activities included using powerful symbols to bring about visions.
William Morris was an English poet, artist, socialist, and manufacturer and designer of such household items as carpets and furniture. There are references to his designs throughout the text of Autobiographies. Yeats attended debates sponsored by the Socialist League at Morris’s house and often had supper with Morris after the conclusion of the discussions. Yeats credits Morris for his brief identification with socialism. While Yeats did not express great admiration for Morris’s poetry, he did write that he would prefer to live Morris’s life ‘‘rather than my own or any other man’s.’’
Jack Nettleship was an artist whom Yeats described as ‘‘once inventor of imaginative designs and now a painter of melodramatic lions.’’ Yeats met Nettleship through his father and said that his own admiration of Nettleship was based less on the quality of his art and more on a habit formed in Yeats’s childhood. Nettleship drank cocoa all day long, according to Yeats, because he had once been an alcoholic and still needed some liquid to sip constantly.
John O’Leary was a writer and activist for the Irish nationalist cause. He was a member of the Young Ireland Movement before he was twenty. He was arrested, jailed, and then exiled to France before returning to lead the Fenians, a revolutionary society formed in Ireland and the United States in the mid-1850s to secure Irish independence from England by force. He also was the center of an Irish nationalist literary group, the Young Ireland Society, of which Yeats was a member.
Yeats remembered O’Leary as ‘‘the handsomest man I had ever seen’’ and maintained extreme respect and admiration for him. He credited O’Leary’s debates and conversations, as well as the books which the activist lent him, with providing the inspiration for ‘‘all that I have set my hand to since.’’ O’Leary also helped find ‘‘subscribers’’ for Yeats’s first book of poems, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems.
Elizabeth Middleton Pollexfen
Elizabeth Pollexfen was Yeats’s grandmother and William Pollexfen’s wife. In contrast to her husband’s stern nature, Mrs. Pollexfen was a generous and kind woman, deeply involved in charity work and skilled in drawing the delicate flowers she grew in her beloved garden.
George Pollexfen was one of William Pollexfen’s sons and Yeats’s maternal uncle and ‘‘dear friend.’’ The poet and his uncle shared an interest in the occult, and George Pollexfen spent much time developing his skills as an astrologer and a mystic. Yeats remembered his uncle as appearing much older than his age because of his dour demeanor. Nonetheless, Yeats reported that his uncle was interested in learning about mystical symbols and visions. The two spent much time together collecting stories of supernatural experiences from their country neighbors around Sligo.
Yeats had pleasant memories of his visits to Sligo, where he stayed with George Pollexfen. Mindful of Yeats’s interest in being outdoors and in spending time alone, George Pollexfen would patiently arrange meals around his young nephew’s erratic comings and goings.
William Pollexfen was Yeats’s maternal grandfather, a man who inspired both fear and admiration among his contemporaries and in the young Yeats. Yeats wrote that his grandfather never mistreated him, but his demeanor was intimidating. Pollexfen was quiet, even around his wife, and never spoke about the great military deeds he had accomplished as a younger man. He was a large and strong man, had traveled throughout much of the world, and owned a number of ships. With some awe, Yeats noted that his grandfather ‘‘had the reputation of never ordering a man to do anything he would not do himself.’’
T. W. Rolleston
Yeats referred to T. W. Rolleston as ‘‘the second Thomas Davis.’’ Rolleston was one of the founding members of the Rhymers’ Club in about 1891, a literary group that met regularly to share poetry.
George ‘‘A. E.’’ Russell
George Russell, also known as ‘‘A. E.,’’ attended art school in Dublin while Yeats was also there. Yeats remembered Russell as the student who would not paint what was in front of him, painting instead what he saw in his visions. Russell eventually became well-known as a poet and a mystic and was one of Yeats’s closest friends.
Yeats was always impressed with Russell’s versatility, noting that with only a brief background in accounting, Russell accepted a position as a member of a ‘‘co-operative banking system.’’ People often called upon Russell to settle arguments. However, Yeats did not have much praise for Russell’s efforts at literary criticism.
Yeats considered John Synge the ‘‘greatest dramatic genius of Ireland.’’ Yeats remembered meeting Synge for the first time in 1896 and not being especially impressed with the younger writer. Eventually, Synge would work closely with Lady Gregory and Yeats at the Irish National Theatre Society and at the Abbey Theatre. His play The Playboy of the Western World generated a storm of criticism when it was produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1907 for its depiction of the Irish rural character and its use of Irish Gaelic dialect.
Synge died in 1909 after a long illness. In his essay The Death of Synge, Yeats ruminated on the nature of his friendship with Synge.
J. F. Taylor
See John F. Taylor
John F. Taylor
John F. Taylor was a lawyer and an orator who spoke on Irish literature and history to the Young Ireland Society and other groups. While he and Yeats clashed on a number of issues, including Yeats’s belief in the supernatural, Yeats admired Taylor for his powerful speaking abilities. Taylor had a reputation for taking on hopeless legal cases and also for his short temper.
Yeats met Oscar Wilde through W. E. Henley’s discussion group and was amazed at the Irish poet and playwright’s ability to speak fluently, as if he had already written out in his head what he was going to say. Wilde was also an occasional visitor to Yeats’s Rhymers’ Club in the 1890s.
Wilde praised Yeats’s first poetry collection, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems and had Yeats to his house for dinner a number of times. During these visits, Wilde enjoyed hearing Yeats tell long Irish folk tales and flattered the younger poet by comparing him with Homer. When Wilde was charged with indecency and faced a prison sentence and hard labor, Yeats and many of his friends came out in support of the famous wit.
John Butler Yeats
John Yeats was Yeats’s father. He was a lawyer who had quit the bar to become a painter, but he also enjoyed reading drama and poetry. John Yeats had a huge impact on his son’s education and ways of thinking by introducing him to many fellow artists and writers. These people contributed greatly to Yeats’s philosophy by including him in various discussions about philosophy, art, and politics. Most of them, according to Yeats, were ‘‘influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement,’’ a nineteenth-century aesthetic movement that often sentimentalized its artistic subjects and made moral judgments against technological and industrial advancement. Yeats’s father never fully agreed with his son’s interest in the supernatural. In fact, Yeats commented that it was through his study of the occult and the supernatural that he began to break away from his father’s strong intellectual influence.
Susan Mary Pollexfen Yeats
Susan Yeats was Yeats’s mother and a woman whom her husband described as being extremely honest in expressing her feelings. Yeats remembered that when they moved back to Ireland after living in London, his mother wanted to live near a body of water. ‘‘I have no doubt that we lived at the harbour for my mother’s sake,’’ he reminisced, adding that it was not uncommon to see her sitting in the kitchen, listening to a servant—a fisherman’s wife—tell stories.
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats, author of Autobiographies, was an Irish poet and dramatist who lived from 1865 to 1939. As a young child, he was not a good student and strained against being forced to sit and learn in a classroom. He prefered to learn outof- doors, even though he claimed in his autobiography that he was not a very muscular youth. Yeats especially enjoyed spending his time listening to others tell stories and fairy tales, which he collected as an adult. He recorded them and incorporated their sense into his poems and stories.
As a young man, Yeats became increasingly interested in the occult and the supernatural, joining Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and MacGregor Mathers’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Yeats’s study of the supernatural, as well as his deep interest in Irish culture and his concern for Irish independence from England informed his poetry and other writings. In the 1920s, Yeats became involved in Irish politics, eventually serving as a senator for Ireland.
Around the turn of the century, Yeats began writing and producing plays that reflected traditional Irish life and folklore. With the help of his patron, Lady Gregory, he founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1923, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his autobiography, Yeats reported that after he received the news, he and his wife could not find a bottle of wine in the house and so had to settle for sausages, ‘‘as a celebration [was] necessary.’’
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support