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Chapter 14

I attempted to restore one old friend of my father's to the
practice of his youth, but failed though he, unlike my father, had
not changed his belief. My father brought me to dine with Jack
Nettleship at Wigmore Street, once inventor of imaginative designs
and now a painter of melodramatic lions. At dinner I had talked a
great deal--too much, I imagine, for so young a man, or may be for
any man--and on the way home my father, who had been plainly
anxious that I should make a good impression, was very angry. He
said I had talked for effect and that talking for effect was
precisely what one must never do; he had always hated rhetoric and
emphasis and had made me hate it; and his anger plunged me into
great dejection. I called at Nettleship's studio the next day to
apologise and Nettleship opened the door himself and received me
with enthusiasm. He had explained to some woman guest that I would
probably talk well, being an Irishman, but the reality had
surpassed, etc., etc. I was not flattered, though relieved at not
having to apologise, for I soon discovered that what he really
admired was my volubility, for he himself was very silent. He
seemed about sixty, had a bald head, a grey beard, and a nose, as
one of my father's friends used to say, like an opera glass, and
sipped cocoa all the afternoon and evening from an enormous tea
cup that must have been designed for him alone, not caring how
cold the cocoa grew. Years before he had been thrown from his
horse while hunting and broken his arm and, because it had been
badly set, suffered great pain for along time. A little whiskey
would always stop the pain, and soon a little became a great deal
and he found himself a drunkard, but having signed his liberty
away for certain months he was completely cured. He had acquired,
however, the need of some liquid which he could sip constantly. I
brought him an admiration settled in early boyhood, for my father
had always said, 'George Wilson was our born painter but
Nettleship our genius,' and even had he shown me nothing I could
care for, I had admired him still because my admiration was in my
bones. He showed me his early designs and they, though often badly
drawn, fulfilled my hopes. Something of Blake they certainly did
show, but had in place of Blake's joyous intellectual energy a
Saturnian passion and melancholy. 'God creating evil' the death-
like head with a woman and a tiger coming from the forehead, which
Rossetti--or was it Browning?--had described 'as the most sublime
design of ancient or modern art' had been lost, but there was
another version of the same thought and other designs never
published or exhibited. They rise before me even now in
meditation, especially a blind Titan-like ghost floating with
groping hands above the treetops. I wrote a criticism, and
arranged for reproductions with the editor of an art magazine, but
after it was written and accepted the proprietor, lifting what I
considered an obsequious caw in the Huxley, Tyndall, Carolus
Duran, Bastien-Lepage rookery, insisted upon its rejection.
Nettleship did not mind its rejection, saying, 'Who cares for such
things now? Not ten people,' but he did mind my refusal to show
him what I had written. Though what I had written was all eulogy,
I dreaded his judgment for it was my first art criticism. I hated
his big lion pictures, where he attempted an art too much
concerned with the sense of touch, with the softness or roughness,
the minutely observed irregularity of surfaces, for his genius;
and I think he knew it. 'Rossetti used to call my pictures 'pot-
boilers,' he said, 'but they are all--all,' and he waved his arms
to the canvases, 'symbols.' When I wanted him to design gods and
angels and lost spirits once more, he always came back to the
point, 'Nobody would be pleased.' 'Everybody should have a
_raison d'etre_' was one of his phrases. 'Mrs--'s articles
are not good but they are her _raison d'etre_.' I had but
little knowledge of art, for there was little scholarship in the
Dublin Art School, so I overrated the quality of anything that
could be connected with my general beliefs about the world. If I
had been able to give angelical, or diabolical names to his lions
I might have liked them also and I think that Nettleship himself
would have liked them better, and liking them better have become a
better painter. We had the same kind of religious feeling, but I
could give a crude philosophical expression to mine while he could
only express his in action or with brush and pencil. He often told
me of certain ascetic ambitions, very much like my own, for he had
kept all the moral ambition of youth with a moral courage peculiar
to himself, as for instance--'Yeats, the other night I was
arrested by a policeman--was walking round Regent's Park
barefooted to keep the flesh under--good sort of thing to do--I
was carrying my boots in my hand and he thought I was a burglar;
and even when I explained and gave him half a crown, he would not
let me go till I had promised to put on my boots before I met the
next policeman.'

He was very proud and shy, and I could not imagine anybody asking
him questions, and so I was content to take these stories as they
came, confirmations of stories I had heard in boyhood. One story
in particular had stirred my imagination, for, ashamed all my
boyhood of my lack of physical courage, I admired what was beyond
my imitation. He thought that any weakness, even a weakness of
body, had the character of sin, and while at breakfast with his
brother, with whom he shared a room on the third floor of a corner
house, he said that his nerves were out of order. Presently he
left the table, and got out through the window and on to a stone
ledge that ran along the wall under the windowsills. He sidled
along the ledge, and turning the corner with it, got in at a
different window and returned to the table. 'My nerves,' he said,
'are better than I thought.'

William Butler Yeats

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