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Chapter 19

At the British Museum reading-room I often saw a man of thirty-six
or thirty-seven, in a brown velveteen coat, with a gaunt resolute
face, and an athletic body, who seemed before I heard his name, or
knew the nature of his studies, a figure of romance. Presently I
was introduced, where or by what man or woman I do not remember.
He was Macgregor Mathers, the author of the 'Kabbalas Unveiled,' &
his studies were two only--magic and the theory of war, for he
believed himself a born commander and all but equal in wisdom and
in power to that old Jew. He had copied many manuscripts on magic
ceremonial and doctrine in the British Museum, and was to copy
many more in continental libraries, and it was through him mainly
that I 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. I believe that his mind in
those early days did not belie his face and body, though in later
years it became unhinged, for he kept a proud head amid great
poverty. One that boxed with him nightly has told me that for many
weeks he could knock him down, though Macgregor was the stronger
man, and only knew long after that during those weeks Macgregor
starved. With him I met an old white-haired Oxfordshire clergyman,
the most panic-stricken person I have ever known, though
Macgregor's introduction had been 'He unites us to the great
adepts of antiquity.' This old man took me aside that he might
say--'I hope you never invoke spirits--that is a very dangerous
thing to do. I am told that even the planetary spirits turn upon
us in the end.' I said, 'Have you ever seen an apparition?' 'O
yes, once,' he said. 'I have my alchemical laboratory in a cellar
under my house where the Bishop cannot see it. One day I was
walking up & down there when I heard another footstep walking up
and down beside me. I turned and saw a girl I had been in love
with when I was a young man, but she died long ago. She wanted me
to kiss her. Oh no, I would not do that.' 'Why not?' I said. 'Oh,
she might have got power over me.' 'Has your alchemical research
had any success?' I said. 'Yes, I once made the elixir of life. A
French alchemist said it had the right smell and the right
colour,' (The alchemist may have been Elephas Levi, who visited
England in the sixties, & would have said anything) 'but the first
effect of the elixir is that your nails fall out and your hair
falls off. I was afraid that I might have made a mistake and that
nothing else might happen, so I put it away on a shelf. I meant to
drink it when I was an old man, but when I got it down the other
day it had all dried up.'

William Butler Yeats

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