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Chapter 5

We gathered on Sunday evenings in two rooms, with folding doors
between, & hung, I think, with photographs from Dutch masters, and
in one room there was always, I think, a table with cold meat. I
can recall but one elderly man--Dunn his name was--rather silent
and full of good sense, an old friend of Henley's. We were young
men, none as yet established in his own, or in the world's
opinion, and Henley was our leader and our confidant. One evening
I found him alone amused and exasperated.

He cried: 'Young A... has just been round to ask my advice. Would
I think it a wise thing if he bolted with Mrs. B...? "Have you
quite determined to do it?" I asked him. "Quite." "Well," I said,
"in that case I refuse to give you any advice."' Mrs. B... was a
beautiful talented woman, who, as the Welsh triad said of
Guinevere, 'was much given to being carried off.' I think we
listened to him, and often obeyed him, partly because he was quite
plainly not upon the side of our parents. We might have a
different ground of quarrel, but the result seemed more important
than the ground, and his confident manner and speech made us
believe, perhaps for the first time, in victory. And besides, if
he did denounce, and in my case he certainly did, what we held in
secret reverence, he never failed to associate it with things, or
persons, that did not move us to reverence. Once I found him just
returned from some art congress in Liverpool or in Manchester.
'The Salvation Armyism of art,' he called it, & gave a grotesque
description of some city councillor he had found admiring Turner.
Henley, who hated all that Ruskin praised, thereupon derided
Turner, and finding the city councillor the next day on the other
side of the gallery, admiring some Pre-Raphaelite there, derided
that Pre-Raphaelite. The third day Henley discovered the poor man
on a chair in the middle of the room, staring disconsolately upon
the floor. He terrified us also, and certainly I did not dare, and
I think none of us dared, to speak our admiration for book or
picture he condemned, but he made us feel always our importance,
and no man among us could do good work, or show the promise of it,
and lack his praise.

I can remember meeting of a Sunday night Charles Whibley, Kenneth
Grahame, author of 'The Golden Age,' Barry Pain, now a well known
novelist, R. A. M. Stevenson, art critic and a famous talker,
George Wyndham, later on a cabinet minister and Irish chief
secretary, and Oscar Wilde, who was some eight years or ten older
than the rest. But faces and names are vague to me and, while
faces that I met but once may rise clearly before me, a face met
on many a Sunday has perhaps vanished. Kipling came sometimes, I
think, but I never met him; and Stepniak, the nihilist, whom I
knew well elsewhere but not there, said 'I cannot go more than
once a year, it is too exhausting.' Henley got the best out of us
all, because he had made us accept him as our judge and we knew
that his judgment could neither sleep, nor be softened, nor
changed, nor turned aside. When I think of him, the antithesis
that is the foundation of human nature being ever in my sight, I
see his crippled legs as though he were some Vulcan perpetually
forging swords for other men to use; and certainly I always
thought of C..., a fine classical scholar, a pale and seemingly
gentle man, as our chief swordsman and bravo. When Henley founded
his weekly newspaper, first the 'Scots,' afterwards 'The National
Observer,' this young man wrote articles and reviews notorious for
savage wit; and years afterwards when 'The National Observer' was
dead, Henley dying & our cavern of outlaws empty, I met him in
Paris very sad and I think very poor. 'Nobody will employ me now,'
he said. 'Your master is gone,' I answered, 'and you are like the
spear in an old Irish story that had to be kept dipped in poppy-
juice that it might not go about killing people on its own
account.' I wrote my first good lyrics and tolerable essays for
'The National Obsever' and as I always signed my work could go my
own road in some measure. Henley often revised my lyrics, crossing
out a line or a stanza and writing in one of his own, and I was
comforted by my belief that he also re-wrote Kipling then in the
first flood of popularity. At first, indeed, I was ashamed of
being re-written and thought that others were not, and only began
investigation when the editorial characteristics--epigrams,
archaisms and all--appeared in the article upon Paris fashions and
in that upon opium by an Egyptian Pasha. I was not compelled to
full conformity for verse is plainly stubborn; and in prose, that
I might avoid unacceptable opinions, I wrote nothing but ghost or
fairy stories, picked up from my mother, or some pilot at Rosses
Point, and Henley saw that I must needs mix a palette fitted to my
subject matter. But if he had changed every 'has' into 'hath' I
would have let him, for had not we sunned ourselves in his
generosity? 'My young men out-dome and they write better than I,'
he wrote in some letter praising Charles Whibley's work, and to
another friend with a copy of my 'Man who dreamed of Fairyland:'
'See what a fine thing has been written by one of my lads.'

William Butler Yeats

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