Wilde: “… Oscar ruled the table”

  • Michael Steinman


Yeats remembered “little of childhood but its pain”, “… that toil of growing up;/ The ignominy of boyhood; the distress of boyhood changing into man”.1 Shy and painfully self-aware, he envied the graceful yet despaired of attaining their ease. Childhood and adolescence were also intellectually unrewarding; he was “bored by an Irish Protestant point of view that suggested by its blank abstraction chloride of lime”.2 Against this uninspiring background, Oscar Wilde entered his life. Their first intersection was in 1883, five years before their first meeting at W.E. Henley’s house when Wilde invited Yeats for Christmas dinner:

On November 20, 1883, Oscar Wilde was scheduled to appear in Dublin to speak on poetry, and Willie, even though he wasn’t feeling well, wanted to hear him … despite his illness, [he] caught the return train to Dublin and attended the lecture.3

Although Wilde’s lecture was either “Impressions of America” or “The House Beautiful”, Yeats was interested in Wilde, perhaps the man more than his text.4


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  1. 3.
    William Martin Murphy, Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell U.P., 1979) 133; refer to letters from JBY to Matthew Yeats, 20 and 22 Nov. 1883.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Rupert Hart-Davis, ed., The Letters of Oscar Wilde (London: Hart-Davis, 1962) 152n.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    George W. Russell, Letters from AE, selected and ed. by Alan Denson (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1961) 109–10, to George A. Moore, c. 6 Apr. 1916.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Coulson Kernahan, In Good Company: Some Personal Recollections of Swinburne, Lord Roberts Watts-Dunton, Oscar Wilde, Edward Whymper, S.f. Stone, Stephen Phillips (1917; rpt. 1968, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press) 211.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    Yeats, Letters to the New Island, ed. Horace Reynolds (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1934, rpt. 1970) 76–7.Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    Hesketh Pearson, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit (London: Methuen, 1954) 305, 318; see also Yeats, 116–7.Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    For Maud Gonne’s tale, see Conrad A. Balliet, “Micheal MacLiammoir Recalls Maud Gonne MacBride,” (Journal of Irish Literature, VI, 2, May 1977, 48.)Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    Allan Wade, ed., A Bibliography of the Writings of W. B. Yeats (London: Hart-Davis, 1951; 2nd edn., rev., 1958) 30. The play ran from 29 Mar. to 12 May, 1894.Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    Richard Ellmann, Golden Codgers: Biographical Speculations (New York: Oxford U.P., 1973) 40n.Google Scholar
  10. 42.
    Charles S. Ricketts, Self-Portrait: Taken from the Letters and Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A., collected and compiled by T. Sturge Moore, ed. by Cecil Lewis (London: Peter Davies, 1939) 195–6, Journal of 29 May, 1914.Google Scholar
  11. 46.
    Vincent O’Sullivan, Aspects of Wilde (New York: Holt, 1936) 21.Google Scholar
  12. 55.
    Yeats, A Vision (New York: Collier, 1966, rpt. 1975) 98.Google Scholar
  13. 70.
    Yeats, ed., The Oxford Book of Modern Verse: 1892–1935 (New York: Oxford U.P., 1936, rpt. 1947) vi - viii.Google Scholar

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© Michael Steinman 1983

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  • Michael Steinman

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