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W. B. Yeats, William Sharp, and Fiona Macleod A Celtic Drama: 1887 to 1897

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Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)

Abstract

IN ‘THE DISCOVERY OF THE CELT’, Holbrook Jackson recognized Yeats as ‘the chief figure of the Celtic Renaissance … the fullest expression of the intellectual Celt—poet, mystic, and patriot—expressing himself in an imaginative propaganda which has affected the thoughts and won the appreciation of the English-speaking world.’1 To convey the dominant mood of nineties Celticism, however, Jackson placed at the head of his chapter a quotation from Fiona Macleod which reads in part:

Through ages of slow westering, till now we face the sundown seas, we have learned in continual vicissitude that there are secret ways whereon armies cannot march. And this has been given to us, a more ardent longing, a more rapt passion in the things of outward beauty and in the things of spiritual beauty. Nor it seems to me is there any sadness, or only the serene sadness of a great day’s end, that, to others, we reveal in our best the genius of a race whose farewell is in a tragic lighting of torches of beauty around its grave.2

Pushed to the fringes of Europe, the Celtic race has, nonetheless, produced artists, like Yeats and Fiona herself, whose torches of beauty light the ritual burial scene and preserve the Celtic flame.

Keywords

  • Beautiful Woman
  • Folk Tale
  • Celtic Race
  • Passionate Love
  • Real Woman

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Notes

  1. This passage is from an essay called ‘Prelude’ which preceded ‘Celtic: an Essay’ when the latter was published in Fiona Macleod’s The Winged Destiny: Studies in the Spiritual History of the Gael (London: Chapman and Hall, 1904). It may be found in vol. 5 of the Uniform Edition of The Works ofFiona Macleod’ (London: William Heinemann, 1910), 167–79 (Hereafter cited UE in the text). ‘Celtic: an Essay’ was first published in the Contemporary Review in May 1900 and again, a few weeks later, in Fiona Macleod’s The Divine Adventure: Iona: By Sundown Shores (London: Chapman and Hall, 1900), 291–308. When it appeared in the Contemporary Review, the essay was strongly criticized by some Irish nationalists because of its Pan-Celtic position. When it appeared as a separate publication (Celtic: A Study in Spiritual History, Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1901), it had been revised, and a Foreword was added which became the ‘Prelude’ from which Jackson took this passage.

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  2. In The Romantic90s (London and New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 114), Le Gallienne says Sharp further mystified him ‘by saying that “Fiona Macleod” was shortly coming to London, and that he intended to introduce her to three people only—George Meredith, Mr. W. B. Yeats, and myself. The introduction to me was never made, and I believe it was all just part of Sharp’s masterly game of hide-and-seek.’ Ernest Rhys recalled Sharp’s saying to him, ‘I took her to see George Meredith, at his own earnest request; and he was enchanted by her dark-Highland Beauty’ (Everyman Remembers [London and Toronto: J. M. Dent and Sons Limited, 1931], p. 79). The date of that visit can be pinned down precisely. In the Memoir (287), Elizabeth Sharp says, describing her husband’s activities in 1897, ‘On the 10th of June the author went for a night to Burford Bridge, in order to have some talks with George Meredith.’ Meredith wrote as follows to Alice Meynell in a letter dated June 13, 1897: ‘Miss Fiona Macleod was here on a day of last week: a handsome person, who would not give me her eyes for a time. One fears she was not playing at abashment. Even after I had brought her to laugh, the eyelids drooped. She spoke of your beautiful long letters. I repressed my start and moderated my stare’. See C. L. Cline (ed.) The Letters of George Meredith (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1970), III, p. 1268.

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  3. Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (London: Walter Scott, 1886).

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  4. See Mary Helen Thuente’s W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980) for a thorough and insightful discussion of the value and importance of Yeats’s work on Irish folklore.

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  5. See Kuno Meyer and David Nutt (eds.) The Voyage of Bran, I (London: David Nutt, 1895), pp. 151–2.

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  6. See Alan Denson (ed.) Letters from AE (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1961), pp. 17–8.

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© 1998 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Halloran, W.F. (1998). W. B. Yeats, William Sharp, and Fiona Macleod A Celtic Drama: 1887 to 1897. In: Gould, W. (eds) Yeats Annual No. 13. Yeats Annual. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-14614-7_3

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