“The Music of Heaven”: Dorothea Hunter

  • Warwick Gould


Dorothea Hunter (1868–1958) was named for the Gift of God she was to her father, the Revd Henry Walter Blake Butler. She later gave herself to God by the name “Deo Date” when she joined the Order of the Golden Dawn in March 1893. Such papers of hers as have been kept until now are a gift to posterity.1 Although she destroyed the three of Yeats’s letters which survived in her possession until her own old age (there must have been many more), she only did so after she had communicated their contents to Richard Ellmann and thereby to Allan Wade. Only two of them (one misdated, both from the late 1890s) were used by Wade in 1954 (L 264–5, 293–4). Dorothea Hunter was also able to provide the footnote to one of them on the matter (crucial to Yeats in 1898) of Connla’s Well (L 293n.). For a partial text of the third one must turn to The Identity of Yeats.2 Since the story of Dorothea Hunter’s memories begins with her contacts with scholars at the end of her life, it is there that this account of her life necessarily begins.


British Museum Order Book Holy Place Time Literary Supplement Garden Suburb 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (London: Faber and Faber, 1964) pp. 303–4. No Hunter papers are among Wade’s papers in the University of Indiana.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    William M. Murphy, “The Ancestry of William Butler Yeats”, in Robert O’Driscoll (ed.), Yeats Studies: An International Journal, 1 (Bealtaine 1971) 7–8. Murphy apparently does not understand bar-sinister descents.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    See George Moore’s story in Vale: Hail and Farewell: Ave, Salve, Vale, ed. Richard Allen Cave (Gerrards Cross, Bucks: Colin Smythe, 1976) p. 540.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    The persistence of the Blake name in the Butler family (Dorothea’s mother listed herself as “Mrs Blake Butler” in Kelly’s Directory from 1893–4 to 1896–7: see below) might have added to Yeats’s conviction, derived from Dr Charles Carter Blake — see W. B. Yeats, Prefaces and Introductions, ed. William H. O’Donnell (London: Macmillan, 1988) pp. 79, 202, 221, 252, 258–9 — that William Blake was of Irish ancestry. However, when Richard Ellmann asked Mrs Hunter about this matter in his letter to her of 22 October 1946 her reply was inconclusive: “I do not remember his ever claiming Blake as of Irish descent” (Hunter Papers).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    See below, p. 158 and n. 105 for Violet Martin’s account of the St George family. See also Roy Foster, “Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History”, Chatterton Lecture on Poetry, Proceedings of the British Academy, LXXV (1989) 250–1. George Moore tells the story of his cousin Dan at Dunamon, a Catholic landlord and horse-trainer who had a peasant mistress, Bridget (“a type in the West of Ireland”) and “would differ little from the characters to be found in Lever and Lover” (Hail and Farewell, p. 72).Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    The Bedford Park Society has a card index which its President, Mr T. Greeves, kindly consulted for me. However, tenants are not listed. The Revd Henry Walter Blake Butler had died in 1887. Mrs Blake Butler was “anything but a good housekeeper” but had “one or two paying guests” to make ends meet in Flanders Road. She is only identifiable because the membership records of the Order of the Golden Dawn survive to cast some light on her daughter’s address. It is not until 1893–4 that a Mrs Blake Butler appears in Kelly’s Directory of Ealing, Acton, Hanwell, Gunnersbury and Chiswick, and by then she lived at 68 Linden Gardens, Chiswick (until 1896–7). The Golden Dawn records of Dorothea Butler’s initiation state that she lived at 60 Flanders Road, Bedford Park, in March 1893. As the manuscript also gives her name as Harrietta Dorothea Butler it could presumably confuse a “30” and a “60”. She is no. 172 on the membership roll of the Isis-Urania Temple, no. 3 (London). See R. A. Gilbert (compiler), The Golden Dawn Companion: A Guide to the History, Structure, and Workings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1986) p. 151. From 1887 to 1890 the family apparently lived in Ipswich; by June 1890 (the publication date of Directory) they were established in 30 Flanders Road. The directories suggest that the tenancy changed after the 1889–90 issue, and again in 1893–4, when the family moved across the railway line to Linden Gardens, Chiswick.Google Scholar
  7. See Ian Fletcher, “Bedford Park: Aesthete’s Elysium?”, in his W. B. Yeats and his Contemporaries (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) p. 44, for the importance of the railway line to the definition of Bedford Park, a desirable address with elastic borders for those who do not quite live there.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    See Ellic Howe, The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972) p. 152n. Apparently the late Ithell Coloquhon contemplated a diagram of the “lines of force” generated by Golden Dawn membership in west London.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    On the circumstances and reasons see Warwick Gould and Deirdre Toomey “‘Cycles Ago …’, Maud Gonne and the Lyrics of 1891”, YA 7 (1989) 185–6. To Richard Ellmann, Mrs Hunter was to write that the Esoteric Section (of which she was never a member) and the Golden Dawn were “kindred associations, but in no way worked together”, with a large overlap in membership. She had heard that “Madame Blavatsky very strongly condemned Yeats’ activities with the symbols, and that caused him to leave the E. S. I may have heard this from Yeats himself, but I don’t remember” (17 Nov 1946, Ellmann Papers, Tulsa).Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography (London: Hutchinson, 1936) offers a memorable account of Yeats in Bedford Park, including the episode in which he decides that Frances Bloggs is “especially under the influence of the moon” and puts her under a spell (pp. 141–52).Google Scholar
  11. 34.
    Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats, p. 304; John Unterecker, A Reader’s Guide to W. B. Yeats (London: Thames and Hudson, 1959) p. 77.Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    R. A. Gilbert, The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1983) p. 61.Google Scholar
  13. 37.
    W. E. Henley, The Song of the Sword and other Verses (London: David Nutt, 1892) pp. 3–12. Predictably, its title was stolen for a bloodthirsty tale of Celtic pillage by “Fiona Macleod” in The Washer of the Ford and Other Legendary Moralities (Edinburgh: Patrick Geddes, 1895).Google Scholar
  14. 38.
    Au 261–2. See S. L. MacGregor Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled (Kabbala Denudata) containing the following books of the Zohar … (London: George Redway, 1887 [YL 1292, 1292a]). The passage is to be found on p. 104 in the Routledge and Kegan Paul edition, 11th impression, 1970).Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    The Wind Among the Reeds: Manuscript Materials, ed. Carolyn Holdsworth (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993) p. 219.Google Scholar
  16. 45.
    Ellmann Papers, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa. G[eorge] N[ugent] M[erle] Tyrrell’s Science and Psychical Phenomena (London: Methuen, 1938) is to be found in Yeats’s library. Full details of his annotated copy are to be found in YL 2178. Eugene Osty’s Supernormal Faculties in Man was translated by Stanley de Brath (London: Methuen, 1923 [YL 1520]).Google Scholar
  17. 51.
    Ignoring such reusages as that in Samhain 1908: “we and you alike rejoice in battle, finding the sweetest of all music to be the stroke of the sword”(Ex 243). See also E&I 249, 254 and 252, where a source in Blake is suggestive: Yeats alludes to the Proverb of Hell which suggests that “the destructive sword” is among the “portions of eternity too great for the eye of man”. See The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (New York: Doubleday, 1970) p. 36. The text would of course have been known by Dorothea Hunter.Google Scholar
  18. 53.
    Marjorie Reeves and Warwick Gould, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) pp. 250–61.Google Scholar
  19. 54.
    Annie Macdonell, “The New Young Irelanders”, The Bookman, XXVII: 160 (January 1905) 164.Google Scholar
  20. 58.
    Poetry and Prose of Blake, p. 392. The Ellis and Yeats reading is slightly, but not materially, different. See The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic and Critical etc., ed. Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats (London: Bernard Quanten, 1893) III, p. 138. In his memoir of Blake, Yeats refers to the “curious experiments … few and recent” with seers who had tried to conjure up Blake’s “visionary forms”, after he had written his interpretation of the Prophetic Books (I, 96–7). The seers in these experiments undoubtedly included Dorothea Hunter.Google Scholar
  21. 60.
    Perhaps the most successful of these largely disappointing rituals, the Ritual of the Sword, is based on a quest narrative which itself owes much to “The Wanderings of Oisin”, and the story of Aengus and Etain. The initiate is asked to leave “the eternal pursuit, whilst yet pursuing it, for the country where the contraries are equally true”. See Lucy Shephard Kalogera, “Yeats’s Celtic Mysteries” (PhD dissertation, Florida State University, 1977) pp. 182–7.Google Scholar
  22. 61.
    Florence Farr, Bernard Shaw and W. B. Yeats, Letters, ed. Clifford Bax (London: Home and Van Thal, 1946).Google Scholar
  23. 66.
    First printed (source untraced) in untitled form in Russell’s “On an Irish Hill”, an essay of 1898, the poem is collected in The Nuts of Knowledge (Dundrum: Dun Emer Press, 1903). See also AE, Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1913) p. 158.Google Scholar
  24. 73.
    See Warwick Gould, “Frazer, Yeats and the Reconsecration of Folklore”, in Robert Fraser (ed.), Sir James Frazer and the Literary Imagination (London: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 133–4.Google Scholar
  25. 78.
    Sir John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom (London: Williams and Norgate, 1892 [YL 1741]). See p. 75.Google Scholar
  26. 81.
    A reference to them (taken from Yeats’s papers) can be found in the papers of MacGregor Mathers, as described by Ithell Colquhoun in The Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn (London: Neville Spearman, 1975) pl. facing p. 192. On pp. 248–9 is a hopelessly inaccurate account of “The Three Bridgets”, assigning the manuscript to the hand of Maud Gonne.Google Scholar
  27. 88.
    Both published in London by Theosophical Publishing Society, in 1899 and 1890 respectively. A “second and revised edition” of Prasad’s book was published by the same publisher in 1894, with a preface by G. R. S. Mead. Dorothea Hunter mentions in her lecture that she developes an old “Flying Roll” of the Order. Nos xi, xxv, xxx deal with astral projection and can be found in Francis King (ed.), Astral Projection, Ritual Magic, and Alchemy: Golden Dawn Material by S. L. MacGregor Mathers and Others (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1987) pp. 75–92. J. W. Brodie-Innes’s (‘Sub Spe’s) 1895 essay “The Tatwas”, first printed in four parts in Transactions of the Scottish Lodge of the Theosophical Society III: i–iv (1895), shows a Golden Dawn member’s use of Prasad’s Theosophical ideas.Google Scholar
  28. For a reprint of the series see R. A. Gilbert (ed.), The Sorcerer and his Apprentice: Unknown Hermetic Writings of S. L. MacGregor Mathers and J. W. Brodie-Innes (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1983) pp. 191–224.Google Scholar
  29. 94.
    See Warwick Gould, “Yeats, Mescal, and Mystical Visions”, The Times Literary Supplement, 13–19 July 1990, p. 762.Google Scholar
  30. 105.
    The question arises, did he put Harriette Dorothea Hunter into The Speckled Bird as Harriet St George, who acts as something of an intermediary between Michael and Margaret Henderson? The resonance of her first name is significant and Yeats would have known of the decline of the Galway St George family even if he did not know of the “very grand Lady Harriet St. Lawrence [who] married a St. George”, of Tyrone House, Ardrahan: “there rioted three or four generations of St. Georges — living with country women, occasionally marrying them, all illegitimate four times over. Not so long ago eight of these awful half peasant families roosted together in that lovely house, and fought, and barricaded, and drank till the police had to intervene. … Lady Harriet … was so corroded with pride that she would not allow her two daughters to associate with the Galway people. She lived to see them marry two of the men in the yard … an old Miss St. George … lives near, in a bit of the castle … a strange mixture of distinction and commonness, like her breeding” — Violet Martin to Edith Somerville, in The Selected Letters of Somerville and Ross, ed. Gifford Lewis (London: Faber and Faber, 1989) p. 294. This letter is discussed by Foster, in Proceedings of the British Academy, LXXV, 250–2. I am grateful to Roy Foster for bringing it to my attention. Information upon the St George family can be found in an article by Gordon St George Mark in Quarterly Bulletin of the Irish Georgian Society, XIX: 3–4 (July–Dec 1976), not located by me.Google Scholar
  31. This very incident is the basis of Somerville’s The Big House of Inver (1925): see A. Norman Jeffares, Anglo-Irish Literature (London: Macmillan, 1982) p. 213. Harriet St George became a necessary figure in the novel when Yeats strove to accommodate Maud Gonne’s revelations of December 1898 concerning her long affair with Millevoye and her two illegitimate children. Harriet St George is suddenly invented to announce Margaret Henderson’s one-year-old and unsuccessful marriage to a Captain Peters (which has some added force and pro-leptic irony given Yeats’s “stunned dismay” [SB 83n.] at the news in 1903 of Maud Gonne’s marriage, and its unhappy outcome). Two aspects of Harriet perhaps suggest some connection with Dorothea Hunter. Her initial appearance is that of “some spiritualist or mystic” (SB 83). Then there is the use of Harriet to return Michael to the wilds of Galway, where Margaret Henderson is unhappily settled with Captain Peters. However, Harriet, who is “about thirty”, has “a round soft face and a rather indolent look” (utterly unlike Dorothea). But then she is a woman of “Luna” aspect, and from her appearance “probably a medium” (SB 83). A certain worldly wisdom is demanded by the role she is asked to play: she is therefore a woman of “some flirtations” (SB 87). She turns up again as intermediary to tell Michael that Margaret’s pregnancy (while not indicating a reconciliation with her husband) is a bar between herself and Michael. Harriet hints that she herself would not, under the circumstances, give Michael up: she manages with her easy intimacy to make “the ruin of his hopes” a “delightful” conversation (SB 96). Neither important nor developed enough to be more than a narrative device, Harriet St George might yet bear some vestiges of Dorothea Hunter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 107.
    Textual emendations are clear in Edmund Hunter’s Second Order book, and could be dated. The drawings in his Outer Order book are hand-painted. On other aspects of GD inspiration on his art see below, pp. 165–6. As R. A. Gilbert has reminded me, there is a need for collation of the texts of Golden Dawn rituals, largely because the published versions of them come from very late recensions. There is a further reason why those interested in Yeats’s thought might wish to have access to the earlier recensions: the claim made by various commentators, from George Moore to Kathleen Raine, but flimsily denied by Francis King in Astral Projection, Ritual Magic, and Alchemy: Golden Dawn Material by S. L. MacGregor Mathers and Others, expanded edn (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1987) p. 35, that Yeats helped to write some of them.Google Scholar
  33. 110.
    He disputes the date, offering 18 November in The Spirit of Solitude. An Autohagiography, subsequently re-antichristened The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (London: Mandrake Press, 1929), 1, 249. It was republished as The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, an Autohagiography, ed. John Symonds and Kenneth Grant (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969).Google Scholar
  34. 112.
    The best of these is Howe’s. The documents, including two statements on the affair by Frater Hora et Semper (Edmund Hunter), are printed in George Mills Harper, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (London: Macmillan, 1974), pp. 212–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 116.
    The latest discussion of this fraud is that of R. A. Gilbert, “Provenance Unknown: A Tentative Solution to the Riddle of the Cipher Manuscript of the Golden Dawn”, in Albrecht Götz von Olenhusen, Nicolas Barker, Herbert Franke and Helmut Möller (eds), Wege und Abwege: Beiträge zur europäischen Geistesgeschichte der Neuzeit. Festschrift für Ellic Howe zum 20. September 1990 (Freiburg: Hochschul-Verlag, 1990) pp. 79–89.Google Scholar
  36. 120.
    See also John Symonds, The King of the Shadow Realm: Aleister Crowley, his Life and Magic (London: Duckworth, 1989) pp. 32–7. Symonds offers Crowley’s side of the case, which differs in some particulars.Google Scholar
  37. Richard Ellmann, “Black Magic against White: Aleister Crowley versus W. B. Yeats”, Partisan Review, 15:9 (Sep 1948) 1049.Google Scholar
  38. 140.
    I am grateful to Roger Nyle Parisious, the one deep student of the Yeats-Waite relationship, who supports this identification. Waite’s biographer, R. A. Gilbert, regards the suggestion as “at best, unproven”. See his A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts (Wellingborough: Crucible Books, 1987) p. 197n.Google Scholar
  39. 148.
    The shrine is 19.5 inches long by 9 wide and 11.5 high. The portraits are in watercolour with pastel and have no inscriptions on the versos. The lettering visible in the portrait of the (?female) figure in plate 10b is probably Farr’s attempt at a “Coptic” inscription. Ancient Egyptians had a habit of manifesting themselves to kindred spirits in the 1890s. Yeats’s friend W. T. Horton was invaded by one Men-Kau-Ra while drawing in 1896 and produced some quite awful Egyptian figures. See his letter to Yeats of 28 Mar 1896, in George Mills Harper, W. B. Yeats and W. T. Horton: The Record of an Occult Friendship (London: Macmillan, 1980) p. 93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 150.
    Of course, Mathers himself was obsessed with Egyptian rites and practices, as the theatrical cavortings of his Order in Paris revealed to the reporter from the Sunday Chronicle, 19 Mar 1899, on the occasion when Mathers filled the role of the Hierophant Rames with Moina Mathers as the High Priestess Anari in the Rites of Isis at their home in Rue Mozt, and later at the Théâtre Bodinière. Yeats sketched in these memorable events at the close of the “Final” version of The Speckled Bird (see SB 102ff. and n. 12). Howe, Magicians of the Golden Dawn, p. 200, doubts if there is any “connection with the G. D., but it is clear the Paris rites developed a symbolism shared with the G. D.” For Florence Farr Emery’s earlier attempts to draw Egyptian deities for the Order see Josephine Johnson, Florence Farr: Bernard Shaw’s “New Woman” (Gerrard’s Cross, Bucks: Colin Smythe, 1975) p. 80ff.Google Scholar
  41. 151.
    Florence Emery’s Egyptian Magic was no. 8 of the ten volumes of W. Wynn Westcott’s Collectanea Hermetica series (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1896). Yeats’s copy shows evidence of careful reading: see YL 662A.Google Scholar
  42. 158.
    Yeats owned a copy of [E. A. Wallis Budge’s] A Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms. Predynastic Antiquities, Mummies, Mummy-Cases, and Other Objects Connected with the Funeral Rites of the Ancient Egyptians, 2nd edn (London: British Museum, Dept of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, 1902, [YL 284]). In this volume, Yeats would have found the following description of Mut-em-menu (whose coffin and mummy are both reproduced in the Guide): “a lady of the College of the God Amen-Ra at Thebes. Under the head is a pillow, which was found in the coffin. The swathing is a very fine piece of work, and is one of the best examples extant. About A. D. 100. From Thebes. [No. 6704]” (p. 111). Since 1902 Mut-em-menu has undergone a sex change: s/he is now thought to be the mummy of a bearded man: see SB 223, n. 2.Google Scholar
  43. 170.
    Hester Bury, Alec B. Hunter, Textile Designer & Craftsman, catalogue of an exhibition arranged by Warner and Sons Ltd. (n.p., 1979) p. 4.Google Scholar
  44. 172.
    John Middleton Murry, Countries of the Mind: Essays in Literary Criticism (London: Oxford University Press, 1931) II, 1–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Deirdre Toomey 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Warwick Gould

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations