A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO TH1E GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMlENT OF THE REQUIREMlENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
A STUDY OF RHYMERS'
I am grateful to many professors at the University of Florida, not
only for the assistance extended me in writing this dissertation, but for
their encouragement and understanding. I am especially indebted to
Professor John Tyree Fain for the blend of scholarship and tact that
made working under his direction so beneficial an experience. Professors
Gordon Ellsworth Bigelow and A. L. Lewis, Jr. have also been most helpful.
In addition, I may here express my appreciation to the staffs of
the libraries of the University of Florida, the University of South Flor-
ida, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina for their
helpfulness. Finally, I should like to thank my wife and children for
their inexhaustible patience.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I. SOME PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS: ORIGIN, MEMBERSHIP,
PUBLICATIONS, AND CONTEMPORARY REPUTATION. ......
II. THE INTEL~LECTUTAL MATRIX OF THE RHYMERS' CLUB.....
1. The Triangle of Escapism: God, the Flesh, and
the Devil . . . . . . . . . .
2. The Major Influences: Pater and the French
Poets . . . . . . . . . .
3. The Pursuit of Unreality: The Rhymers and
Their Poems .. .... .. . .. ..
4. Science, the Enemy: Conclusion ......
III. THE POETIC OF THE RHYMERS' CLUB. .........
1. Ubiquitous Music. .............
2. Key Sources of the Musical Analogue ....
3. Music and the Rhymers' Poetry .......
IV. THE RHYMERS IN PERSPECTIVE ............
1. Isolation and the Image ..........
2. Symbolism and Decadence ..........
3. The Legacy of the Rhymers .........
BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . . . . . .
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................
. . .
Efforts to regard the Rhymers' Club as a coherent movement have
been generally unsuccessful; the critical consensus is that the thirteen-
odd writers were individuals united by nothing more than their common
love of poetry and that their achievements were separate and slight.
Scholarly interest in the Rhymers has tended to focus on such diverse
matters as Arthur Symons' introducing William Butler Yeats to French
symbolism, the narrow range of Ernest Dowson's poetry, the importance of
Yeats and Lionel Johnson to the Irish literary renascence, and, above all,
the tortured lives of the poets of Yeats's "tragic generation." Yet,
although the Rhymers were never programmatic and articulated no poetic,
they played a significant transitional role in the development from the
didactic limitations of Tennyson and Browning to the integrated art of
Pound, Eliot, and the later Yeats. It is perhaps attributable to the
fact that the Rhymers were poets of retreat--artists who rejected the
contemporary scene in a futile quest for sanctuary--that their achieve-
ment, modest that it was, has seldom been marked.
The problem of the Rhymers' Club is analogous to that of the
second generation of English romantic poets, whose tempestuous lives and
early deaths tended to distract attention from their work. But the po-
etry of Byron, Shelley, and Keats is so compelling that critical atten-
tion inevitably shifts to its rightful object: their poetry. With the
Rhymers this has not always been the case. That the poetry of the Rhy-
mers' Club has been subordinated to biography is perhaps an adverse
reflection on the Rhymers' art, but that art is of sufficient importance
to merit a full-length study.l
The members of the Rhymers' Club read their poetry aloud to each
other. Although only a few of the poems published in the Club's anthol-
ogies were first presented before the assembled group, every poem a
Rhymer composed was written by someone especially sensitive to the aural
effect of poetry. To the Rhymers poetry was a public art, the beauty of
which was its euphony. We are reminded by Herbert Read of how lost this
art is in our century: "Poetry as an art has become a secret and shame-
faced activity: people are even shy of being seen reading poetry in a
train, whereas the public declamation of poetry, as it was practised even
in the nineteenth century, and as it is still practised in Russia, is
quite unknown." As declaimers of poetry the Rhymers were intent on its
An unpublished dissertation, "The Rhymers' Club (Founded 1891):
a Study of Its Activities and Their Significance," by Norman William Al-
ford of the University of Texas, was completed late in 1966. However,
its emphasis is more on the literary achievements of the members and how
the Club influenced their careers than is the case in my study, in which
the poetry itself is the focus. Furthermore, I have chosen to stress
the intellectual and aesthetic assumptions common among the group and to
show how these assumptions influenced their poetry, whereas Mr. Alford
adopts the traditional critical position that: the Rhymers' Club "comprised
men of differing outlook and purpose who met simply from a shared con-
cern for the craft of poetry at a time when it: was out of fashion." This
attitude toward the Rhymers is in keeping with the 1931 statement of
Albert J. Farmer: "C'est dans un commun amour de la poe'sie que ses
membres trouvent le principle d'unite necessaire 'a 1'existence de leur
groupe" (Le Mouvement esthe~tique et "decadent" en Angleterre (Biblio-
thique de la Revue de littirature compare, t. 75, Paris: H. Champion,
1931], p. 263.)
Inasmuch as my research was essentially completed before M~r. Al-
ford's dissertation became available, I have made no further explicit
reference to it in this study.
2The Innocent Eye (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1947), pp.
"music," and it: is the "music of poetry" that: is the focal point: of this
The Rhymers were not well known to their contemporaries, nor have
they been a posthumous literary success. What: little reputation they
have had has been more notoriety than fame, an environment in which facts
seldom thrive. With this sullied background in mind, I have begun this
study with a review of the history of the Club and of some pertinent
biographical and bibliographical facts about its members. I have then
described the publication of the Club's two anthologies and reviewed their
critical reception. Those are the preliminary considerations.
The first question generally asked about a writer is an inquiry as
to what he said. Even though ideas have traditionally been of less im-
portance in bellestristic than in expository prose, and of still less
consequence in poetry, it is only natural to look to the discursive and
therefore the intellectual content of any verbal structure. But close
scrutiny of the Rhymers' poetry for new ideas leaves the reader in the
position of the little boy asked to compliment the emperor on his new
clothes: he can find nothing at all' It seems perplexing that poets
whose intellectual endowment is unimpeachable should have written such
vacuous poetry. The explanation is to be found in their attempt to"puri-
fy" poetry of ideas, a notion which they derived chiefly from the aes-
thetic of Walter Pater and the theory and practice of the French symbol-
ists. Therefore, in an attempt to understand this intellectual negativism
and its corollary, escapism, we shall consider these influences on the
Rhymers and then compare the ideas of Pater and the Symbolists with those
found in the Rhymers' own work.
The traditional alternative to content is form. The Rhymers equated
form with music, which in their poetic ramified into subject and metaphor.
The replacement of painting by music as the poetic analogue for the nine-
teenth century was a part of the larger shift from mimetic to expressive
aesthetics. "Music" became the ubiquitous term for the Rhymers, the key
term of an implied poetic that they never articulated, but which influenced
their great successors of the twentieth century. Just as Pater and the
French were the seminal factors in the formulation of the ideas found in
the Rhymers' poetry, they were also the forerunners and perhaps the ar-
chitects of an aesthetic never before so fully expressed in English
literature: poetry as music, and, especially, as euphony. The work of
the Rhymers' Club will be presented here as the embodiment of the "music"
inhering in these poems as form, subject, and metaphor.
Finally, we must view the Rhymers in perspective. We must recon-
cile the biographical fact of their alienation from society with the
literary fact of their non-rhetorical poetry. Although these facts are
apparently in different universes of discourse, they are related through
the tension of the "Image, .. a radiant truth out of space and time,"
a locution and concept for which I am indebted to Mr. Frank Kermode. The
relationship of the Rhymers' poetry to the Symbolist movement and its
corollary, decadence, will next be considered. Then, having treated the
Rhymers' poetry in the contexts of the past and the present, we shall
see how the men of the "tragic generation" helped to create the condition
that made the poetic achievement of the twentieth century possible. We
will then have done justice to Yeats's "Companions of the Cheshire Cheese."
SOME PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS: ORIGIN, MEMBERSHIP, PUBLICATIONS,
AND CONTEMPORARY REPUTATION
Two slender sixteenmo anthologies published in the 1890's, The
Book of the Rhymers' Club and The Second Book of the Rhymers' Club, re-
main as monuments to an ephemeral organization. It was a fugitive club
of mainly young and little known London poets. Yet one of its members,
William Butler Yeats, became perhaps the greatest modern poet in the Eng-
lish language. Three others, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and Arthur
Symons, earned minor, but secure, reputations. As is true of all artists,
what has endured of the Rhymers and what merits our attention is their
art, but first, some preliminary considerations present themselves. Who
the Rhymers were, how they coalesced, what their club was like, how they
regarded each other, and what they had written before the formation of
the group are among topics surveyed in this chapter, which concludes with
a resume of the publishing history and critical reception of the two an-
Our knowledge of the Rhymers' Club stems largely from the reminis-
cences of its members. Those Rhymers whose memories have provided the
primary data for this chapter are William Butler Yeats through his auto-
biography and letters, Victor Planr in his pioneering study of Ernest
Dowson, and Ernest Rhys in his literary reminiscences, Everyman Remembers.
Notes will be found at the end of each chapter.
To a lesser extent Arthur Symons' prefatory memoir to his early edition
of Dowson's poems and Richard Le Gallienne's The Romantic '90s have fur-
nished insights to the Rhymers' Club.2
These recollections being remote and no formal records of the Club
(on the doubtful assumption that there ever were any) having survived,
our conception of it is, not surprisingly, a reconstruction in the main.
Even the precise membership and dates of the group are conjectural, ac-
counts sometimes being at odds. The following list of official members,
in the handwriting of George Arthur Greene ("who acted as hon. secretary
to a club without rules or officers"), is given by H. Guy Harrison,
Earnest Dowson's earliest bibliographer: John Davidson, Ernest Dowson,
Edwin J. Ellis, George Arthur Greene, Arthur Cecil Hillier, Lionel John-
son, Richard Le Gallienne, Victor Planr, Ernest Radford, Ernest Rhys,
Thomas William Rolleston, Arthur Symons, John Todhunter, and William
Much valuable information about the Club derives from Yeats, who,
if occasionally fallible on details, compensates for his imprecision with
his critical acumen. His list, prepared nearly thirty years after the
Club met, omits Greene and Hillier, while adding William Watson (who
never attended meetings), Selwyn Image, and Herbert Percy Horne.' Greene
having published in both of the Club's anthologies and Hillier in the
second, Yeats's omissions seem erroneous. On the other hand, not all
members contributed; Davidson's name appears on both Greene's and Yeats's
lists, yet his poetry is included in neither publication.
Others with first-hand knowledge of the Rhymers' Club have not at-
tempted to detail the membership. Planr has relied on Greene's list,
while Symons, Rhys, and Le Gallienne have mentioned poets associated with
the Club without questioning their precise membership status.5 John
Gray, Morley Roberts, Edgar Jepson, William Theodore Peters, and E~dward
Garnett are frequently mentioned as having attended meetings, although
not as members.
Who organized the Rhymers' Club is just as conjectural. Yeats
claims that his statement to Rhys was the genesis of the group. He re-
calls his having told him: "I am growing jealous of other poets and we
will all grow jealous of each other unless we know each other and so feel
a share in each other's triumph."6 Rhys's version, however, does not
give Yeats credit for the initiative:
It was in my fourth winter [1890 by Rhys's reckoning] that
the Rhymers' Club was set going at the old Cheshire Cheese
in Fleet Street. The first three members were T. W. Rolles-
ton, W. B. Yeats (Willie Yeats, which did not in any sense
describe him) and myself. Each of us asked other Rhymers to
come to the club suppers, and we soon reached the allotted
number of ten.7
While contradicting neither Yeats nor Rhys, Plarr recalls the
Rhymers' Club as having emerged in two stages: "The Rhymers held one
memorable meeting in Mr. Herbert Horne's rooms in the Fitzroy settlement.
They were then, so to speak, rediscovered and reconstituted, having pre-
viously been but a small group of Dublin poets."8 Plarr does not specify
the original members, but Yeats, Todhunter, Rolleston, Greene, and
Hillier were all Dubliners. However, inasmuch as Hillier did not con-
tribute to the Rhymers' first book, it is unlikely that he was a founding
The Rhymers' Club endured from 1890 or 1891 through much of 1894.
Rhys's "fourth winter" or 1890 date for the founding of the Club deviates
from the traditional date of 1891, but is not necessarily incorrect. In
a letter conjecturally (but probably accurately) dated June 27, 1891,
Yeats writes: "'The Rhymers' Club' will publish a book of verse almost
at once."- Although this statement could be interpreted to mean only
that the Rhymers would publish in the immediate future, a more likely
reading is that the Rhymers' Club intended publishing a book almost at
the organization's inception. Furthermore, almost all secondary source
writers, historians who were not party to the Club, give 1891 as the cor-
rect date: Albert J. Farmer, who believes his study is "la premiere qui
ait ete consacree au Rhymers' Club"; (John] Mark Longaker, who devotes a
chapter of his Dowson biography to the Rhymers; Joseph Hone, Yeats's bi-
ographer; Roger Lhombreaud, writing Symons' life; and Richard E11mann in
his Y eat s: The Man and the Masks--to name only a few.10
Yet there is credible evidence for an earlier date. Yeats's state-
ment to Rhys that was the alleged impetus to the Club was made "soon after
the publication of The Wanderings of Oisin" to the man "who had set [him]
to compile tales of the Irish fairies."11 These events being dated 1889,
1891 seems late for the inception of the Club. Also, Le Gallienne recol-
lects a Rhymers' Club evening at Greene's house, at which, for the few
minutes before the meeting began, Lionel Johnson captivated the early
arrivals with his conversation. Le Gallienne writes that Johnson was
then twenty-three.12 His birth date was March 15, 1867. This chronology
would imply an 1890 date for the meeting. What is more, the epilogue to
The Book of the Rhymers' Club is subtitled "First Anniversary of the
Rhymers' Club." Considering that the book was in proof in December,
1891, we have strong internal evidence for the earlier year.1 Conceiv-
ably, some of these considerations may have convinced lan Fletcher, who,
in his careful biographical introduction to The Complete Poems of Lionel
Johnson, without amplification gives a late 1890 date for the founding of
The Rhymers persisted through 1894. No one took the group suf-
ficiently seriously to record the date of dissolution, but that year is
universally accepted as the Rhymers' last. The movements of individual
members and the absence of allusion to meetings after 1894 confirm that
year as the one in which the Rhymers ceased meeting. Perhaps the event
was unrecorded because, as Yeats suggested, it was unnoticed: "The
Rhymers had begun to break up in tragedy, though we did not know that
till the play had finished."l5
The artistic fellowship which Yeats proposed to Rhys may not have
been the only motive for the establishment of the Rhymers' Club; it may
not even have been the primary one. One hypothesis is that the Club was
organized with a view toward collective publication. Perhaps motives were
even ulterior. Many of the Rhymers were reviewers in a position to notice
favorably their fellows' new offerings. That none of these purposes,
however, was of more than temporary validity is borne out by the early
fragmentation of the Club.
The testimony of Le Gallienne and Symons supports Yeats's view
that friendship and a common interest in verse brought the Rhymers to-
gether. Le Gallienne sees the Club in terms of its publications, although
he never alleges that publication was its raison d'8tre:
"The Book of the Rhymers' Club," published by Lane in
1892, may be regarded as the first concerted attack of
the "Bodley Head Poets" on the British public, through
it was not conceived as such and had no prevailing tone.
It had no purpose beyond bringing together in friendly
association, after the manner of such old miscellanies
as "England's Helicon" or Davidson's "Poetical Rhapsody,"
examples of the work of twelve poets, most of them young
and recently arrived in London, who had constituted them-
selves a very informal club which met casually, at odd
times, at the houses of one or other of them, or at Doctor
Johnson's old tavern, the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street,
for discreet conviviality, conversation on literary matters,
and the reading of their own newborn lyrics.16
Symons, too, stresses camaraderie, but while Le Gallienne remembers the
Club as comprising young poets in search of a sympathetic audience, mutu-
al support, and a literary environment, Symons, more subject to French
influence, recalls how
young poets, then very young, recited their own verses to
one another with a desperate and ineffectual attempt to
get into key with the Latin Quarter. Though few of us were,
as a matter of fact,Anglo-Saxon, we could not help feeling
that we were in London, and the atmosphere of London is not
the atmosphere of movements or societies. In Paris it is
the most natural thing in the world to meet and discuss litera-
ture, ideas, one's own and one another's work; and it can be
done without pretentiousness or constraint, because to the
Latin mind, art, ideas, one's work and the work of one's
friends, are definite and important things, which it would
never occur to anyone to take anything but seriously. In
England art has to be protected not only against the world,
but against one's self and one's fellow artist, by a kind of
affected modesty which is the Englishman's natural pose, half
pride and half self-distrust. So this brave venture of the
Rhymers' Club, though it lasted for two or three years, and
produced two little books of verse which will some day be
literary curiosities, was not quite a satisfactory kind of
For Symons the very diffidence of the poet in England foredoomed the
Rhymers' Club. If poetry in England had to be an almost surreptitious
vocation, a club dedicated to the community of poetic creation could
A less idealistic attitude toward the Club emerges from some of
the letters of the period. Lhombreaud alludes to the difficulty of an
individual poet's securing an audience as a spur to the formation of the
These young people, this small minority almost entirely
unknown to an indifferent, even hostile, public, had scarcely
any chance of being heard. The poetry market at the begin-
ning of the decade was hardly prosperous, and many aspirants
ran the risk of never finding a publisher.18
As evidence for this Lhombreaud quotes from a letter written by Edmond
Gosse to Ernest Rhys, a Rhymer with this very problem:
It seems to me that it would be rather a good plan if four
or five of the very best of the young poets would club to-
gether to produce a volume, a new Parnassus, and so give 1
the reading public a chance of making your acquaintance.. .
While Lhombreaud cites this letter as pointing to the inception of the
Rhymers' Club, it should be noted that it was written on October 10, 1891,
an indefensibly late date for the beginning of the organization.
An even less disinterested rationale for the Club appears in one
of Yeats's letters. Among the Rhymers Davidson, Le Gallienne, Johnson,
Rolleston, Symons, and Yeats did considerable reviewing, whereas Rhys,
as the editor of the Camelot Classics, had some influence in publishing
circles. Yeats, writing to Katharine Tynan in July 1891 mentions his new
rapport with reviewers, a rapport acquired through the Club:
Owing to the Rhymers' Club I have a certain amount of in-
fluence with reviewers. I can probably besides before-
mentioned papers [Irish Monthly, Boston Pilot, Anti-Jacobin,
Star, and Pall Mall Gazette] get you a note in the Speaker
at least and certainly can help you with the Queen. The
Speaker reviews are unfortunately very few and far between.
The notes however are very much in the friendly hand of John
Yeats himself wrote for the Boston Pilot, while Johnson contributed
regularly to the Anti-Jacobin; both men were on the best of terms with
Father Matthew Russell, S. J., the editor of the Irish Monthly. Le Gal-
lienne had a weekly book column (aptly named the "Log Roller") in the
Star. Ernest Radford was reviewing for the Pall Mall Gazette at: this
time, and Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater, both of whom were generally
friendly to the Rhymers, often contributed reviews; in such men Yeats's
confidence was undoubtedly well placed.21 All of this connotes an
element of calculation in the Rhymers' coming together. Perhaps some
of their number clubbed for more than fellowship.
"Always decorous and often dull": so Yeats has described the meet-
ings of the Rhymers' Club.22 Nevertheless, as is the case with every as-
pect of the group's history, the character of the meetings is largely a
surmise. Graham Hough, by comparing the Rhymers to the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood, a movement with which the nineties group had a degree of
intellectual consanguinity, clarifies the difficulty:
They had no conscientious historian like William Michael
Rossetti, and since their principal theory was that all
theories were vulgar, we can only attempt to describe an
atmosphere, a vague community of sentiment, to be perceived
only in hints and snatches.23
That "community of sentiment" seemed to Yeats to include an innate re-
spect for the poem as an aural experience. This credo being the basis of
the Rhymers' aesthetic, we shall linger over it in the third chapter, but
only glance at it here:
Some one would read out a poem and we would comment, too
politely for the criticism to have great value; and yet that
we read out our poems, and thought that they could be so
tested, was a definition of our aims.24
Most of the Tuesday evening meetings were at the Cheshire Cheese
in Wine Office Court, Fleet Street, although neither the evening, place,
nor frequency of meeting was fixed. Rhys's account of a typical meeting
is full of prosaic detail; still his picture does not show the Club in the
ineffectual light of Yeats's description:
Our custom was to sup downstairs in the old coffee-house
boxes, something like high double-seated pews with a table
between. After supper at which we drank old ale and other
time-honored liquors, we adjourned to a smoking-room at the
top of the house, which we came to look upon as our sanctum.
There long clays or churchwarden pipes were smoked, and the
Rhymers were expected to bring rhymes in their pockets, to
be read aloud to the club for criticism.25
Le Gallienne's memories of the Rhymers are of a less formal group
than the one Rhys depicts. As stated earlier, the meetings were casual
and irregular as to both time and place; the program included "discreet
conviviality, conversation on literary matters, and the reading of their
own newborn lyrics." Evidence for the group's mobility can be found in
Le Gallienne's account of Johnson's display of erudition at Greene's
house (cited above) and in a report by Planr of a meeting at Horne's
In default of that "conscientious historian," we cannot profitably
explore further the Rhymers' Club's activities, excepting, of course,
their principal activity, the publication of two anthologies. That the
Rhymers left no manifesto or statement of principles is true. But there
are theories implicit in their poems, although never articulated as Club
pronouncements--theories which will be stated and developed in the next
two chapters. To contemporary London, however, they were only individuals
banded together to publish their poetry. Few reviewers of the Books of
the Rhymers' Club acknowledged its corporate existence. Most readers of
the nineties would have agreed with Le Gallienne's appraisal that "the
significance of the club was in its individuals rather than in any col-
lective character."27 At this juncture, therefore, let us consider the
members as individuals.
Who the Rhymers were we left unsettled. If formal membership in
the Club were the differentia, this would be a cardinal question. But
since whatever community that existed among the Rhymers is to be found in
their poetry, it suffices, for our purposes, to classify as Rhymers the
thirteen poets who published in the Club's anthologies: Dowson, Ellis,
Greene, Hillier, Johnson, Le Gallienne, Planr, Radford, Rhys, Rolleston,
Symons, Todhunter, and Yeats. If such a criterion excludes people like
John Davidson, it is in a way their own doing. Davidson--variously
described as "rocky," "stubborn," "pig-headed," and "independent"--"did
not care to be ranked as one of a coterie."- Inclusion in a group an-
thology, to his mind, would have compromised his poetic integrity. Ob-
viously participation in the anthologies as a group venture must not be
taken as tantamount to endorsement by individual contributors of any
special Rhymers' poetic, but conversely, one who did not choose to be a
Rhymer would not have submitted his work.
Four men are pre-eminent in this group: Yeats, Dowson, Johnson, and
Symons--the first dwarfing the others in poetical stature. William Butler
Yeats (1865-1939) has deservedly been the subject of full biographical and
bibliographical treatment, Joseph Hone having written the official life,
W. B. Yeats 1865-1939, and Allan Wade having compiled a model bibliography
(with a revised edition completed posthumously under the direction of
Rupert Hart-Davis).29 Abundant first-rate bibliographical and biographical
material is available to Yeatsians, but his Rhymers' Club years, the
years of his apprenticeship, have never been so well described as in his
Autobiography. "Apprenticeship" is a relative term here, applicable only
by comparison to his mature genius, because Yeats in his mid-twenties was
already an established author. But, as was true of the other major Rhym-
ers, his literary income was incommensurate with the recognition he was
accorded. The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems had gone into a second
edition; John Sherman and Dhoya, a small volume of fiction, had been pub-
lished; and two editions of collected fairy tales had come out under Yeats's
editorship.30 Such famous early poems as "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"
and "The Old Pensioner" had already appeared in Henley's magazines.31
Evidence for Yeats's early stature can be found in an article that
appeared in the prestigious Nineteenth Century just prior to the appear-
ance of The Book of the Rhymers' Club. H. D. Traill, writing of "Our
Minor Poets," lists sixty-five British poets; of these
some two or three .. would have ranked as poets of the
first order in any age of literature. .. Then comes a
round dozen of others .. who .. would have been recog-
nized at any period in which English taste was in a sound
condition as poets, if not of supreme power, at any rate of
very high eminence. This leaves us with fifty singers, who,
if poets at all, may without undue temerity be described as
Being named in this far from exhaustive list was a remarkable feat for a
twenty-six-year old. It is only by the vagaries of the alphabet that
Yeats's name appears last. Traill was not so audacious as to rank his
poets further, but it is noteworthy that his list includes such poets as
A. C. Swinburne, William Morris, George Meredith, and Robert Bridges.
John Todhunter was the only other Rhymer to qualify.
Like Yeats, Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) has been the subject of a
full-scale biography, but here further work is clearly indicated.3 The
problem is what John Gawsworth has called "The Dowson L~egend."34 Writing
in 1937 Gawsworth published Dowson's letters to his good friend Sam Smith
in an effort to establish that the poet's love for the adolescent Ade-
laide Foltinowicz was not the pathological relationship so often depicted.
Still the task of refutation lay heavily upon Mark Longaker when he pub-
lished his biography of Dowson in 1944. Dowson's brief, irregular life,
the somewhat unusual circumstances of his death, the suicides of his
parents, his association with Oscar Wilde after his fall, and the de-
liberate or unwitting misrepresentations of Dowson's early historians
have combined to make an objective view of his life difficult to achieve.
The legend of "the one who deliberately cultivated nostalgie de la boue
and chose the path which led to evil and destruction," to use Longaker's
phrase for this misconception,35 has been so persistent that a critic
could usefully write only three years ago:
Before 1944 critics relied heavily upon the false testimony
of Arthur Symons and William Butler Yeats. The Dowson legend
became too firmly established to be destroyed by the facts of
Longaker's biography, and with very rare exceptions the so-
called decadence of Dowson's life has described and continues
to describe the character of the poet's work. .. When we
think of Ernest Dowson today we most probably think of the
Dowson legend. The legend has changed little in the past
ciiims~ixty years6 it still does duty in the name of literary
Although Ernest Dowson had published only five poems when the
Rhymers were formed, they looked upon him, with a perspective as yet un-
distorted by any "Dowson legend," as one of their best. Ernest Rhys's
opinion is unequivocal: "At that time the one Rhymer we secretly
believed to be the most potential of the group was Ernest Dowson."37
Yeats, recalling a pair of Dowson's then unpublished poems, avows: "It
was because of the desire to hold them in my hand that I suggested the
first Book of the Rhymers' Club."38 Symons vindicates Rhys's belief and
Yeats's taste by writing: "[Dowson's] contributions to the first book of
the club were at once the most delicate and the most distinguished poems
which it contained."3 The Rhymers' discernment of Dowson's excellence
is commendable, but it is not surprising that so unpublished a poet had
but small renown. Those five poems, however, include his most famous
work, "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae," printed in the Cen-
tury Guild Hobby Horse; three others in the same magazine under the col-
lective title "In Praise of Solitude": "The Carmelite Nuns of the Per-
petual Adoration," "Fleur de la Lune," and "Amor Umbratilis"; and the
early sonnet "My Lady April" in the Temple Bar.0 Even this handful of
pre-Rhymers' poems sufficed to demonstrate his genius.
The common description of Dowson,which seems to be essentially cor-
rect, is "vague" and "dreamy"; he stood apart from concrete entities,
whether scientific or historical, despite his penchant for Latin titles.
Plarr gives a clear picture of Dowson's intellectual limitations:
Of modern science, like most of his literary generation, he
knew nothing at all, nor of history, and he commented won-
deringly upon another's habit of always reading it. He
envied a poet whose objective vignettes of periods and
people struck him as a tapestry. "It is always that power
of weaving tapestries that I envy and admire."41
Superficially, Lionel Johnson (1867-1902) had much in common with
Ernest Dowson. Born in the same year, educated at Oxford, converted to
Roman Catholicism, unmarried, neither having a book to his credit when
the Rhymers organized, and early and tragically dead, they were, although
friends, very different men.
Johnson was no scientist, nor was he a "weaver of tapestries," but
he was thoroughly grounded in intellectual history, especially in the
patristic writings. His scholarship was impressive to the point of being
pedantic. He was the resident intellect among the Rhymers; as Yeats said:
"His thought dominated the scene and gave the Club its character."42 I
was his critical rather than his creative faculty which impressed his
colleagues. Rhys subtly exemplifies this judgment by calling Johnson "a
true poet and one of the ablest critics of his time."4
Despite his not issuing a book of verse until after the breakup of
the Rhymers, Johnson had published about two dozen English poems and one
in ati beorehistwenty-fifth birthday. None of his best known--
"By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross," "The Dark Angel," "To
Morfydd," "The Precept of Silence," or "The Destroyer of a Soul," to name
a few--is to be found among those early poems. When Johnson finally did
publish a book, in 1894, it was The Art of Thomas Hardy,45 not a collec-
tion of his poetry, which was only issued a year later.
To date no biography of Johnson has appeared; the best published
study of his life is Ian Fletcher's extended introduction to the Complete
Poems, which also contains a judiciously selected bibliography.6 Studies
of his life and work exist in manuscript, but, generally, Johnson has not
yet received the critical attention he deserves.4
The fourth principal Rhymer, Arthur Symons (1865-1945), was an
early and prolific author; by 1892 he had published two books of poetry
and An Introduction to the Study of Robert Browning.48 Yet he was not
noted among the Rhymers either for critical acumen (The Symbolist Movement
in Literature was not published until 1899) or for his verse. Instead, he
was envied and appreciated as a bon vivant and a man with an unusual ca-
pacity for friendship. His importance to the poetry of the Club was not
as a paradigmatic poet, but as a source of ideas and influences.
Symons' predilection to London theaters and music-halls occasioned
much critical comment. But Roger Lhombreaud's reminder is pertinent:
"[Symons] had been taken on the staff of the Star as critic of Music-hall
and ballet which were coming into vogue at the beginning of the Nineties."
Obviously, evenings at the music halls were a vocational necessity, al-
though the converse proposition can be maintained: Symons'immersion in
this milieu qualified him for his position as a critic. Derek Stanford
says that Symons was called a "Herrick of the Music Halls"5 Yeats re-
calls that "Symons .. studied the music halls, as he might have studied
the age of Chaucer"1;51 Rhys completes the impression of a man with a
"zest for life" by describing him as "a most entertaining London companion,
with a keen sense of adventure in roaming the streets day or night.n5
For Yeats there was another and more important side to Symons: his
ability to empathize. Yeats shows this by contrasting him with Johnson:
When with Johnson I had tuned myself to his mood, but Arthur
Symons, more than any other man I have ever known, could
slip as it were into the mind of another, and my thoughts
gained in richness and in clearness from his sympathy, nor
shall I ever know how much my practice and my theory owe to
the passages that he read me from Catullus and from Verlaine
and from Mallarme.3
Two corollaries are useful in placing Yeats's comment in perspective.
First, it refers to the period 1895-1900; therefore it is neither suf-
ficiently coincident nor general to be taken as the Club's attitude, but
Rhys, the painter Sir William Rothenstein, and other figures of the early
nineties have written of his qualities as a companion. Second, the men-
tion of Verlaine and Mallarme indicates Symons' importance to the Rhymers,
collectively, as the cultural ambassador from France. French influence
was manifest among the group. Symons' mediate role between the poets of
the two cultures will emerge in the discussions of the Rhymers' intellec-
tual matrix and aesthetic in the next two chapters.
In the preface to Arthur Symons: a Critical Biography Roger Lhom-
breaud cites Edith Sitwell's 1957 judgment that Symons was "a great critic
of the 1890's and the 1900's, now most unwisely neglected." Through this
biography and a bibliography in preparation, Lhombreaud is compensating
for the neglect of two generations.
Two other Rhymers, Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) and T. W.
Rolleston (1857-1920), have been the subjects of book-length studies.54
As a journalist, critic, and personality, Le Gallienne is of interest,
but hardly of importance. He was a facile writer with four books of verse
to his credit by 1892, the last entitled English Poems. The title is sig-
nificant inasmuch as Le Gallienne was the only professed Rhymer who at-
tacked that supposed corrupter of English poetry, the French Decadence.5
Rolleston, while an important influence in the fledgling Irish
literary renaissance, was not a key Rhymer, but merely another contributor
to the Celtic tone of the Club. Trained at Trinity College, Dublin, he
was adept in both classical and modern languages and, like Yeats, was a
man with organizational talents. Unlike Le Gallienne he was not a pro-
lific poet, publishing no book of verse until 1909.
One other of the company is well known, Ernest Rhys (1859-1946),
but his reputation rests on his editorship of the Everyman reprint series,
rather than on his poetry. During the Rhymer years his major interest
was his editing. Rhys's first publication was a bit of social fiction,
his earliest volume of poetry not appearing until the Club was breaking
The other Rhymers are so obscure that a few facts of their lives
are, on the one hand, helpful; on the other, sufficient. John Todhunter
(1839-1916) was the oldest and, excepting Yeats, who was then feeling his
way in this genre, the only dramatist among the group. He was born in
Dublin of Quaker stock and attended Trinity College, where he studied both
medicine and literature; he then briefly practiced in Dublin and married.
Upon the death of his wife and child, he abandoned medicine, devoting his
energies to literature. At the inception of the Club, he had a half
dozen books, most of which were verse, thiced.57
Perhaps Victor Gustave Planr (1863-1929) is the most neglected
poet of the Rhymers. Though his compass is limited, he is a master of
forms. His style often shows a droll humor under impeccable control, re-
flecting the innate discretion of the man. Stanford, in choosing him for
an anthology of the nineties, emphasizes those qualities:
Planr is, indeed, delightful, though largely on account
of a couple of lyrics--the witty Epitaphium Citharistriae and
the formally skilful Ad Cinerarium, a piece of succinct per-
fection such as Gautier might have envied. These are two of
the choicest poems written during the 'nineties.58
These poems were published in the first and second Club books, respec-
In addition to composing nearly faultless lyrics for it, Planr
served the Rhymers' Club well in another capacity. Inspired by his
friendship for Ernest Dowson, h~e wrote the book frequently mentioned
here that was the first to recite any meaningful details about the group.
Plarr was a librarian by profession, and there is about him the
same decorum of the reading room that we associate with Johnson. In
1897, after receiving the M. A. from Oxford, Planr assumed the position
of Librarian to the Royal College of Surgeons, a position which, charac-
teristically, he held to his death.59
Painter, illustrator, mystic, student of Blake, and incidentally a
versifier--such is one explanation of the failure of Edwin John Ellis
(1848-1918) as a poet. Ellis' reputation is founded on the edition of
William Blake's works that he prepared in cooperation with Yeats. Ellis
led a varied life. The son of Dr. Alexander Sharp (Ellis), a brilliant
Scottish linguist and natural scientist, he was an old friend of Yeats's
father, J. B. Yeats, with whom he had once shared a studio. Ellis lived
many years in Italy, returning to England in the eighties. In 1888 he
exhibited at the Royal Academy. Prior to 1892, when he published Fate in
Arcadia, and Other Poems, he was known chiefly as a writer and illustrator
of children's books.60
It is unlikely that the remaining three members would be remembered
today in conjunction with the poetry of the nineties, had they not con-
tributed to the Rhymers' Club's anthologies. Ernest William Radford
(1857-1919) was a Cambridge man who had been called to the bar, but who
pursued literature as a profession. Married to another poet, Dolly Rad-
ford, he wrote for the Pall Mall Gazette during its great period when
Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw were also contributors. Rhys remem-
bered Radford as "a casual disciple of William Morris, .. a Fabia~n, a
very effective speaker, a poet and a wit."61 He was a comparatively well-
published author, with two books of poetry in print, when he joined the
George Arthur Greene (1853-1921)--"il Greno" to Planr, because of
Greene's love for all things Italian--was an academic man. Educated in
Florence and at Trinity College, Dublin, where the degree of Doctor of
Literature had been conferred upon him, he was a professor of English
literature at Alexandra College for three years. His reputation was that
of an indefatigable worker. Accordingly, it was only natural that he
should act as the Rhymers' secretary--in fact, as their only "executive."
Although Greene eventually published his poetry, he was regarded by the
generation of the nineties primarily as a scholar.62
Arthur Cecil Hillier (1857-1920?) was the only Rhymer not contri-
buting to the first anthology. With Yeats, Rolleston, Todhunter, Greene,
and Rhys, he formed the Celtic faction of the Club; Johnson, too, must
be acknowledged as a kind of honorary Celt. Hillier was well educated
(Trinity College and Oxford) and was, like Rolleston, a good German
scholar. He collaborated with Greene and Dowson on the translation from
German of a history of modern painting, but he published little poetry.63
The Rhymers' motive in bringing out their first anthology is inex-
tricably tied up with the rationale behind the Club. Just as efforts to
illuminate the founding of the organization have yielded no definitive ex-
planation, the purposes behind these joint ventures are not entirely
clear. At this distance the difficulty of securing individual publication
to which Gosse alludes seems a more likely reason than Yeats's lofty de-
sire to hold Dowson's poems in his hand. But even if we do not know wh;y
the Rhymers decided on this course, we have a reasonable conception of
the procedures they followed. Working from Dowson's letters and Plarr's
study, Longaker describes how The Book of the Rhymers' Club was published:
The publication of the book was made possible by the adop-
tion of a cooperative plan between the contributors and the
publishers. Expenses and profits were to be divided in ac-
cordance with the space taken by each contributor. The book
was scarcely intended to make money for the Rhymers or the
publishers; the authors were to be given one copy for each
poem contributed. The maximum number of poems accepted from
one contributor was not to exceed six, nor could any member
be represented by only one poem: three were the minimum,
although in one instance an exception was granted: Rolleston
contributed only two. It was finally decided that the selec-
tions of the poems to be included were to be made by a com-
mittee of four, but the Committee's selections were to be
submitted to the Club for its approval.64
Johnson, who intended remaining in London for the summer of 1891, was
designated receiver of verse. Each contributor was to mail him twice the
number of poems proposed for inclusion, numbered in "preferential order"
with date and place of prior publication, if any. However, while contri-
butors' preferences were considered, the final decisions were the Commit-
tee's and the Club's.
Typically, publication was delayed. Proposed for autumn, 1891,
the small edition of The Book of the Rhymers' Club appeared in February,
1892.65 Although it is not quite the masterpiece of the bookmaker's art
as John Gray's classic Silverpoints, The Book of the Rhymers' Club stands
well in format and typography, less so in binding. This little volume,
about five by six and a half inches, containing ninety-four pages of po-
etry, represents the work of twelve authors. Yeats, Dowson, Johnson,
Rhys, and Greene contributed six poems each; Planr and Radford, five;
Symons, Le Gallienne, and Ellis, four apiece; Todhunter, three; and
Rolleston, as Longaker explained, two.
The reviews were generally favorable, although no superlatives
were used. The tenor of the notices reveals a prevalent ignorance of the
Rhymers' corporate existence. The Rhymers' Club is taken as one of those
amiable fictions which make for catchy titles, the book as a joint initi-
ative of individual poets. Each reviewer selected his favorite from
among the authors; there was little consensus.
In a review initialed "A. R." The Illustrated London News followed
the lead of H. D. Traill, in the article mentioned above, in calling
Yeats and Todhunter outstanding in a somewhat homogeneous group:
There is a certain uniformity of fairly good versification
about the work of all the dozen. One and all might attain,
like David's mighty men, to be chief among the six hundred
and sixty-six, howbeit they attain not to the first sixty-
six (compare Traill}. Perhaps Mr. W. B. Yeats has the root
of the matter most unmistakably in him; his verses have the
quaintness and fanciful tenderness and pathos of Celtic po-
etry--provincial but genuine. Next to his work perhaps we
might rank Dr. Todhunter's fragment from his unlucky
"Poison-Flower," though the spice-song therein has a
reminiscence of "Paracelsus."b6
The ambivalence of this reviewer is evident in his treatment of Radford,
Symons, Johnson, and Planr, although he says the last-named "promises
well." But he has no mercy for Ellis and Le Gallienne: "Mr. Edwin J.
Ellis is the most irritating; Mr. Richard Le Gallienne the most affected
of the dozen." Greene, Rolleston, Rhys, and, surprisingly, Dowson are
Perhaps the most sympathetic notice was that of Mrs. Graham R.
Tomson, herself a hopeful poet who could scarcely afford to offend the
Rhymers, some of whom, as journalists, would be sitting in judgment on
her book that year. Writing in The Academy she elevates Johnson for his
"By the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross," quoting the poem at
length and praising its author's style:
Indeed, Mr. Johnson has a most rare gift of restraint, of
composure, untainted by affectation, unspotted by strenu-
ousness. And yet, for all that, he is something of an im-
pressionist, in the best sense of the word, even as Matthew
Arnold was now and again.67
She is nearly as enthusiastic about Yeats and has a good word for most
of the Rhymers. Although all contributors are mentioned, Dowson, Ellis,
Radford, and Rolleston are spoken of only as being represented.
The first critic apparently to recognize the quality of Dowson's
work was the anonymous author of "The Poetry of Today--and Tomorrow" in
the Church Quarterly Review. He cites (after quoting) the "Carmelite
Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration" for its "seriousness .. neither
forced nor exaggerated." Yet Dowson's poem is disadvantageously compared
with Johnson's "The Last Music," which inspires a now familiar comparison:
There is much here that reminds us of Matthew Arnold; and
though Matthew Arnold was not quite in the first rank of
poets, we should be glad indeed to think that Mr. Johnson
might in time become another such as he.68
Here the emphasis is on the future. Poets are discussed in terms of
their potential. Inferentially, Dowson and Johnson show maturity and
Other notices are more perfunctory. The Athenaeum takes cognizance
of many of the poems being reprints and implies that there will be time
enough to discuss these works when they appear in the books of the indi-
vidual members. However, an inclusive compliment is tendered in the com-
ment that "the volume presents verse of excellent quality.n69 A final
instance of diverse reactions can be seen in The Bookman's listing of
"The New Books of the Month. Book of the Rhymer's Club [sic] is described
as containing "verses by Mr. Radford, Mr. Le Gallienne and others.n7
We can recall that the Rhymers thought, or in retrospect believed
they thought, Ernest Dowson to be their best poet, yet no such general
feeling emerges from the reviews. In fact, it is difficult to ascertain
any consensus at all. Those critics most influenced by reputation men-
tion Yeats, Le Gallienne, Todhunter, and Radford. On the other hand,
those who scrutinized the poems carefully were more impressed by the
younger men: Yeats again, Johnson, and, in one instance, Dowson.
Diversity also marked the critical response to The Second Book of
the Rhymers' Club, published in June, 1894--another sixteenmo anthology,
slightly thicker than its predecessor, 136 pages rather than 94. This
time the poets were more willing to share the risk; after all, the first
volume had sold out rapidly. Of the original dozen, only Symons, Rolles-
ton, and Rhys did not take advantage of the opportunity to include the
maximum six: Symons and Rolleston each contributed four poems; Rhys,
three. In addition, A. C. Hillier joined the company with six of his
poems. But again, no one figure emerged as the poet of the anthology.
It is to the poets' credit that The Times thought their second ef-
fort worth reviewing. The critical verdict is short and quotable:
THIE SECOND BOOK OF THE RHYMERS' CLUB (Mathews and Lane) is a
little volume of short poems by a group of the Parnassians
of today, most of whose names are already pretty familiar to
the readers of poetry. The list includes Messrs. John Tod-
hunter, W. B. Yeats, Richard Le Gallienne, Arthur Symons,
Ernest Radford, and a number of other writers who in various
volumes have proved their literary skill, and that turn for
versification which seems so universal nowadays. The wJriter
who appears to us to have the most genuine poetical fibre in
his composition is Mr. Victor Planr, whose name we do not
remember to have met before. His verses are unaffected~, decent,
and distinguished. He seems to wish to confine himself to
rhymed quatrains--the metre of "Gray's Elegy," except that
the fourth line has only six syllables; a metre which, of
course, only lends itself to rather grave poems. The
"Lines to a Breton Beggar" and the quaint verses called
"Deer in Greenwich Park" are the worke of a man with real
poetical insight; we wish we could find space to quote
them. Of lighter verse, Mr. A. C. Hillier's "In Opera Land"
is perhaps the best example in the volume.71
Clearly, The Times reviewer was uninterested in attacking or defending
literary reputations. He seems to find a pedestrian quality in much of a
book redeemed by a single fresh talent. The Rhymers are seen as poets--
not as Celts, decadents, or the new generation.
As The Academy did with The Book of the Rhymers' Club, The Athenae-
um did with its sequel, selecting Yeats and Johnson for special commenda-
tion.72 Yeats's "The Rose in M~y Heart" and Johnson's "To Morfydd" are
cited and printed in full, the latter being tend "in some respects, per-
haps, the best thing in the whole book." Rhys's handling of Welsh themes
is complimented, and something pleasant is said about almost every poet in
turn, although some of the praise is qualified. But Ellis and Greene add
only "laborious lispings," whereas Todhunter displays "pagan sentiments";
Richard Le Gallienne is advised to cultivate the labor of the file. Dow-
son's "Cynara," perhaps the greatest poem in either anthology, comes in
for this cursory condemnation:
Mr. Arthur Symons and Mr. Ernest Dowson evince their cus-
tomary disposition of dwelling upon the less wholesome as-
pects of life in such verses as those which they call
respectively "A Variation upon Love" and "Non sum qualis
eram bonae sub regno Cynarae."
The anonymous reviewer regrets the poets' decision to appear as a cotorie,
and he refers to the collection as "the poetical manifesto of the Rhymoers."
Yet he praises and censures individuals and discovers no evidence of any
coherence in this coterie.
The larger print order for The Second Book of the Rhymers' Club
was given with a double purpose: to increase slightly the availability
of the book in England, and to permit one hundred and seventy copies to
be exported to the United States. As a result one American journal, The
Nation, reviewed the book, echoing The Athenaeum: Yeats was pronounced
superb and Symons, deplorable.73 The criterion, it emerges, is the poet's
relative distance from what the critic takes to be French decadence:
And the manly purity of these [Yeats's] poems--the utter
freedom from the Gallic smirch--is refreshing when compared
with the sickly and jaunty sensualism of Mr. Arthur Symons,
who represents the low-water mark of the "Rhymers' Club."
We are not permitted to forget that their contemporaries often judged the
Rhymers largely on theme and moral tendency.
At this juncture our impression of the Rhymers' Club and its an-
thologies should be taking form. We have seen how a dozen-odd poets,
mostly young, gathered in London during the early 1890's. Whether they
were chiefly motivated by fellowship or by expediency we cannot say. We
know that they collaborated on two anthologies before their club disin-
tegrated. Most important, we know that a major poet and three signifi-
cant minor figures emerged from this coterie. Yet, they left no manifes-
toes, nor any explicit statements. Furthermore, their contemporaries
seemed unaware of the Club's corporate character. What, then, is the
importance of the Rhymers' Club to literature and literary history?
The answer, as stated in the introduction to this study, is twofold:
first, some of the essential escapism of the period is especially, if not
uniquely, embodied in their poetry; and second, a special aesthetic, the
poem as euphony, informed their work. It is to the first of these con-
ceptions that we turn in the next chapter.
NOTES: CHAPTER I
1. The Autobiography of WJilliam Butler Yeats, Consisting of
Reveries over Childhood and Youth, The Trfi~ling of the Voil, and Dramatis
Personae (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1958). Allan
Wade, ed., The Letters of W. B. Yeats (New York: The Macmillan Company,
1955). Victor Planr, Ernest Dowson 1888-1897 (New York: Laurence J.
Gomme, 1914). Ernest Rhys, Everyman Remembers (New York: Cosmopolitan
Book Corporation, 1931).
2. Arthur Symons, ed., The Poems of Ernest Dowr~son (New Yorkc:
Dodd, Mead and Company, 1922). Richard Le Gallienne, The Romantic '90s
(New York: Doubleday, Page &r Company, 1925).
3. H. Guy Harrison has appended a "Bibliography of the Works of
Ernest Dowson" to Plar-r's Ernest Dowson 1888-1897. See p. 133.
4. Yeats, Autobiograohy, p. 111.
5. See Symons, The Poems of Ernest Dowson, pp. viii-ix; Rhys, pp.
220-229; and Le Gallienne, pp. 183-200.
6. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 111.
7. Rhys, p. 220
8. Planr, p. 63.
9. Wade, Letters .. Yeats, p. 170.
10. "Le 'Cercle des Rimeurs"' in Farmer, p. 261. Ernest Dowson
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945), p. 92. W. B.
Yeat~s1865-93 (2nd ed., London: Macmillan and Company Ltd., 1965), p.
78. Arthur Symons: a Critical Biography (London: The Unicorn Press,
1963), p. 84. There is much new material in E11mann's study (New York:
The Macmillan Company, 1948) that was inaccessible to Hone; see pp. 140-
144 for references to the Rhymers' Club.
11. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 111.
12. Le Gallienne, p. 188.
13. In a letter to Katharine Tynan, Yeats refers, among other
topics, to (1) a review which he had sent to the Evening Helcald which was
printed in the January 2nd, 1892 edition of that paper aInd (2) The co
of the R~hym~ers' Club be-in in proof. From thc f'irst evcntl RI ,cr Mch~: `,
who edited this correspondence, dates the letter "ioltle December, 18911."
See Letters of W. B. Yeats to Katharine Tynan (New York: Mc~ullen Books,
14. London: The Unicorn Press, 1953, p. xxy.
15. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 199. His later statement in "Modern
Poetry: a Broadcast," a published version of his October 14, 1936 British
Broadcasting Corporation program (Essays and Introductions [New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1961], p. 491), is not corroborated by his or anyone
16. Le Gallienne, pp. 183-184. Mathews, not: Lane, published The
Book of the Rhymers' Club. See note 32(4) below.
17. Symons, The Poems of Ernest Dowson, pp. viii-ix.
18. Lhombreaud, pp. 83-84.
19. Lhombreaud, p. 84.
20. Wade, Letters . .Yets, pp. 172-173. Despite the friend-
ship which subsisted between Yeats and Davidson during the early nineties,
Davidson eventually soured on Yeats. Rhys, (p. 233) speaking from his
later knowledge of Davidson, says: "Of these certain members of the
Rhymers' Club] I fancy that Yeats was his pet aversion."
21. See Rhys, p. 54.
22. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 200.
23. The Last Romantics (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1961).
24. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 200.
25. Rhys, p. 220.
26. Planr, pp. 63-64.
27. Le Gallienne, p. 184.
28. Richard Whittington-Egan and Geoffrey Smerdon, The Quest of
the Golden Bov: the Life and Letters of Richard Le Gallienne (London:
The Unicorn Press, 1960), p. 169.
29. See note 10, above, for Hone biography. A Bibliography of
the Writings of W. B. Yeats (Second Edition, London: Rupert Hart-Davis,
30. Wade and Hart-Davis, Bibliography, passim.
31. The Natio~nal Ob~server, December 13, 1890 and ~The cotsO-
server, November 15, 1890, respectively (cited in iWiade .Ind Hart-Da~vis,
32. XXXI, 179 (January, 1892), 61-72. This article was regarded
as sufficiently significant to be reprinted in the United States in
Littell's Living Age, LXXVIII (Mlarch, 1892), 740-747.
33. While Longaker's bibliography of Dowson (Ernes osnpp.
281-285) contains many more entries than Harrison's (in Planr, Ernest
Dowson 1888-1897), it is not as detailed and is best used in conjunction
with the earlier bibliography.
Longaker's Ernest Dowson should be revised or supplemented.
Like Hone's work on Yeats, it is undocumented, a palpable handicap to the
serious student of Dowson; unlike Hone's it has not been supplemented by
such valuable "bio-critical" studies as E11mann's Yeats: the M~an and the
Masks and A. Norman Jeffares' W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet (London: Rout-
ledge and Kegan Paul, 1949). Worse yet, particularly for anyone inter-
ested in the Rhymers' Club, it is often inaccurate in its dealings with
the Club. Although most of the following errors are of little substan-
tive importance to Longaker's argument, their presence is not conducive
to establishing the readers' confidence:
(1) Longaker, in his chapter on the Rhymers' Club, deals
with the period 1890-1894 in Dowson's life. He refers to "Todhunter in
his fifties, and Rolleston and Greene in their mid-forties [as] represent-
ing the more mature element in the Club [p. 891" Rolleston was born in
1857, Greene in 1853. The second oldest member was E. J. Ellis, born in
1848. Todhunter, indeed, was in his fifties.
(2) On pp. 91-92 Longaker describes "how Herbert Horne had
nearly brought the Club to its end by introducing four Scotchmen, all on L
the same evening, in order to bring new life into the group." Yeats's
The Trembline of the Veil (included in his Autobiography) is the acknowl-
edged source of this anecdote. Longaker's error is his assumption that
Yeats was a meticulous grammarian.
The anecdote (pp. 211-212) is a Yeatsian illustration of the
character of John Davidson, not Herbert Horne. Yeats illustrates David-
son's masculinity and "rocky independence" by giving his reaction to
Yeats's complimenting Herbert Horne: "Once when I had praised Herbert
Horne for his knowledge and his taste, he [italics mine] burst out, 'If
a man must be a connoisseur, let him be a connoisseur in women."' The
personalities of Davidson and Horne were such that the italicized "he"
must refer to Davidson, not Horne. The next sentence reads: "He, indeed,
was accustomed, in the most characteristic phrase of his type, to describe
the Rhymers as lacking in 'blood and guts' and very nearly brought us to
an end by attempting to supply the deficiency by the addition of four
Scotsmen." For this apocryphal incident to be at all credible, a Scots-
man (Davidson) would have been required to introduce his four countrymen,
not an effete Italianate Englishman.
(3) Yeats is said (p. 93), with reference to Symons' state-
ment about the Rhymers' Club meetin s showing "a desperate and ineffectu-
al attempt to get into key w~ith the Latin Quarter,"I to have "recalled
these meetings after a passage of forty years, but he jYeatsl made no
mention of a desperate attempt to catch the spiritr of t'ne Latin Quiartelr."
Longaker then quotes Yeats's statement from Tolh Troubling of the Ve~il:
"The meetings were always decorous and often dull; . ." This statement
appeared in 1922, not forty years after the events.
(4) On page 96, with reference to The Book of the Rhymers'
Club, Longaker writes: "Only three hundred and fifty copies of the book
were issued by Elkin Mlathew~s and John Lane in the autumn of 1892." This
statement is erroneous in every respect. First, unlike The Second Book
of the Rhymers' Club it was issued by Elkin Miathews alone. It was around
the publication date of the Book of the Rhymers' Club, but after publica-
tion arrangements were completed, that Lane became an active partner of
Mathews. Second, 350 copies of the regular edition were issued for sale,
but simultaneously another fifty copies were offered in a large paper
edition: a total of 400 (see note 65). On page 105, referring to the
Second Book of the Rhymers' Club, Longaker says that "five hundred copies
instead of 350 were issued." Five hundred was the print order; only 400
were offered for sale in England. If the large paper English edition wcere
included, the total would only be 450. The correct figures are thus, for
the two anthologies, 400 and 450, respectively. If copies for America are
to be included, the totals for sale are 400 and 620. Third, The Book of
the Rhymers' Club was published in February, not autumn, 1892. Longaker
corrects his error by inconsistently writing (p. 101): "Sometime in
February 1892, soon after The Book of the Rhymers' Club had appeared . ."
(5) The "Song of the Songsmiths," by George Arthur Greene, is
referred to (p. 98) as "the first poem in the collection." It is actually
the last poem in The Book of the Rhymers' Club.
(6) "The closing piece of the collection,by Ernest Rhys, is
a better sample of the quality of verse which the volume contains [p. 99]."
Longaker then quotes Rhys's "At the Rhymers' Club," subtitled "The Toast";
this is, in fact, the opening selection of the first Book.
34. John Gawsworth [Terence lan Fytton Armstrong], "The Dowcson
Legend," Essays by Divers Hands, Being the Transactions of the Royal
Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, ed. E. H. WJ. Meyerstein,
New Series XVII (London: Humphrey Milford, 1938), 93-124. For Gawsworth,
the "legend" comprises the unsubstantiated tales of Dowson's sexual pro-
clivities, dipsomania, and violent temper, all colored by a nebulous hint
of abnormality in the poet's love for the adolescent Adelaide Foltinowcicz.
A few examples will suffice to show with wJhat Gawsworth was
contending. Yeats tells a humorous, but apocryphal, tale about Dowson
and Wilde in Dieppe; when neither had sufficient funds for a visit to the
local bordel, at Dowson's behest and for Wilde's benefit they combined
purses at the cafe and "set out accompanied by a cheering crowd." After-
wards, an unregenerate Wilde pronounced it a fiasco (Yeats, Autobiography,
p. 217). As to Dow~son's feeling for Adelaide, Yeats stated: "Sober, he
would look at no other woman, it was said, but drunk, desired whatever
woman chance brought, clean or dirLty." (Autobiography, p. 207.)
Symons, too, contributed to the "legend": "Under the influ-
once of drink, he became almost literally insane, certainly quite irre-
sponsible." And this next comment on the meaning of Adelaide to Dowson
might well have inspired the one of Yeats's, above: "Wh~en that face~
faded from him, he saw all the other faces, and he saw no more differnce
than between sheep and sheep." (Symons, The Poems of Ernest Dowson, payv.)
A recent short biographical and critical study illustrates
how the "legend" is perpetuated. Thomas Burnett Swann, in his Ernest
Dowson (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964), includes in a chapter en-
titled "For Love of Adelaide" the following items, among others: (1) a
quotation by the notoriously unreliable Frank Harris as to Dowson's feel-
ings about Adelaide (p. 33); (2) a sub-chapter on "child love" in which
Ruskin's relationship with Rose La Touche is described (p. 36); and (3)
a statement affirming Dowson's sexual potency, coupled with a remark
"that Adelaide did not arouse him physically [p. 36]." Although the
chapter contains no obvious misstatements, its author's inclusion of
irrelevant material and his unwillingness to discriminate among sources
are certainly conducive to the readers' drawing unwarranted inferences
about the relationship which obtained between Adelaide and Dowson.
35. Longaker, Ernest Dowson, p. viii.
36. Russell Goldfarb, "The Dowson Legend Today SEL, IV, 4
Autumn, 1964), 661-662.
37. Rhys, p. 221.
38. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 200.
39. Symons, The Poems of Ernest Dowson, p. ix.
40. Planr, pp. 131-132.
41. Pap 1
42. "Modern Poetry: a Broadcast," p. 491.
43. P. 227.
44. These bibliographical data are based on textual notes to
lan Fletcher's edition of Johnson's poems (see note 14).
45. London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane. Yeats, writing to
Olivia Shakespear, a cousin of Johnson, about his Hardy, found the critic
more interesting than the object criticized: "I think Lionel's book very
wonderful and agree with you about caring more for his theories about
literature than those about Hardy in particular. .. I feel however
that there is something wrong about praising Hardy in a style so much
better than his own. I wish he had written instead of Dante or Milton."
(Wade, Letters .. Yeats, p. 235.)
46. Pp. xi-xliv and 289-294.
47. Guidelines for a thorough biography of Johnson have been set
down in an unpublished thesis (Duke, 1942) by Justine UI. Lorman, "Lol
Johnson: a Biographical Inquiry."
48. London: Cassell &c Co., 1886. This little book was pub-
lished when Symons was only twenty-one; it was reviewed by Pater, who
praised it, and it occasioned an appreciative letter from Browning him-
49. Lhombreaud, p. 89.
50. Poets of the 'Nineties: a Biographical Anthology (London:
John Baker, 1965), p. 34.
51. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 202.
52. Rhys, p. 224.
53. Yeats, Autobiography, p. 213.
54. For Le Gallienne, see note 28, above. C. H. Rolleston, Por-
trait of an Irishman: a Biographical Sketch of T. W. Rolleston (London:
Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1939).
55. In an extreme formulation Le Gallienne reduces decadence to
"insane thinking" in one of his Retrospective Reviews ("'Churton Collins:
Illustrations of Tennyson" [London: John Lane, 1896], I, 24). However,
as Albert J. Farmer so tellingly points out, Le Gallienne is quite ambi-
valent on the subject, roundly condemning decadence through his prose
while using those very themes and qualities in his poetry (pp. 288-292).
56. Rhys's first book, The Great Cockney Tragedy, seems to have
been a latter-day "penny-dreadful." It was noted in The Bookman, "The
New Books of the Month," October, 1891, p. 39: "A story of a Jewish worker
in a tailor's sweating den, one of the 'submerged tenth,' of his misery
and suicide. It is dedicated to General Booth."
Rhys published A London Rose and Other Rhymes in 1894; he
gratefully remembers Le Gallienne for his having accepted the book for
publication by Mathews and Lane (Rhys, p. 229).
Bibliographical information on Rolleston, Rhys, Todhunter,
Planr, Ellis, Radford, Greene, and Hillier is derived chiefly from The
English Catalogue of Books, III, IV, and V, covering books published
January 1872 through December 1897 (London: Sampson Low, Myarston &c
Company [Limited), 1882-1898). A predecessor (Sampson Low, Marston,
Searle, &c Rivington) is in actuality named publisher on the title page
of III; clearly, publication remained in the same hands.
57. See Yeats's biographical note on Todhunter in WJ. B. Yeats:
Letters to Katharine Tynan, pp. 152-154, a reprint of a notice that had
appeared in the Magiazine of Poetry, Buffalo, April 1889. Also see Yeats,
Autobiography, pp. 77-78, 80, and 186-187.
58. P. 89.
59. See who was who,,, 19291940 III: (London: Adam &c Charles
Black, 1941), 1084.
60. See TWade's note in Letters .. Yeats, p. 59. Yeats gives
many insights into the character of Ellis, who was his collaborator in
editing Blake (Autobiography, pp. 107-110). Cursory mention of Ellis
as a painter appears in Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, Allgemoines
Lexicon der bildenden Kunstler, X, 471 and in E. Binbzit: Dictionnaire
critique et documentaire des Peintres. Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs and
Graveurs, III ([Paris]: Nouvelle Edition Librairie Grund, 1960), 568.
61. Rhys, p. 54; there are other reminiscences of Radford scat-
tered through Everyman Remembers. He is also listed in John Foster Kirk,
A Supplement to Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature and
British and American Authors, II (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Com-
pany, 1891), 1259.
62. Greene's Italian interests and scholarship are both evident
in his Italian Lyrists of Today (London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane,
1893), an anthology of translations of contemporary Italian poetry.
Another of his critical interests was art history.
63. "It was Hillier, along with G. A. Greene, the secretary of
the Rhymers' Club, who collaborated with Dowson in the translation of
Richard Muther's Geschichte der Malerai im neunzehnten Jahrhundert, which
was issued in three volumes totaling 2,304 pages in 1895-1896. Dowson,
whose German was slight, did little of the actual translating; his work
was largely restyling the relatively literal translations of Hillier and
Greene." [John] Mark Longaker, The Poems of Ernest Dowson (Philadelphia:
The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962), pp. 214-215.
64. Longaker, Ernest Dowson, p. 96.
65. Accurate bibliographical descriptions of both anthologies of
the Rhymers' Club follow, quoted from Wade's bibliography of Yeats, pp.
263-264 and 267-268. Having personally examined editions of both books
in the regular editions and the Second in the large paper edition as well,
I can vouch for the accuracy of Wade's descriptions (faded colors ex-
THE BOOK / OF THE / RHYMERS' CLUB / (publisher's device]/
LONDON / ELKIN MATHEWS / AT THE SIGN OF THE BODLEY HEAD in red/
IN VIGO STREET / 1892 / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
6 2/5 x 5; pp. xvi, 94.
Issued in dark yellow cloth with white label, printed in
black, on spine; white end-papers; all edges untrimmed.
Published in February 1892.
On p. iv, facing half-title: "Four hundred and fifty copies
of this edition printed, of which three hundred andi fifty
are for sale."
Large paper edition:
THE BOOK / OF THE / RHYMERS' CLUB [in red] / [publisher's device]/
LONDON/ ELKIN MIATHTEWS / AT THE SIGN OF THIE BODLEY HEAD [in red]/
IN VIGO STREET / 1892 / ALL RIIGHTS RESERVED
7 3/10 x 5 1/2; pp. xvi, 96.
Issued in blue paper boards with parchment spine; white end-
papers; all edges untrimmed; a yellow silk marker is attached
On verso of p. iv facing half-title: "Only fifty copies of
this Large Paper Edition Printed, of which this is No. ...
THE SECOND BOOK / OF / THE RHYMYERS' CLUB /
LONDON: ELKIN MATTH-EWS &r JOHNS LANE / NEW YORK: DODD, MEAD &
COMPANY / 1894/ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
6 3/10 x 5; pp. xvi, 136. At end is a list of Books in
Belles Lettres, dated 1894, pp. 16.
Issued in brownm buckram, lettered in gold on spine; white
end-papers, all edges untrimmed. Published in June, 1894.
On p. iv, facing half-title: of this Edition Five
Hundred Copies have been printed for England (of which
Four Hundred only are for Sale). One Hundred and Fifty
Copies also have been printed for America."
Large paper edition:
THE SECOND BOOK / OF / THE RHYMERS' CLUB [in red] /
LONDON: ELKIN MATHEWS &r JOHN LANE / NEW YORK: DODD, MEAD &1
COMPANY / 1894/ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
7 3/10 x 5 1/2; pp. xvi, 136.
Issued in blue paper boards with parchment spine, label,
printed in black, on spine; white end-papers; all edges
trimmed; an orange silk marker is attached to headband.
On p. liv], facing half-title: "Of this Edition Fifty
Copies have been printed for England, and Twenty Copies
66. "A Rhymers' Dozen," C (March 19, 1892), 362.
67. "The Book of the Rhymers' Club," XLI, 1038 (March 26, 1892),
68. XXXV, October 1892, 214.
69. "Recent Verse," 3385 (Sept. 10, 1892), p. 350.
70. March 1892, p. 221.
71. Books of the Week," July 6, 1894, p. 14.
72. "Recent Verse," 3487 (Aug. 25, 1894), p. 252.
73. "Recent English Poetry," LIX, 1534 (1894), 388.
THE INTELLECTUAL MATRIX OF: THEi RHYMERS' CLUB
1. The Triangle of Escapism: God, the Flesh, and th~e Devil
In a letter written to Victor Planr approximately when The Booke of
the Rhymers Club was published, Ernest Dowson distorts a traditional bap-
To take the world so seriously'. Enfin c'est trop bite.
God or the Flesh or the Devil--an artist may be in bondage
to any one or other or all of these Powers and retain his
self-respect--but the world mustn't, positively must not
exist for him--or so much the worse for his art.l
With qualification--severe qualification--this could serve as the poetic
manifesto that the Rhymers' Club never issued.
For all its sinister connotation Dowson's remark is typically
"aesthetic" in the disdain it shows for all mundane concerns. If taken
advisedly, as a statement of allegiance rather than exclusion, it begins
to ring true for at least the major Rhymers: Yeats, Dowson, Symons, and
Johnson.2 We cannot reconcile the contradiction latent in "tak[ing] the
world so seriously," yet taking it, and the world's "positively not exist-
[ing]" for the artist; we should regard the more extreme position, which
denies the world's mattering for the artist, as the hyperbole of a con-
troversialist's convincing himself.
This unlikely triumvirate--God, the Flesh, and the Devil--as per-
missible poetic allegiance is a recasting of the familiar lines from the
Book of Common Prayer: ". . Renounce the devil and all his works, the
vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same,
and the carnal desires of the Flesh...."
This formula does pose problems for the modern reader. Each item
for renunciation is one that is not quite at home in Western civilization
today; even in fin de siecle London the World, the Flesh, and the Devil
could not be conceived as imminent nemeses. The World was where urban,
Protestant London lived. As R. H. Tawney and Max Weber have so conclu-
sively proved, the Protestant ethic is conducive to worldly success. For
all the faults of the World, it is the field where much work must be done.
Renunciation of its "pomp and glory" seems medieval and monastic in out-
Similarly, the Flesh is not the deadly snare that it may have
seemed to be at the time of the adoption of the Book of Common Praver.
The attenuation of the fear of the Flesh is not necessarily indicative of
any moral weakening; rather, it reflects a contemporary movement in ethics
from individual to social problems. Concupiscence, however deplorable it
might be, somehow no longer seems as significant as it must have when the
Book of Common Prayer was written.
If the World and the Flesh do not appear as formidable as they did
in the time of Edward VI, the Devil must seem even more impotent; his fate
is that of an anachronism. Yet the term "Devil" is a helpful metaphor
for the central force presiding over the hermetic system--that cosmology
of fairies, magic, and "correspondences," which has long been put forward
either as an alternative to or as a supplement to the Christian formula-
tion. Like the World and Flesh, however, the Devil lacks immediacy. In
other words, these erstwhile threats to salvation have now become theolog-
ical curiosities. Perhaps the concepts symbolized by "World," "F~lesh,"
and "Devil" are endurring human concerns, but the symbols no longer elicit
the reactions of an earlier day.
It is one thing to say that the World, the Flesh, and the Devil
were not the enemies at hand for Dowson's generation, nor are for ours;
it is quite another to say that any one of them might be a permissible
master for the artist--the World in the Protestant sense of the arena where
the elect prosper being a possible exception.
But of these the "aesthete" rejects only the World, not because it
is evil, but because he finds it ugly. God as ultimate beauty seems an
excellent master, and the Devil and the Flesh are at least eligible com-
petitors, not that systematic diabolism or sensualism is the aesthete's
objective. Perhaps this attitude is best explained by the reaction of a
future Rhymer, seventeen-year-old Lionel Johnson, who did not look to his
conscience when confronted with a moral issue, but to his "aesthetic"
sense, asking himself: "By doing what would your artistic instinct be
satisfied? What does the moment tell you is required for itself?"4
It would be fatuous to argue that Johnson would have subscribed to
that statement eight years later, when The Book of the Rhymers' Club was
published. This credo is clearly that of a youth influenced by Oscar
Wilde and by the Walter Pater who had not yet published Marius the Epi-
curean. Still, the mature Lionel Johnson as a practicing Catholic was
no Newman or Hopkins who blended faith with works; rather, he was a man
committed to the beauty of God.
For Johnson it was God; for other Rhymers, other commitments or
"bondages," cach of which pertains to Dowson's statement quoted at thec
beginning of this chapter. Therein can be found a formnula which places
the major Rhymers in an intellectual context, a context sufficiently
broad to embrace the two anthologies of the Club. It is a truism to
state the artist's central concern as reality, i.e. the World, especially
in nineteenth century England. But, in terms of the English tradition,
each principal Rhymer was eccentric in his contribution to the books of
Imagine an equilateral triangle whose vertices are God, the Flesh,
and the Devil. Let a point at the center of that triangle be the World.
The Rhymers' Club poetry of Yeats, Dowson, Johnson, and Symons tends to
be off-center, although each poet is not limited to a single eccentricity.
In what is admittedly a metaphorical statement it may be said that Yeats's
work bears toward the Devil and Symons' to the Flesh; Dowson's inclines
toward both the Flesh and God, whereas Johnson's is oriented toward God
alone. None was in bondage to the World; that would have been fatal to
his art. There is no reason to suspect Dowson of having his brother
Rhymers in mind when he wrote to Planr, but in his poetic license he inad-
vertently struck the dominant intellectual note of the Club: escape from
allegiance to a Phillistine world, each artist taking the master of his
choice. The principal concerns of late Victorian England--imperialism,
social reform, female emancipation, Darwinism, the "Higher Criticism,"
civil and political rights, industrialization, and the impact of contem-
porary science--affected the Rhymers little, unless negatively.
Yeats, Johnson, Dowson, and Symons were, in George Meredith's
phrase, "hot for certainties," but they found few formulations which they
could implicitly trust. None accepted his father's religious convictions,
none trusted contemporary science, and none was a devotee of the present.
Each was prone to suspend judgment, to avoid intellectual commitment.
Their attitudes toward prevalent contemporary thought were negative--
either in the sense of ignoring the mundane scene or of rejecting it. The
art of the principal Rhymers was not in bondage to the World; their art
found other masters.
So exotic a mental set, outside of the central tradition, must
have its specific sources. Of these the chief are the works of Walter
Pater, the French Symbolist Movement, and the Celtic Renaissance, but the
last, seminal as it was to some individuals in the Rhymers' Club, did not
provide the Club as a whole with its principal intellectual assumptions.
While the rebirth of Irish literature was cardinal to the Celts and those
aspiring to be Celts, it yielded no common Weltanschauung; of the major
Rhymers only Yeats was totally Celtic in outlook. Despite his English
extraction, Johnson became increasingly subject to Irish literary influ-
ences during his years with the Rhymers' Club, but the effect of these
influences is noticeable chiefly in his post-Rhymers' Club work. Symons,
although Welsh by birth, felt his ancestry mainly as a factor contribut-
ing to his sense of alienation in London. Furthermore, aside from its
impetus toward subject matter of ethnic interest, it is doubtful that the
Celtic Renaissance was freighted with many specific, agreed, and identi-
fiable intellectual positions. Therefore, while in no way denying the
relevance of the new movement in Ireland to our subject, it is to Pater.
and contemporary Parisian developments that we turn in seeking the intel-
lectual influences which were germinal to the poetry of the Club. And,
if the Rhymers' unremarkable inventory of ideas scarcely seems to justify
a consideration of the influence of Pater, on the one hand, and Baudolaire,
Verlaine, and Mallarme, on the other, it should be borne in mind that
these men were instrumental in the formulation of the Rhymers' aesthetic,
that aspect of their poetry worthiest of attention. Next we will con-
sider the mental set of the Rhymers in the context of their most important
influences, confining ourselves to the major figures. Then we will look
at some poetry by lesser Rhymers as manifesting the same escapist tenden-
cies, and, finally, we will take stock of the anti-scientific spirit so
prevalent among this coterie.
2. The Major Influences: Pater and the French Poets
The members of the Rhymers' Club were unsparing in their prose
acknowledgments of intellectual indebtedness to Walter Pater. Yeats re-
calls the adulation his generation felt for this quiet don: "But one
writer, almost unknown to the general public--I remember somebody saying
at his death 'no newspaper had given him an obituary notice'--had its
uncritical admiration, Walter Pater.5 Nevertheless, Yeats detects an
almost sinister quality, however unintended, in Pater's influence.
Here and elsewhere the negativism of the Rhymers toward their con-
temporary scene has been noted. Yeats thought that Pater was largely
responsible for these conservative values and traditional emphases:
Perhaps it was because of Pater's influence that we with
an affectation of learning, claimed the wJhole past of
literature for our authority, instead of finding it like
the young men in the age of comedy that followed us, in
some new, and so still unrefuted authority; that we pre-
ferred what seemed still uncrumbled rock, to the still
unspotted foam; that we were traditional alike in our6
dress, in our manner, in our opinions, and in our style.
Yeats is speaking here of the time when the seemingly flourishing Rhymecrs
were already beginning to break up, the period wJhen Dowson was publisti;.-
poems of fin de siecle uncertainty, but classically entitled "O mors'.
Quam amara est memorial tua homini pacem habent in substantum suis," "Ad
Domnulam Suam," "Amor Umbratilis," and "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub
regno Cynarae," all included in the books of the Rhymers' Club. Some
other indices of this quest for "uncrumbled rock" may be observed in
Yeats's backward look to the east in his theosophical researches, John-
son's study of patristic writings, and Symons' translations of the mysti-
cal poems of St. John of the Cross.8
However, Pater gave the Rhymers more than a love for traditional
practices and a mannered approach to life. Speaking of the Rhymers and
the tragic ends some met, Yeats felt that Pater's "philosophy" had fatal
W~e looked consciously to Pater for our philosophy. Three or
four years ago [1918 or 1919] I re-read Mvarius the Epicurean,
expecting to find that I cared for it no longer, but it still
seemed to me, as I think it seemed to us all, the only great
prose in modern English, and yet I began to wonder if it, or
the attitude of mind of which it was the noblest expression,
had not caused the disaster of my friends. It taught us to
walk upon a rope, tightly stretched through serene air, and
we were left to keep our feet upon a swaying rope in a storm.9
There is an apparent contradiction between these two last statements about
Pater, but it is easily resolved. Could some one so imbedded in tradi-
tion as to "claim the whole past of literature for authority" be so un-
stable as "to walk upon a rope .. through .. air"? Yes, because
the Rhymers were lured more by the ritualism, mysticism, and intellectual
luminosity of the past than by uncritical acceptance of established creed.
Homage to the past was more a convention than a matter either of intell~ec-
tual or dogmatic commitment to the Rhymers, whereas to Thomas Carlyle in
Past and Present, to cite a Victorian example, the past furnished a
paradigm of the social order. Johnson gloried in patristic scholarship,
but not in a pious acceptance of Catholicism. Dowson looked to the
security of the bosom of Mother Church: he cherished the feeling of com-
munion and vicariously participated in the asceticism so alien to his own
disordered life, but he was never one of the devout. Symons was interested
in St. John of the Cross and John's spiritual mentor, Santa Teresa, but
it was their belles-lettres rather than their creed which attracted him.
Yeats sought ancient wisdom both in his studies of Irish folklore and in
his Rosicrucian and Theosophic experiments, but his objective was the
creation or discovery of a system superior to Christianity and "science"
alike, not the affirmation or augmentation of established belief. The
Rhymers discovered beauty, wisdom, and solace in the past, but it yielded
them no unshakable creed. Skepticism and tradition were not antitheses.
One could love the older values and still suspend judgment on the present.
Although the Rhymers were as avid for certainty as Marius himself, they
were too disdainful of issues to commit themselves intellectually (John-
son's knowledge of church history being a possible exception) and too
prone to Paterian ambivalence to be unquestioningly dogmatic.
When Symons first came to London Pater was generous to him. He
remembered the late critic as "the most lovable of men; to those who
rightly apprehended him, the most fascinating; the most generous and
helpful of private friends, and in literature a living counsel of perfec-
tion, whose removal seems to leave modern English prose without a con-
temoray tanardofvale.10 Syosfound him a noble man and an un-
paralleled critic, yet, like Yeats, Symons sensed the air of corruption
in Pater. A discussion of decadence in the Rhymers' poetry follows in
the fourth chapter, but it is worth noting here that artificiality, a
stock decadent trait, is observed in Pater. Symons alludes to Pater's
declaration that Imaginary Portraits is his most natural book:
I think he was even then beginning to forget that it was
not natural for him to be natural. There are many kinds
of beauty in this world, and of these what is called
natural beauty is but one. Pater's temperament was at
once shy and complex, languid and ascetic, sensuous and
spiritual. He did not permit life to come to him without
a certain ceremony; he was on his guard against the abrupt
indiscretion of events; and if his wh~ole life was a service
of art, he arranged his life so that, as far as possible, it
might be served by that very dedication.11
Symons is apparently suggesting a random quality in natural events, not
conducive to the "service of art." Events must be ordered for the true
critic. All this implies system and hierarchy, but this "service of art"
that sufficed as an ordering principle for Pater could well have been what
Yeats calls a "swaying rope in the storm" for the young Rhymers, who were
as volatile as their master was phlegmatic.
Johnson was another who responded to the Paterian dedication to
art. Like Symons and Yeats, he recognized the importance of Pater to
the younger literary generation. Writing shortly after Pater's death in
1894, Johnson dwelled on those characteristics of the man:
Emphatically the scholar and man of letters, there was
in his life and work a perfect expression of that
single-hearted devotion to fine literature, yet without
a shadow of pedantry, wJhich is ceasing to flourish in
the ancient academic places. There is yet deeper sorrow
upon which I cannot touch, save to say that to younger
men, concerned with any of the arts, he was the most
generous and gracious of helpful friends. In due time,
they will be able to think, wJith nothing but: a reverent
affection, of the admired writer last laid to rest under
the towers and trees of his owJn Oxford.12
Johnson's reticence effectively obscures that "deeper sorrow," but
his cognizance of the importance of Pater to younger men is verified by
Le Gallienne, reviewing the revised edition of Marius. Le Gallienne was
writing during Pater's lifetime; the loss of one's "spiritual pastor"
might have been a permissible occasion for the poignancy to which Johnson
When first we read Marius with glowing heart, .. it
was full indeed of burning matters. It seemed that no
"spiritual pastor" had so harmonized the claims of body
and soul, so wonderfully captured for us those fine elu-
sive moods of which we were hardly aware till we recognize
them in another; and that no one had written more movingly
of friendship, of goodness, of beauty, or of death--great
matters as we thought.13
There is a touch of effusiveness in Le Gallienne's recollections. For
him Marius is the "golden book," as Apuleius' was for Marius.
Rhys and other Rhymers also felt the intellectual and aesthetic
force of Pater. Tributes to his genius could be multiplied, but Yeats's,
Johnson's, Symons', and Le Gallienne's are ample to demonstrate the in-
fluence Pater exerted among the members of the Rhymers' Club. He seemed
the high priest of "The Palace of Art," a traditionalist by preference,
and a critic of unwavering integrity. He was fastidious yet tolerant,
brilliant yet receptive. But the aesthetic dedication and worldly re-
jection that proved "uncrumbled rock" for him provided too slippery a
footing for his disciples.
The thorough grounding in Pater common to the Rhymers is reflected
in their poetry. Dowson, who wrote no prose testimonial to Pater, re-
vealed his indebtedness through his verse. We have already noticed Dow-
son's penchant for Latin titles; Pater's Latinisms, especially the head-
links in Marius, were a likely inspiration. More important is the recur-
rence of key Paterian images in the poems "Amor Umbratilis" and "Extreme
Unction," published in the first and second anthologies, respectively.
But, perhaps surprisingly, Dowson mined Marius for metaphors, not ethics;
the young poet's impressionism was derived from The Renaissance rather
than from Pater's novel.
The very title "Amor Umbratilis" is an echo of Pater, who gives a
loving and discursive definition of umbratilis in the "W~hite Nights"
chapter of Marius, suggesting that it is the nearest approach in Latin
Had the Romans a word for unworldly? The beautiful word
umbratilis perhaps comes nearest to it; and, with that precise
sense, might describe the spirit in which he prepared himself
for the sacerdotal function hereditary in his family--the sort
of mystic enjoyment he had in the abstinence, the strenuous
self-control and ascesis, which such preparation involved.14
Pater's observation is a conventional one; there is an unworldly beauty
in a mystical experience. Umbratilis is thus an adjective of abnegation,
an adjective connoting a kind of self-effacement through religious com-
munion. There is nothing morbid in communion, but it is not a worldly
experience; instead, it is a transcendental relationship that exceeds
without denying the world.
On the other hand, when Dowson thinks of umbratilis as a quality,
he creates an instrument for love:
A gift of silence. Sweet'
Who may not ever hear:
To lay down at your unobservant feet,
Is all the gift I bear.
I have no songs to sing,
That you should heed or know:
I have no lilies, in f~ull hands, to fling
Across the path you go.
I cast my flowers away,
Blossoms unmeet for you:
The garland, I have gathered, in my day;
My rose-mary and rue.
I watch you pass and pass,
Serene and cold: I lay
My lips upon your trodden, daisied grass,
And turn my life away.
Yea, for I cast you, Sweet'.
This one gift, you shall take:
Like ointment, on your unobservant feet,
My silence, for your sake.15
The narrator in this poem is playing as sacerdotal a role as was the
young Marius when preparing himself for his priestly duties at the feast
of Dea Dia. It is a strange elegy; the narrator (whom I shall, in a
convenient fiction,here and elsewhere take to be the author) is not
merely remembering his late beloved, but is apostrophizing her. Address-
ing her, he tenders a gift: silence. But also important to the lyric is
what Dowson does not give his beloved; he offers her neither a song nor
flowers. The lady is undoubtedly dead. "Who may not ever hear" of line
two is the first indication of this fact, wJhich is reinforced by a series
of details and metaphors. Her inability to "hear or know" his songs is a
second indication of the lady's state. "Serene and cold" leaves little
doubt as to her mortality, and her "trodden, daisied grass" completes
the picture of the grave.
One of the devices used to evoke the aura of death in "Amor Um-
bratilis" is the failure of sensory response: "Mao may not ever hear,"
"no songs .. that you should heed or know." There is a third such
locution: "Your unobservant feet." This is a palpable absurdity, or
so it would appear. Literally, feet never see, and, even in a looser
construction, they are scarcely sensory instruments. Yet this phrase
is repeated and given prominence at the opening and close of a short
lyric. Dowson appears to be too careful a workman to err and then repeat
the error in another context. If, however, "observant" means "celebrat-
ing" (in a religious context) rather than "perceiving," the phrase is in-
tegral to the poem. The dying are usually said to "receive" whatever
spiritual provision is made for them, such as extreme unction, but both
the one departing and the one ministering may be considered as celebrants
of the sacrament. In this sense an observant foot is one that has been
anointed; "unobservant feet" are those that have not. Thus Dowson con-
ceives himself as the priest ministering to the dead, rejecting the role
of the lover serenading and garlanding his lady.
When Pater defines umbratili~s as "unworldly," he refers to renun-
ciation. Dowson's unworldly love has no such ascesis. Moreover, by
juxtaposing sensuality with death, Dowson has written a lyric with
sinister, almost necrophiliac connotations. However, a less imaginative
surmise also seems reasonable. Perhaps Dowson is differentiating two
kinds of love: worldly and unworldly. The first includes "songs to sing"
and "lilies, in full hands, to fling," reminiscent of the flowers and
music of "Cynara." The other love, "Amor Umbratilis," specifically ex-
cludes music, flowers, and whatever is commonly associated with the
World. In these divergent uses of umbratilis, a difference between the
"worlds" of the two authors emerges: the world of Marius is social,
economic, and philosophical--that of "Amor Umbratilis," sensual.
"Extreme Unction" is another of Dowson's poems showing the influ-
ence of Marius. Like "Amor Umbratilis" it is a brief lyric dealing with
death, but, in contrast with that enigmatic little song, it treats the
final sacrament explicitly:
Upon the lips, the eyes, the feet,
On all the passages of sense,
The atoning oil is spread with sweet
Renewial of lost innocence.
The feet that lately ran so fast
To meet desire, are smoothly sealed:
The eyes, that were so often cast
On vanity, are touched and healed.
From troublous sights and sounds set free,
In such a twilight hour of breath,
Shall one retrace his life, or see
Through shadows the true face of Death?
Vials of mercy sacring oilsl
I know not where, nor when I come,
Nor through what wanderings and toils
To crave of you Viaticum.
Yet when the walls of flesh grow weak,
In such an hour, it well may be,
Through mist and darkness light shall break,
And each anointed sense shall seell6
As Katherine Wheatley has pointed out, the imagery is closely derived
from the scene in which the last sacrament is administered to Emma in
Flaubert's Madame Bovary.17i But the death scene of Marius is also a
contributing factor to this poem; parallel phrasing has been cited by
Longaker and others: "Gentle fingers had applied to hands and feet, to
all those old passage-ways of the senses, through which the world had
come and gone for him, now so dim and obstructed, a medicinable oil."1
In "Extreme Unction" oil is applied to all the "passages of sense," in
Marius to all the "passage-ways of the senses." Nevertheless, behind
parallel images are divergent concepts. Pater writes of a "medicinable
oil," a physical and spiritual anodyne. There is no thought of restora;-
tion of sensory function: "The world had come and gone for him." N~ot
for Dowson: "Through mist and darkness light shall break,/ And each
anointed sense shall see'" Implicit in these lines is either a reluc-
tance to forego sensory pleasure or a Christian vision of a divine ema-
nation. If "light" is to be taken literally, then a sensory renascence
is intended; if, however, "light" is only a metaphor for the heavenly
city, then the vision is essentially religious. Each alternative repre-
sents a pole of the Dowson dichotomy: God and the Flesh.
A reader is less likely to find echoes of Pater in Johnson's po-
etry than in Dowson's, not because Johnson read the Fellow of Brasenose
College less diligently, but for the contrary reason, that he knew his
writings better. Metaphor aside, what Dowson found in Pater was the im-
petus to experience expressed in the celebrated "Conclusion" to The
Renaissance, but Johnson, realizing that the author of Marius had intel-
lectually "grown" since reducing the formation of habits to a kind of
failure (in the "Conclusion"),found in him a more austere influence:
"Things hieratic, ascetic, appealed always to him."l hs ain e
actions of Pater's disciples are thoughtfully explored by John Pick, who
says of Johnson: "He attributed a large share in his own conversion to
Roman Catholicism to the Marius of Pater."20 Still, in Johnson's poetry,
too removed from mundane concerns to mirror anyone's ethical system, it
is the imagery rather than the philosophy of Mlarius that: is most obsery-
Johnson published "Glories" in the second anthology. It is a con-
ventional lyric, the poet's tribute to his dead beloved, in this instance
an ethereal Rossettian creation:
Roses from Paestan rosaries'
More goodly red and white was she:
Her red and white were harmonies,
Not matched upon a Paestan tree. (2 BRC, p. 33)
Although Paestum is cited by several Latin poets for the "twice blooming
roses," allusions to the once flourishing Greek city are rare in late Vic-
torian literature, so it is noteworthy that Pater had earlier recalled
Paestum and its roses. It seems more than coincidental that Marius at-
temps to soothe the dying Flavian with "rich-scented flowers--rare Paes-
tum roses, and the like--procured by Marius for his solace."21 The com-
mon attraction of Pater and Johnson to this image seems plausible, for
when these men were writing, Paestum (or Posidonia to the Greeks) had
been deserted for several centuries; the juxtaposition of roses and ruins
could be made to symbolize the death of a sensualist. Still, their idiom
of vision is not the same. Johnson, ascetic at least as to women, shifts
the emphasis from the olfactory to color harmonies.
Pater's metaphors, evidently, even made an impression on Yeats, a
less "aesthetic" poet than either Johnson or Dowson. Yeats's Rhymers'
Club poetry stems mainly from Irish peasant life and Celtic folklore, but
such poems of the same period as "When You Are Old," a free translation
from Ronsard, and "The White Birds," reminiscent of Pater, suggest addi-
tional influences. The latter poem is very much in Yeats's early manner;
it is in three anapestic hexameter quatrains, heavily alliterated, a form
that the mature Yeats would have found objectionably contrived. Each
quatrain is built around the poet's wish that he and his beloved could
escape the temporal world by being changed into sca-dwelling white birds.
The last quatrain suffices to show this urge to be transported:
I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a
WJhere Time would surely forget us, and sorrow
come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily and fret of
the flames would we be,
Were we only wJhite birds, my beloved, buoyed
out on the foam of the sea'22
Yeats prefaced the poem with this explanatory note: "The birds of
fairyland are said to be white as snow. The Danaan Islands are the
islands of the fairies." The note is consistent with the poem, suggest-
ing such analogues as The Hesperian Islands, The Fortunate Islands, and
the Enchanted Islands. The theme of the poem is one recurrent in West-
ern literature: the plea for release from sensuality and temporality.
"Far from the rose and the lily" symbolizes escape from the bonda 4; of
temporal love, whether carnal or chaste. The "fret of the flames" may
refer to the doom of the Last Judgment. Inasmuch as nothing corporeal
could be "buoyed out on the foam of the sea," the "white birds" are not
to be taken literally. The sought-after transmigration is a species of
disembodiment, the reduction of the body to soul.
To the young Marius a white bird is the very symbol of the soul.
In a reflective mood he recalls his mother's words:
A white bird, she told him once, looking at him gravely,
a bird which he must carry in his bosom across a crowded
public place--his own soul was like that. Would it reach
the hands of his good genius on the opposite side, un-
ruffled and unsoiled?23
This white bird, like Yeats's, is destined to live outside the temporal
world. That Yeats derived this striking image from Pater is only inferen-
tial, but the metaphor in Marius would have greatly reinforced any source!
in folklore where Yeats might have discovered the WJhite~ Bird image.
That aspect: of Pater notable in "Amor Umbratilis," "Extreme Unc-
tion," "Glories," and "The White Birds" is the traditional, a reverence
for older civilizations and a deference to what is ordered; however, in
Symons' early poetry there is no evidence of such an influence. In retro-
spect Symons could say of Pater (in the passage cited earlier): "He did
not permit life to come to him without a certain ceremony." But: when
Symons was writing his Rhymers' Club poetry, he was so saturated with
Parisian decadence that it even colored his view of Pater. In an 1893
essay entitled "The Decadent Movement in Literature," Symons unearths
decadent characteristics in Pater. In fact, he singles him out as the
most prominent: writer of decadent English prose:
Mr. Pater's prose is the most beautiful English prose which
is now being written; and, unlike the prose of Goncourt, it
has done no violence to language, it has sought after no
vivid effects, it has found a large part of mastery in reti-
cence, in knowing what: to omit. But how far away from the
classic ideals of style is this style in which words have
their color, their music, their perfume, in which there is
"some strangeness in the proportion" of every beauty' The
Studies in the Renaissance have made of criticism a new art--
have raised criticism almost: to the act of creation. And
Marius the Epicurean, in its study of "sensations and ideas"
(the conjunction was Goncourt's before it was Mr. Pater's),
and the Imaginary P~ortraits, in their evocations of the
Middle Ages, the age of Watteau--have they not that morbid
subtlety of analysis, that morbid curiosity of form, that
we have found in the works of the French Decadents?24
Symons, committed to the sensual aspects of life, finds a Baudelairean
quality in Pater; "Words have their color, their music, their perfume"
is a conjunction that recalls these synesthetic lines from Baudelaire's
11 est des parfums frais cormme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts commre les prairies,--
Et d'autres, corrumpus, riches et triomphal:nts.25
This Baudelairean note that Symons hears in Pater's prose suggests
the second major influence of which the Rhymers were aware--developments
in French poetry during the latter half of the nineteenth century, pri-
marily that complex movement or those movements known variously as
Decadence and Symbolism.
Recognition of contemporary French influence was general among the
Rhymers. Lionel Johnson, writing in 1891, indicated this, while cautious-
ly avoiding overstatement: "The younger poets of France are 'making
verses,' to use that sensible phrase of the last century, in a way not
uninteresting, I think, to some of us English Islanders."2 That date
precedes Yeats's intensive acquaintance with French writers, which began
in 1894, with his progressive intimacy with Arthur Symons. From then
through the century,under Symons' tutelage, Yeats spent increasingly
more time in Paris. He saw and was deeply moved by Axel, read Verlaine
and Mallarme, and in his 1898 essay "The Autumn of the Body" showed his
familiarity with French Symbolist theory, at least as Symons interpreted
it.2 Dowson was adept in French. Throughout the nineties he frequented
Paris, but from mid-decade on he was largely a resident of Brittany who
often visited London and Paris, earning a meager living by translating
contemporary French writers, poets and novelists alike. His Rhymers' Club
selections, accordingly, include a translation from Verlaine beginning
"you would have understood me had you waited." As to Symons it was his
The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899) which broadcast the new trend
in French literature to the general English reader. Like Dowcson, he ex-
tensively translated French poetry.
Paul Verlaine and Stephane M~allarme, most importantly, bequentchd
a poetic and an aesthetic to the Rhymers, concepts which we will defer
treating until the next chapter. Baudelaire was only slightly less in-
fluential, while Rimbaud, Laforgue, and a host of lesser poets, some
contemporary, some earlier, were also factors influencing the poetry of
the Rhymers' Club. However, few ideas about the world are to be derived
from fin de siecle French poetry, a not too surprising disclaimer when
one recalls that "prends 1'eioquence et tdsuioncu"is amu
line of Verlaine's.28 Consider what the effect of such a dictum must
have been when translated, as it was by Yeats, "Take rhetoric and wring
its neck." (italics mine.) What in France was more an argument against
pretentiousness in poetry became a mandate against intellectual involve-
ment in poetry. Yeats recalls this attitude in the nineties:
Poets said to one another over their black coffee--a
recently imported fashion--"We must purify poetry of all
that is not poetry," and by poetry they meant poetry as
it had been written by Catullus, a great name at th~ time,
by the Jacobean writers,by Verlaine, by Baudelaire.
The effect of contemporary French developments on London was thus pri-
marily an anti-intellectual one. A poem could have a theme, but not a
message, unless the message were an edict to escape--to flee the realities
of the World.
The escapist motifs so evident among the Rhymers' Club's efforts
prevailed among Mallarme, Verlaine, and the Parisians as a whole. This
was the legacy of Baudelaire, no escapist himself, but a poet who dis-
carded conventional limitations of subject. His followers, particularly
in England, explored the Baudelairean periphery, while neglecting his
world. This tendency did not necessarily result in a poetry of abstrac-
tions, but it did give birth to a new decorum, which allowed the juxtaposi-
tion of conventionally poetic and unpoetic materials. This rejection of
the boundaries of conventional diction was a corollary to the rejection of
the limitations of the conventional world. Clouds, cities, dream-worlds,
Negroes, exotics, impotence, excess, harlotry, and royalty--no item was
too fanciful or outrageous--w~ere appropriate to poetry for the Decadents
and the Symbolists. Baudelaire could escape materialistic France by writ-
ing of a powerless young king of a tropical land:
Je suis comme le roi d'un pays pluvieux,
Riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant tris-vieux,
Qui, de ses precepteurs m~prisant les courbettes,
S'ennuie avec ses chiens comme avec d'autres bites.30
The World and conventional imagery are thus simultaneously rejected by
Baudelaire. Or escapism can be more explicit as in these lines of Mallarme:
La chair est triste, helasl at j'ai lu tous les livres.
Fuirf la-bas fuirl Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D'8tre parmi 1'ecume inconnue et les cieuxl
Je partirail Steamer balanpant ta mature,
Leve 1'ancre pour une exotique nature'31
Fantasy and distance are but two modes of escape, time, the heaven-
ly world, and sensualism are three others. Verlaine yearns for the
eighteenth century, an age before skepticism had vitiated simple religious
Sagesse d'un Louis Racine, je t'envie'.
O n'avoir pas suivi les lemons de Rollin,
N'etre pas ne dans le grand siecle a son decline,
Quand le soleil couchant, si beau, dorait la vie...
Then Verlaine immediately rebuts himself. He must recede further into
time, even to the middle ages:
Non. Il fut gallican, ce siecle, et janseniste!
C'est vers le moyen ago, eom tdlct
Qu'il faudrait que mon coeur en panne naviguait,
Lois de nos jours d'esprit charnel at de chair triste.3
Baudelairean poetry could be purely sensual:
O toison moutonnant jusque, sur 1'encoluret
O boucles! 03 parfum charge de nonchaloir!
Verlaine, however, was more ambivalent in his concept of love. Sometimes
it was ethereal, occasionally carnal, perhaps both:
Son regard est pareil au regard des statues,
Et, pour sa voix, lointaine, et calme, et grave, elle a
L'inflexion des voix ch'eres qui se sont tues.35
The convergence of religion and sensuality became one of the hallmarks
of the nineties:
Parsifal a vaincu les Filles, leur gentil
Babil et la luxure amusante--et sa pente
Vers la Chair de gargon vierge que cela tente
D'aimer les seins lagers et ce gentil babil.36
Occasionally, Verlaine banished sensuality and wrote vividly Christian
Mon Dieu m'a dit: "Mon fils il faut m'aimer. Tu vois
Mon flanc perce, mon coeur qui rayonne et qui saigne,
Et mes pieds offenses que Madeleine baigne
De larmes, et mes bras douloureux sous le poids
De tes peches, et mes mains. . .3
Earlier it was proposed that we treat the escapism of the Rhymers'
Club's poetry in terms of its affinity toward God, the Flesh, or the
Devil. Antecedents for two poles, God and the Flesh, are evident in
these citations from Baudelaire, Mallarme, and Verlaine. The Devil, in
the metaphorical sense stated above, also figured for nineteenth century
French poets. Geoffrey Brereton suggests that the Devil co-existed for
Baudelaire with God and the World: "Baudelaire was profoundly religious,
believing with perhaps equal conviction in God and the Devil, yet cling-
ing heroically to his own human nature."3 There is astlmoeba
tantly Satanic quality in the work of J. K. Huysmans, who was preeminent-
ly the Symbolist novelist.39 Girard de Nerval preceded Baudelaire in his
concern with the occult, the "black magic" of an earlier age. N~erval, as
Symons perceived, "realized that central secret of the mystics, .. 'As
things are below, so they are above.'"40 In the world of the Rhymers'
French contemporaries are persistent adumbrations of an alternative to
the Christian cosmology, like that eventually formulated by Yeats in Ai
Mallarme/ and Verlaine were still active poets during the years of
the Rhymers' Club, but it would be a mistake to conclude, therefore, that
there were merely parallels between French and English poetry. The cur-
rent of ideas flowed from Paris to London; the influence of English
literature on French was small indeed. Within a five-month interval
Verlaine and Mallarme/ lectured in England, Verlaine at Oxford, London,
and Manchester in November, 1893, and Mallarme at Oxford and Cambridge
in March, 1894. Symons and the painter Will Rothenstein, with the co-
operation of Frederick York Powell, arranged Verlaine's tour, whereas
Mallarmb's visit resulted from a joint invitation by Powell and Charles
Bonnier, both teaching at Oxford.41 These lectures were not epochal in
the lives of the Rhymers, although we know that Dowson as well as Symons
saw Verlaine in London and that both Symons and Yeats visited these
French poets in Paris on more than one subsequent occasion. Instead,
these invitations implied recognition of poetic stature.
Of the major Rhymers only Lionel Johnson seems uninfluenced by
continental developments, although (their impressionism excepted) he was
not unsympathetic to the objectives of the French poets. Perhaps he and
other Rhymers, as well as Symnons and Dowson, whose presence is documented,
heard Verlaine in London:
The French symbolistes, especially Paul Verlaine, had brought
an unmistakable influence to bear upon the younger men of the
group such as Arthur Symons, Richard Le Gallienne, and Ernest
Dowson. To Dowson, Verlaine's Art Poetique had become an elo-
quent expression of the true aim of poetry. In fact, toward
the middle 'nineties, Verlaine's influence on Dowson was
transcendent. When Verlaine came to London to lecture in
November, 1893 at Barnard's Inn in High Holborn, the Rhymers
went in a body.42
From Pater the Rhymers learned a respect for the traditional and
ritualistic (although not for their underlying values), a feeling for
sensuous detail, a studied manner that was conducive to suspension of
judgment, and the primacy of the aesthetic over the intellectual. From
the French the Rhymers derived an aspect of their poetic--the poem as evo-
cation rather than statement--and a series of escapist attitudes which
they incorporated into their work. Given such an anti-intellectual matrix,
the Rhymers were poets whose range of ideas was understandably restricted.
We have seen how these two major forces propelled the Rhymers in several
directions, but always centrifugally, if reality, or the real world, is
the assumed center. The result in some instances is a poetry of pure
negation, whereas in other poems a movement can be traced toward one of
the three vertices of our hypothetical triangle: God, the Flesh, and the
Devil. To verify the positions of the major Rhymers--Yeats, Dowson, John-
son, and Symons--on this triangle, let us consider specimens of their
work from The Book of the Rhym~ers' Club and The Second Book of the
3. The Pursuit of Unreality: The Rhymers and Their Poems
Turning first to Yeats, whose themes are of a complexity unmatched
by those of any other Rhymer, we find a poet who had been deeply immersed
in the occult. For five or six years before joining the Rhymers' Club
Yeats had been active in the Theosophical movement, which, its proponents
claimed, offered a synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy, but
nevertheless, Richard E11mann states, "opposed the contemporary develop-
ments of all three."43 Theosophy purpoirte to transmit intact an oral
tradition of supreme wisdom, at that time sustained only in a remote area
of Tibet. This movement was anti-Christian and anti-materialistic, pro-
posing a cosmology equally distant from Biblical and empirical formula-
tions. The degree of Yeats's commitment on Theosophy is uncertain, but
the movement clearly influenced him, because it enabled him to weld his
research into peasant and fairy lore and some of his still vague aspira-
tions into a coherent whole:
He had been brought into contact with a system based on
opposition to materialism and on support of secret and
ancient wisdom, and was encouraged to believe that he
would be able to bring together all the fairy tales and
folklore he had heard in childhood, the poetry he had
read in adolescence, the dreams he had been dreaming all
his life. The Theosophists gave him support because they
accepted and incorporated into their system ghosts and
fairies, and regarded dreams and symbols as supernatural
manifestations. A definition of the fairies such as Yeats
made October 15, 1892 soon after leaving the Society, "The
fairies are the lesser spiritual moods of the universal
mind, wherein every mood is a soul and every thought a 44
body," was entirely in accord with Theosophical doctrine.
Taken this way, fairies are more than mere figments of a childlike imagina-
tion; they are entities fraught with cosmic significance.
It is the fairies and other occult entities who predominate in the
twelve poems of Yeats included in the Club's anthologies. These dozen
lyrics, one excepted, seem to fall naturally into three related categories.
"A Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland," "Dedication of 'Irish Tales'," "A Fairy
Song," and "The Folk of the Air" treat the "little people" or their world,
although in the first poem "fairyland" is almost a metaphor for nirvana,
a permanent respite from worldly care, rather than the home of the fairies.
A second category, the peasant tale, comprises "Father Gilligan," "The
Fiddler of Dooney," and "The Song of the Old Mother." The third, which
may be called arcana, includes "An Epitaph," "The Rose in My Heart," "A
Mystical Prayer to the Masters of the Elements, Finvarra, Feacra, and
Caolte," and "The Cap and Bells." Only the celebrated "The Lake Isle of
Innisfree" stands apart; the isle is a pastoral refuge.
As the Parisian poets discovered several avenues from the World, so
did Yeats. However, Yeats felt an essential unity in his subject matter.
Each of his areas of interest utilized material transmitted through the
oral tradition, as was also true of Theosophy, and each fitted a larger
system, a cosmology which could eventually be known, such as Theosophy
promised to its elect. For Yeats the apparent abandonment of the World
was, as Theosophy suggested, not a rejection of it, but a mode of recon-
ciliation to it. The fairies, peasant tales, and the mysterious powers
were all somehow related to Yeats, the 1890's, and Ireland.
An instance of this relationship occurs in the "Dedication of
'Irish Tales'." In the first two quatrains Yeats tells of a "green branch"
of ancient Ireland, which brought "calm of faery" to merchants, farmers,
warriors, everyone. And now, thinking of Irish poverty, oppression, dis-
content, and emigration, the poet offers a metaphorical "green branch" of
solace, the Irish Tales:
Ah, Exiles wandering over many seas,
Spinning at all times Eri's good to-morrow,
Ah, world-wide Nation, always growing Sorrow,
I also bear a bell branch full of ease. (BRC, p. 54)
While the cruelty of the world is rejected, the World, ultimately, is not.
Yeats evokes fairy magic not as a substitute for the World, but as a cor-
rective to it. The bard is the physician with something medicinal for
anguished Ireland. Through these fantasies one escapes from contemporary
Ireland to the time when the fairies populated the country, but only to
return. The peace of the past is recaptured for the present through a
new "green branch."
Each of the other fairy poems involves the intervention of these
mythical creatures in human affairs, yet the realms of fairy and humanity
are discrete. The mountain fairies of "A Fairy Song" regard the "outlaw
Michael Dwyer and his bride" as "children new from the world." In the
"Dedication to 'Irish Tales,"' the poet serves as an intermediary between
the magical and real worlds in bringing "calm of faery," but in "A Fairy
Song" the newlyweds elope to a paradise that is a refuge from the real
world. No rapprochement between the fairy and real worlds is put forth:
Give to the children new from the world
Rest far from men.
Is anything better, anything better
Tell it us then. (ERC, p. 71)
The same juxtaposition of folk lore and fairy tale occurs in "The Folk of
the Air." O'Driscol1 loses his Bridget to the malevolent "folk of the
air" after a pagan quasi-communion in a poem with Gothic overtones:
The dancers crowded about him
And many a sweet thing said,
And a young man brought him red wine
And a young girl white bread.
The bread and the wine had a doom,
For these were the folk of the air;
He sat and played in a dream
Of her long hair.(2 BRC, p. 38)
Yeats is overtly working in diabolism in this poem. Here are E11mann's
"supernatural manifestations" occurring for Yeats amidst the perversion
of a Christian sacrament.
The poems purely in the peasant tradition are less remarkably
indicative of Yeats's idiom of vision. "Father Gilligan" restates the
truism, more Catholic than Protestant, that God asks only a willing heart;
still, the poem relates what must be taken as a supernatural occurrence.
"The Fiddler of Dooney" and "The Song of the Old Mother" are innocently
rural; the first asserts that happiness and spontaneity constitute a form
of piety, whereas the second is the lamentation of the older generation
for the follies of its successor. But as evidence of Yeats's reverence
for the oral tradition, his feeling that there is a wisdom accessible
through formulations other than revealed and recorded truth, these poems
The other poems Yeats contributed to the anthologies have meanings
more or less arcane. "An Epitaph" is a nebulous stanza whose motivation
is elusive. Traditional elegaic symbols, the cypress and the yewi, are
associated with the death of a beautiful, but unknown, maiden. There is
a comparable obscurity in "The Cap and Bells," although this poem, despite
its but slightly later date of composition, shows a far greater mastery
of the lyric than "An Epitaph" does. This diminutive narrative of a
jester's unrequited love for a queen is an engaging tale, told concretely
in a powerful symbolism. The work deals with events well removed from
A queen was beloved by a jester,
And once when the owls grew still
He made his soul go upward
And stand on her window sill.
In a long and straight blue garment,
It talked before morn was white,
And it had grown wise by thinking
Of a footfall hushed and light.
He bade his heart go to her,
When the bats cried out no more,
In a red and quivering garment
It sang to her through the door,
The tongue of it sweet with dreaming
Of a flutter of flower-like hair
But she took off her fan from the table
And waved it off on the air. (2 BRC, pp. 108-109)
Yeats claimed this poem to be almost a transcription of a dream, "more
a vision than a dream, for it was beautiful and coherent and gave ..
the sense of illumination and exaltation that one gets from visions."
Like most dreams, however, its relationship to reality proved kaleido-
scopic, but always significant. "The poem has always meant a good deal
to me, though, as is the way with symbolic poems, it has not meant quite
the same thing."45 Finally, "A Mystical Prayer .." and "The Rose in
My Heart" deal explicitly with Yeats's major symbol of his Rhymers' Club
period, the rose. The symbol proved persistent, Yeats publishing a group
of short stories in 1897 entitled The Secret Rose. Two years later, wJhen
he issued The Wind Amone the Reeds, the symbol of the rose was still of
cardinal importance. It is in this 1899 volume of poetry that "A
Mystical Prayer . ." (greatly reworked and retitled in the Christian
tradition "A Mystical Prayer to the Masters of the Elements, Michael,
Gabriel, and Raphael") and "The Rose in My Heart" (with slightly altered
title) are first collected. Yeats appended an extended note, here ex-
cerpted, to "A Mystical Prayer . ." in The Wdind Among the Reeds on the
symbolism of the rose:
The Rose has been for many centuries a symbol of spiritual
love and supreme beauty. .. Because the Rose, the
flower sacred to the Virgin Mary, and the flower that
Apuleius' adventurer ate, when he was changed out of the
ass's shape and received into the fellowship of Isis is
the western Flower of Life, I have imagined it growing
upon the Tree of Life. .. I do not know any evidence
to prove whether this symbol came to Ireland with medieval 4
Christianity, or whether it has come down from Celtic times.
E11mann sees the significance of Yeats's rose primarily in terms of the
poet's interest in the Theosophical movement: "Each member was encouraged
to meditate upon the central symbol of the rose, the exact meaning of which
was hard to determine, though it signified mainly the flower of love that
blossoms from the cross of sacrifice. .. rYeats] made it a symbol of
beauty, of transcendental love, of mystic rapture, of the inner reality,
At this juncture we can find a coherence even in this complex of
Yeatsian themes. Folklore, fairy tales, supernatural events, Theosophy,
and inexplicable symbols are not merely negations of London and Dublin in
the nineties, but are ingredients in a new formulation, one comprehensive
enough to replace Yeats's father's skepticism and his father's father's
faith; yet in its occult, non-Christian, and even occasionally anti-
Christian bias, at least metaphorically, a diabolical system.
Dowson, too, was no spokesman for his time and place, but he lacked
Yeats's vitality, and might best be thought of as 1'homme epuise. There
is a note of exhaustion that prevails in Dowson's poetry, a note heard
also in Johnson's. Dowson wJrites poems of regret for unrealized poten-
tialities, for that which could never be. Failure being inevitable, only
withdrawal from reality can bring consolation. The Carmelite nuns who
are the subject of a Dowson lyric are "calm, sad, secure." They are safe,
while "outside, the world is wild and passionate." This contrast between
a tempestuous outer world and the tranquility of the cloister culminates
in the final stanza:
Calm, sad, serene; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is best?
Yeal for our roses fade, the world is wild;
But there, beside the altar, there, is rest. (BRC, p. 11)
The convent, at least, is a solution, whereas an alternative escape from
a wild world, commercialized love, is less successful. Although the nun-
nery can obliterate the roses, the roses cannot repress the lilies with
all their conventional connotations. In "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub
regno Cynarae" is heard the frenetic melody that is the motif of the
po'ete maudit of the 'nineties--a song of hedonism and world-weariness
which labels the escape route a cul de sac:
I have forgot much, Cynaral gone with the wind;
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng;
Dancing to put thy pale lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yeal all the time because the dance was long
I have been faithful to thee, Cynaral in my fashion. (2BRC, p. 60)
The two preceding poems show the tension in Dowson's writing between God
and the Flesh as two modes of egress from an intolerable world. "Extreme
Unction," of course, shows the way of God. Perhaps "To One in B~edlam"
does, also, with its traditional assumption that a demented man is God's
Know they what dreams divine
Lift his long Inughin; reveries like enchanted wine,
And make his melancholy germane to the stars'.? (2BRC, p. 35)
Insanity is as much a mode of enlisting under divine protection as join-
ing a convent, while any retreat into the world of God is for Dowson a
successful flight from the materialism of the World.
But it is the unsuccessful escape that dominates Dowson's poetry--
a flight, or at least attempted flight, by means of love. Innocent love,
symbolized by the lily, never survives in Dowson's poetry. Death, matur-
ity, destiny, misunderstanding, carnality--something always intervenes.
Womanhood is the obstacle in "Growth" and "Ad Domnulam Suam," death in
"Vanitas," "Amor Umbratilis," and "O Mors' Quam amara est memorial tua
homini in substantiis suisl" and death and misunderstanding in the poem
whose first line is "You would have understood me had you waited." Car-
nal love hovers over its innocent counterpart, destroying or waiting to
destroy it, unless death instead is the disrupter. Silence and mad-
ness, God and the Flesh, are the lodestones of Dowson's poetry, none of
it celebrating the topical world at the close of the nineteenth century.
The dozen poems Johnson contributed to the books of the Rhymers'
Club are, like Dowson's, the product of a man who is fatigued, but while
Dowson impresses the reader as the reluctant victim of society, Johnson
often sounds like a man deliberately renouncing the world. Although John-
son wrote some topical poetry, generally inferior to his work in the
Club's anthologies, his best verse is distanced by time, space, or ab-
straction.48 The speaker in Johnson's lyrics is frequently a man who
yearns for death as an escape from an exhausting world. Death is equated
with peace; it is a sanctuary from a disordered and enervating existence.
For Johnson death is both anodyne and reward. In "The Last Music"
the poet writes of "kindly death." "Peace is upon" his lady, "his dead
queen," since "the balm of gracious death now laps her round." His part-
ing injunction to her is "Rest' worthy found, to die." (italics his.)
This death wish emerges more subtly in a poem entitled "In Falmouth Har-
bour," which contains a sequence of metaphor of the harbor, the bar, and
the open sea, made famous by Tennyson's later "Crossing the Bar" (a co-
incidence noted as early as 1902) :4
Well was it worth to have each hour
Of high and perilous blowing wind:
For here, for now, deep peace hath power
To conquer the worn mind.
I have passed over the rough sea,
As over the white harbour bar:
And this Death's dreamland is to me,
Led hither by a star. (BRC, p. 64)
Elsewhere, death is a consummation furnishing the ultimate that is unat-
tainable in life:
No Alban wJhiteness does she wear,
But death's perfection of that hue. (j~, i p. 33)
So death is more than a physical abnegation or a shedding of the corporeal
husk; rather, it is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, where all is tran-
quil, ordered, and just.
Johnson's preferred correlative for heavenly peace, order, and
justice is the conventional one of the stars. Whatever is awry on earth
will be rectified in heaven. On this we can rely, for the patterning of
the stars is sufficient security that the divine will prevails in heaven.
To Johnson an instance of the apparent earthly frustration of divine jus-
tice was the execution of Charles I. In fact, both Dowson and Johnson
were members of The W~hite Rose League, an organization dedicated to sus-
taining the Stuart tradition. In "By the Statue of King Charles at Char-
ing Cross" Johnson laments the fate of his hero-king, but he consoles
himself by concluding that "The stars and heavenly deeps/ Work out their
perfect will" (BRC, p. 6). Again, the stars symbolize the resolution of
the divine will in "A Burden of Easter Vigil"; in addition, the rising
of the stars is a warrant for the second coming of Christ:
But if He rise not? Over the far main,
The sun of glory falls indeed: the stars are plain. (BRC, p. 33)
The stars are an omen of benevolence, evidence for Browning's famous
description of Providence: "God's in his heaven--/ All's right with the
world'" Or, at least, the thought is suggested toward the end of "In
Falmouth Harbour" that such is the case while the stars are out and the
cares of a workaday world do not obtain:
Content thee' Not the annulling light
Of any pitiless dawn is here;
Thou art alone with ancient night:
And all the stars are clear. (KRC, p. 64)
The clarity of the stars is apparently symptomatic of divine mercy. In
every way the stars are the material evidence for an ideal world. Thus,
it is in the starry heights that Platonic idealism may be found in "Plato
in London" :
That starry music, starry fire,
High above all our noise and glare:
The image of our long desire,
The beauty, and th~e strength are there.
And Plato's thought lives, true andi clear,
In as august a sphere:
Perchance, far higher. (BRZC, p. 91)
In Johnson's poetry death is the entree to the ideal world, and the stars
the manifestation of that world. Rather than bearing witness to a mechan-
istic order, the stars are conducive to belief.5 Therefore, the stars
have a human as well as a cosmic significance: "There is the beauty of
night and stars, as our poor eyes can see them, and our poor poetical
imaginations dream of them: but Astronomy is tragic. ..5
Although the heavenly kingdom or ideal world informed most of John-
son's lyrics, he often showed misgivings about his attaining it. This
sense of doubt-as to his election characterizes "M~Jystic and Cavalier" and
"The Dark Angel." But, on occasion, Johnson could abandon the theme of
destiny and concentrate on this planet. Besides topical poetry mentioned
earlier he wrote on Celtic subjects. "'Morfydd" and "Celtic Speech" show
his lyric power in dealing with Welsh strains, romantic and remote in
time. However, Johnson's typical orientation in his Rhymers' Club poetry
is toward the Kingdom of God. He, too, was not in bondage to the World.
The eight poems that Arthur Symons contributed to the Club's books
provide an ample basis for the charge of eroticism commonly lodged against
him during the early nineties. Nevertheless, there is little reason to
regard Symons as a pornographic author; first, there is nothing titillat-
ing or provocative in his work, and second, whatever license may be found
in his poems is more a reaction to his milieu than an assertion of his
views on love. As Lhombreaud has suggested in Symons' behalf: "The
eroticism of his poems must not be quoted out of the context of the epoch.
The long Victorian restraint gave place suddenly to a reaction which found
its expression in licentious images of the works of new writers."5 TheC
purpose, Lhombreaud adds, was "to bewilder the public, but Symons did not
write long in that vein." That Symons recognized and overcame this ten-
dency epater le bourgeois is clear from an observation he made in the
1899 Introduction to The Symbolist Mlovement in Literature: "'Nothing, not
even conventional virtue, is so provincial as conventional vice; and the
desire to 'bewilder the middle classes' is itself middle-class."5 The
Rhymers' Club poetry of Symons is erotic, but this characteristic is a
more telling comment on Symons' London than on the poet himself.
Eroticism--the apotheosizing of the flesh--was but the mode of es-
cape which marked this period of Symons' life. Bernard Muddiman, for one,
has recognized escapism to be an ubiquitous aspect of the poet's writing:
"Mr. Symons' favourite word is 'escape'; his favourite phrase 'escape
from life.' Now the one and now the other reappears continually in all
kinds of connections."'54 And it is as an essay in escapism rather than
as erogenous activity that Symons' poetry of the 'nineties should be
Symons believed the consciousness of total reality to be unbear-
able: "To live through a single day with the overpowering consciousness
of our real position, which, in the moments in wJhich alone it mercifully
comes, is like blinding light or the thrust of a flaming sword, would
drive any man out of his senses."55 He was convinced that man must be
diverted if he is to endure, and that man could achieve happiness only by
dulling his consciousness of his contingency:
Allowing ourselves, for the most part to be but vaguely conscious
of that great suspense in which we live, we find our escape
from its sterile annihilating reality in many dreams, in re-
ligion, passion, art; each a forgetfulness, ech,~; a symibol of
creation; religion being the creation of a newJ heaven, pas-
sion the creation of a new earth, and art, in its mingling
of heaven and earth, the creation of heaven out of earth.
Each is a kind of sublime selfishness, the saint, the lover,
and the artist having each an incommlrunicable ecstasy which
he esteems as his ultimate attainment .. But it is, be-
fore all things, an escape; and the prophets who have re-
deemed the world, and the artists wh~o have made the world
beautiful, and the lovers wJho have quickened the pulse of
the world, have really, whether they knew it or not, been
fleeing from the certainty of one thought: that we have,
all of us, only our one day; and from the dread of that
other thought: that the day, however used, must after all
But the escape is futile; it does no good. Symons, like Pater before him,
recognizes that the brief interval called life can be ameliorated by ex-
perience; only to Pater it is a matter of crowding "as many pulsations
as possible into the given time," that consciousness might be "quickened,
multiplied," whereas for Symons "complete happiness lies in the measure of
our success in shutting the eyes of the mind, and deadening its sense of
hearing, and dulling the keenness of its apprehension of the unknown."
The point is that Pater turned to art to enrich life, Symons to avoid
Symons considers each role--saint, artist, and lover--in his po-
etry, but it is chiefly the last which figures in the works under survey.
In "The Broken Tryst" the anticipation of the lovers' meeting colors the
poet's life, but when the rendezvous fails, disappointment leaves him
woodenly accepting the continuity of the world. Other lyrics, such as
"Song" and "A Variation upon Love," have a Cavalier insouciance and
directness about them. Rather than the poet's being a "Herrick of the
music halls," he is Herrick himself, or, at least, his echo, with an in-
terrogative syntax reminiscent of Blake:
What are lips, but to be kissed?
What are eyes, but to be praised?
What the fineness of a wrist?
WJhat the slimness of a waist?
What the softness of her hair,
If not that Love be tangled there? (2 BRC, p. 77)
Sometimes, when the narcotic of love fails, that of art works. This is
the case in "Love and Art":
I enter and forget them, for to-night
I have my verse to write,
That love-song, I have yet to pare and trim.
So, should it be? or--Godf the light
In that revealing casement-square grows dim:
He kisses her, and I but write of himl (2_gg, p. 46)
These lines are by the same poet who translated St. John of the Cross and
Santa Teresa in the very decade of the Rhymers' Club:
Let mine eyes see thee,
Sweet Jesus of Nazareth
Let mine eyes see thee> 57
And then see death. ("From Santa Teresa")
But love and love objects are what dominate Symons' contributions to the
Club's anthologies. Six of the eight poems celebrate sensuous pleasure;
it is chiefly through passion that Symons proposes to "escape from...
sterile .. annihilating reality."
Among the major figures, Yeats, Dowson, Johnson, and Symons, po-
etry was a way of dismissing the World. For Yeats and less so for John-
son, a new and ideal world was occasionally discovered at a pole from
materialistic London society. Yeats, concerned with the supernatural
and the oral tradition, tended toward a non-Christian cosmology--the meta-
phorical Devil. Symons, in search of an anodyne to the pain of the World
with its certainty of death, wcas bondman to the Flesh. Mistrusting life,
Johnson sought God in the stars and death. Torn between carnal and re-
ligious impulses, Dowson vacillated between the Flosh and God. So much
for the key figures, but even the lesser Rhymers were imbued with the
Echoes of the larger talents were heard in the rhymes of Rhys,
Rolleston, Le Gallienne, Plarr, and Todhunter. Rhys shares Yeats's pro-
pensity for choosing themes disengaged from the contemporary scene; while
Yeats retold ancient Gaelic tales, Rhys narrated old Welsh legends in
"The Wedding of Pale Bronwen" and "Howel the Tall." The preoccupation
with death so explicit in Johnson's poetry is recalled by Le Gallienne's
subtitling his "What of the Darkness" with the apostrophe"(To the Happy
Dead People)," and Rolleston's extolling the liberation from desire in
"Night (After All)":
For others, Lord, Thy purging fires,
The loves reknit, the crown, the palm.
For me, the death of all desires
In deep, eternal calm. (2 BR, p. 97)
To place Rolleston's plea for abnegation in context one must know that he
is discussing the time when he must die. Rather than praying for death,
he is only opting for a total release from earthly aspirations when death
is inevitable. But the true death wish is apparent in some Keatsian stan-
zas of Todhunter's, that he goes so far as to subtitle "(Fin de si'ecle)--":
Yes, this rich death were best:
Lay poison on thy lips, kiss me to sleep,
Or on the siren billow of thy breast
Bring some voluptuous Lethe for life's pain,
Some langorous nepenthe that will creep
Drowsily from vein to vein;
That slowly, drowsily, will steep
Sense after sense, till downm long gulfs of rest
Whirled like a leaf, I sink to the lone deep. 2RC
The soliloquy closes with a plea that "death .. case with poppies of
oblivion,/ This heart, the scorpion Life no more may sting." Todhunter
assumes the role of a sufferer far more than "half in love with easeful
death"; perhaps this cultivation of death visible in Johnson's, Dowson's,
and Todhunter's poetry, cardinal to Axel as the Symnbolist drama, and even
a factor in the lives of the men of the nineties--Yeats's "tragic gene-
ration"--shows how far down the road of romantic melancholy the century
The note of ennui is a recurrent one in the books of the Rhymers'
Club. Todhunter sounds it again in "Beatrice's Song," in the course of
which he catalogues Rappaccini's garden. Plarr plays it in "At Citoyenne
Tussaud's," reserving his especial approbation for
these Carriers and Heberts,
They only look so proud and serene:
They only look so infinitely tired'. (KRC, p. 45)
Still, the reader should not assume that ennui or any other escapist
characteristic pervades all the poetry of the Club.
Some of the poetry, in fact, is topical; still other verses in the
Club's anthologies are occasional. Radford wrote a "Song of the Labour
Movement" and in another poem condemned "London's damned money mart." Le
Gallienne composed a "Ballad of London" and Planr a description of "Deer
in Greenwich Park." The death of Tennyson, a proposal to build a high-
way over Keats's grave, and the 1891 publication in England of the Persian
poet Hafiz all occasioned poems. Nevertheless, the exotic, the remote, the
sensuous, and the internal were more popular subjects with these lyricists
than was contemporary external reality.
4. Science, the Enemy: Conclusion
One last attitude common to the Rhymers seems worth introducing at
this juncture. The artist, given an anschauung where the World does "not
exist for him," must necessarily fear and detest science. To the poets
of the Rhymers' Club the physical and biological sciences rivaled re-
ligion in attempting to order external reality. After all, higher criti-
cism, Darwinism, and contemporary geology jeopardized the most liberal
interpretations of revealed truth, not to mention the literal reading of
the Bible. Science was dessicated and heartless; it threatened to strip
the veil of mystery the lyricist elaborated around a painful world. Sci-
ence was the nucleus of the Victorian concept of progress, the acceptance
of the ever-improving world. Conversely, the negativism of the Rhymers
entailed an anti-scientific bias.
This antipathy to science wJas so central that it was seldom made
explicit in the members' poetry; therefore, its prominent display in the
first poem of their first anthology seems deliberately provocative. In
Rhys's "The Toast," in which he salutes "Queen Rhyme," the challenge to
scientific domination is bluntly, in fact, belligerently, offered:
As they, we drink defiance
To-night to all but Rhyme,
And most of all to Science,
And all such skins of lions
That hide the ass of time. QgRC, p. 1)
The "they" of Rhys's stanza refers to Jonson and Herrick, some pr-edeces-
sors of the Rhymers on Fleet Street, but these nineteenth century "sons"
held life to be grimmer than did their lyrical forefathers.
This detestation of science, admittedly not based on close knowl-
edge, characterized the intellectual matrix of the major Rhymers. Lionel
Johnson, for one, has been described by his friend Louise Imogen Guiney
as "non-scientific, anti-mathematical .. a recruit .. for trans-
cendentalism and the White Rose.n58 Johnson makes his ow~n attitude clear,
an attitude which opposes religion to science, in his projection of his
personal view as typifying the English character: "It is this recognition
of a mystery in the world, however vaguely and variably felt, which for-
bids one to believe that Englishmen will ever accept purely 'scientific
and secular' principles of individual or of social life."59 As to Dowson,
we have already encountered Plarr's statement that the younger poet knew
nothing of modern science.60 Ini another context Planr relates Dowson's
having "scented modern science" in a Yeatsian theory of the origin and
development of poetry and, consequently, "having voted down poetry debates
in the future."6 Nevertheless, one should not assume from this inci-
dent that Yeats wias a disciple of science, quite the contrary was true.
After an adolescent phase in which Yeats aped his father and quoted Huxley
and Darwin, the poet came under the influence of occultism and developed
a life-10ng anti-scientific prejudice. Yeats the Theosophist was equally
skeptical of science and religion:
.. It is great question whether the soul be immortal or
not. Has not theology solved that--no'. .. Has not sci-
ence solved it. Science will tell you the soul of man is
a volatile gas capable of solution in glycerine. Take this
for your answer if you will.62
In Richard E11mann's words, "He is thoroughly convinced that science has
failed and is hopeful that another way of discovering truth exists."6
For the older Yeats (1929) science is no more fruitful: "Science is the
criticism of myths, there would be no Darwin had there been no book of
Genesis, no electrons but for the Greek atomic myth. u4For this
poet, young or old, science had no answers.
Opposition to science is manifest in Johnson, Dowson, and Yeats,
but Symons seems curiously ambivalent. A hasty reading of the following
could suffice to distort Symons into an apostle of science, whose only
regret is that we misconstrue the nature of scientific inquiry:
True science is a kind of poetry, it is a divination, an
imaginative reading of the universe. What w~e call science
is an engine of material progress, it teaches us how to
get most quickly to the other end of the world, and how to
kill the people there in the most precise and economic
manner. The function of this kind of science is to ex-
tinguish wonder, whereas the true science deepens our sense
of wonder as it enlightens every new tract of the envelop-
Although one might sympathize with Symons' objectives, it is difficult
to accept his strictures. Symons defines "science" prescriptively; his
ideal study is one which is consecrated a priori to a theory of the mar-
velous, and which requires ethereal rather than pedestrian solutions.
Attitudinally, he differs little from the Yeats who accuses science of
reducing man's soul to "a volatile gas capable of solution in glycerine."
On this negative note we leave the Rhymers' intellectual milieu.
To God, the Flesh, or the Devil--assent; to the World, hardly. If the
Rhymers would neither accept nor reform the World, but preferred to eschew
what they called rhetoric entirely, what did they hope to achieve through
their poetry? The answer is the basis of their aesthetic--to create a
"purer music." It is this music and its reverberations that form the sub-
ject of the next chapter.
NOTES: CHAPTER II
1. Planr, p. 55.
2. That these are the principal figures in the Club is borne out
by their names being prominent in any discussion of the organization. A
few citations should demonstrate the pre-eminence of Yeats, Dowson, John-
son, and Symons among the Rhymers:
(1) "Yeats, Johnson, Dowson, Symons and the obscurer writers
who formed the Rhymers' Club wcere trying to found a new school, with an
austerer devotion to their own discipline than any Wilde could understand."
(Hough, p. 204.)
(2) "Unlike its French prototypes, though, its members--who
included Yeats, Dowson, Arthur Symons, Planr, Rhys, and Le Gallienne--
followed no acknowledged leader and were only vaguely agreed as to aims."
(Johnson, p. xxy.) Note that the source is a critical introduction to the
poetry of Johnson, his name is so central that it need not be explicitly
(3) "The poets of the Rhymers' Club, .. Ernest Dowson,
Lionel Johnson, W. B. Yeats, Arthur Symons, Theodore Wratislaw and others,
deliberately cut themselves off from the common life of late Victorian
England." (Vivian de sola Pinto, Crisis in English Poetry: 1880-1940
[London: Arrow Books, 1963], p. 22). Excepting Pinto's gratuitous addi-
tion of Wratislaw to the roster, I find his statement correct.
(4) "Pure poetry and the cult of Pater were also the ideals
of the Rhymers' Club, founded in 1891 by William Butler Yeats, Ernest
Rhys, and T. W. Rolleston. Of the ten or twelve members Arthur Symons,
Ernest Dowson, and Lionel Johnson, besides the founders, were the chief.
...They considered Dowson the best poet, Johnson, the second, and
Yeats, the third." [William York Tindall, Forces in Modern British
Literature: 1885-1956 (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), p. 9].
(5) "[Ernest Dowson] attended sessions of the Rhymers' Club
at the Cheshire Cheese and associated with Yeats, Symons, and Lionel John-
son." (Martin S. Day, History of English Literature: 1837 to the Present
[Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964], p. 85).
(6) In the standard work A Literary History of England, ed.
Albert C. Baugh (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1948), Samuel
C. Chew, the author of the nineteenth century section, discusses six mem-
bers of the Rhymers' Club: Yeats, Dowson, Johnson, Symons, Le Gallienne,
(7) "The Rhymers' Club, which was founded in 1891 and met for
several years at the Cheshire Cheese in London, included among its members
W. B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, John Davidson, Ernest Rhys,
Richard Le Gallienne, and Arthur Symons." (Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The
Victorian Temper: a Study in Literary Criticism [New York: Random House],
1964, p. 270.)
(8) Evidence for the comparative value of the members' poems
is afforded by the tastes of later anthologists. WJhen Yeats himself was
asked to edit and choose for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1936), he included poems of seven Clubmen. The
poets selected and the number of their works chosen are as follows:
Yeats (14), Dowson (9), Johnson (6), and Symons (3); Rhys (2), Ellis (1),
and Rolleston (1).
(9) In an anthology compiled primarily as a textbook, Poetry
of the Victorian Period, ed. George Benjamin Woods and Jerome Hamilton
Buckley (rev. ed., Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1955), only
poems by Yeats, Dowson, Johnson, and Symons, among the Rhymers, are in-
3. "Publick Baptism .. ," Church of England, Book of Common
Prayer. The Praver Book Interleaved with Historical Illustrations and
Explanatory Notes Arranged Parallel to the Text, ed. W. M. Campion and
W. J. Beaumont (London: Rivingtons, 1871), p. 193.
4. Some Winchester Letters of Lionel Johnson, ed. Francis, Earl
Russell (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1919), p. 76.
5. Oxford, p. viii.
6. Autobiography, p. 202
7. Respectively, "Oh Death' How Bitter Is the Memory of You to
a Man Who Is at Peace with His Possessions," "To His Little Lady," "Un-
worldly Love," and "I Am Not as I Was during the Reign of the Good
8. Yeats's occultism and Johnson's theological scholarship are
well known, but Symons' interest in Christian mysticism should be borne
in mind as well as that young poet's rejection of his father's Methodism.
9. Autobiography, p. 201. Yeats begins this statement with a
dependent clause: "If Rossetti wJas a subconscious influence, and perhaps
the most powerful of all, . ." There is nothing hypothetical in this
"if"; however, Rossetti's influence was always more felt than traceable.
Rossetti was the apostle of beauty, but he fulfilled his ministry through
his life and the spirit and manner of his works more than through critical
10. "Walter Pater," Studies in Prose and es (London: J. M.
Dent, 1904), p. 65.
11. "Walter Pater,'.' p. 76.
12. "The Work of Mr. Pater," Fortninhtly Review, New Series LVI
(September 1894), 367.
13. "Walter Pater: 'Marius the Epicurean'--Third Edition, Re-
vised," Retrospective Reviews, I (London: John Lane, 1896), 175.
14 Walter Pater, Mlarius the Epicurean (London, 1885). All
references are to the Everymn:~ Edition (Lonon: J. MI. Dent &r Sons Ltd.,
1934); p. 15.
15. The Book of the Rhymers' Club, p. 41; hereinafter BRC.
16. The Second Book of the Rhymers' Club, pp. 6-7; hereinafter
2 BRC. Documentation in ~BRC and 2 BRC will hereafter be given parentheti-
cally in the main body of the text, because of the frequency, brevity, and
importance of these references. When a comment is necessary, documenta-
tion will be given through a note.
17. "Ernest Dowison's Extreme Unction," M~LN XXCXVIII (May 1923), 315.
The passage from Madame Bovary is in Part III, Chapter 8.
18. See Longaker, Ernest Dowson, pp. 71-72. The reference in
Marius is to the penultimate sentence of the novel, p. 267.
19. "The Work of Mr. Pater," p. 358.
20. "Divergent Disciples of Walter Pater," Thought, XXIII (March
21. Pater, Marius, p. 64.
22. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, ed. Peter
A11t and Russell K. Alspach (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957), p.
122. Since this is definitely the most exhaustive and perhaps the most
accessible edition of Yeats's poetry, all citation to poems outside of
BRC and 2 BRC will be to this edition.
23. Pater, Marius, p. 14.
24 "The Decadent Movement in Literature," Harper's New Monthly
Magazine, LXXXVII (November 1893), 866-867.
25. Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal et posies diverse, ed.
Georges Roth (Paris: Bibliotheque Larousse, 1927), p. 33. Anthony Hart-
ley has translated these lines as follows: "There are some scents cool
as the flesh of children, sweet as oboes and green as meadows,--and
others corrupt, rich and triumphant." (The Penguin Book of French Verse;
3: The Nineteenth Century [Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.,
1958], p. 155.)
26. Quoted in Lhombreaud, p. 87.
27. Yeats, Essays and Introductions, pp. 189-194. He observes
that the poets of his generation "speakc out: of some personal or spiritual
passion in words or types or metaphors that draw one's imagination as far
as possible from the complexities of modern life or thought."(p11.
Yeats believes this newJ mode of speaking to be largely attributable to
French influence, citing Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, Maeterlinck, and Mal-
larme as exponents of the new mode of symbolic presentation.
28. Paul Verlaine, OEuvres poe'tiques completes, ed. Y. G. Le
Dantec, rev. Jacques Borel (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1962), p. 327.
29. Oxford, p. ix.
30. Baudelaire, p. 88. "I am like the king of a rainy country,
rich but impotent, young and yet aged, who, scorning his tutor's obeisances,
passes his time in boredom with his dogs as with other beasts." (Hartley,
31. Stephane Mallarme/, O",uvres completes, ed. Henri Mondor et G.
Jean-Aubry (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1945), p. 38. "The flesh is sad,
alas'. I feel that birds are drunk to be among unknown foam and the skies
...I shall depart Steamer with swaying masts, raise anchor for
exotic landscapes'." (Hartley, p. 188.)
32. Verlaine, p. 249. "Hisdom of a Louis Racine, I envy you'.
O not to have followed Rollin's lectures, not to have been born in the
decline of the great century, wJhen the setting sun gilded life so beauti-
fully. (Hartley, p. 222). There is apparently some confusion in
this sonnet. Subsequent lines refer to Maintenon's orphanage at St. Cyr,
for whose children Jean Racine, not Louis, wrote Esther and Athalie;
These are seventeenth century events. But Louis Racine and Rollin were
men of the eighteenth century, who were not flourishing when "le soleil
couchant," i.e. during the waning years of the reign of Louis XIV.
33. Verlaine, p. 249. "No. That century was Callican and Jan-
senistl It is toward the vast, delicate Middle Ages that my becalmed
heart must steer, far from our days of carnal spirit and melancholy
flesh." (Hartley, p. 223.) The reference to the Gallican and Jansenist
controversies confirms the confusion of centuries mentioned in the pre-
34. Baudelaire, p. 46. "O fleece curling right down on the neck'.
O ringlets'. O perfume laden with indifference'. Ecstasyl (Hartley, p.
35. Verlaine, p. 63. "Her gaze is like the gaze of statues, and
her voice, distant and calm, and grave, has the inflection of the dear
voices that have become silent." The translation. is by Elaine Miarks,
French Poetry from Baudelaire to the Present (NLewJ York: Doll Publishing;
Company, 1962), p. 115.
36. Verlaine, p. 427. "Parsifal has conquered the Cirls, their
pleasant chatter and amusing lust--and his virgin boy's Inclination to-
ward the Flesh which tempts one to love light breasts and pleasant chat-
37. Verlaine, p. 268. "My God said to me: 'My son, you must
love me. You see my pierced side, my heart that shines and bleeds, and
my injured feet which Magdalene bathes with tears, and my arms suffering
under the weight of your sins, and my hands!'"' (Mlarks, pp. 120-121.)
38. A Short History of French Literature (Harmondsworth, Middle-
sex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1954), p. 283.
39. See Mario Praz, The Romantic Amony, tr. Angus Davidson (2nd ed.;
New York: Meridian Books, 1956), pp. 308-311, for a concise, yet illumi-
nating, survey of the Satanic and decadent elements in Huysmans' fiction.
40. The Symbolist M~ovement in Literature (Nuew York: E. P. Dutton
and Co., Inc., 1958), p. 17.
41. A good account of Verlaine's visit to England is found in
Lhombreaud, pp. 101-105. o Mlae's lecture tour, see Bradford Cook
(ed. and tr.), Mallarme: Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters (Balti-
more: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1956), pp. 129-131.
42. Longaker, Ernest Dow~son, p. 88.
43. P. 56. Chapter V, "Combatting the Materialists," pp. 50-69,
is a perceptive study of the youthful Yeats's search for a new idealism.
44. E11mann, p. 67.
45. A11t and Alspach, Variorum .. Yeats, p. 808.
46. A11t and Alspach, Variorum .. Yeats, p. 811.
47. P. 94.
48. A representative example of Johnson's topical work is "The
Troopship," dated "New Year's Day: 1890." The first tw~o quatrains are
sufficient to illustrate the variety of difficulties Johnson encountered
in topical poetry:
"At early morning, clear and cold,
Still in her English harbour lay
The long, white ship: while winter gold
Shone pale upon her outward way.
Slowly she moved, slowly she stirred,
Stately and slow, she went away:
Sounds of farewell, the harbour heard;
Music on board began to play."
(Fletcher, The Complete Poems of Lionel
Johnson, p. 38)
Abstract language, lack of me aphor, pathetic fallacy, confusion of ac-
tive and passive moods, contrived sound manipulation, and trite diction
contribute to the mediocrity of this poem. For Johnson the subject, the
departure of a troopship for India, was far less "real" than an inquiry
into the state of his soul. Like Plato he found reality in ideals, the
mundane world, in which no empyrean music was heard, evokced little
49. Writing shortly after Johnson's death, Louise Imogen Guiney
reprints the last four quatrains of the original "In Falmouth Harbour,"
referring to "its lovely opening anticipation of Tennyson." ("Of Lionel
Johnson: 1867-1902," The Atlantic Monthly, XC (December 1902], 861-862.)
She is quite correct in noticing the correspondence of images in the two
poems, but she does not point out how this metaphor exemplifies the diver-
gent attitudes toward death held by Tennyson and Johnson. Tennyson crosses
the bar to confront his "Pilot face to face," while Johnson moves in the
opposite direction, from sea to harbor. For Tennyson death is only an-
other Victorian challenge, in which the good man vindicates himself; for
Johnson death is the blessed security from all challenges.
50. Johnson names Hardy, Newton, Berkeley, Pascal, and Lucretius
as students of the heavens wJho have recognized the impetus toward belief
in the pursuit of astronomy: "And Berkeley is no whit behind Mr. Hardy
in grasping the doctrine of the heavens: 'Astronomy is peculiarly adapted
to remedy a little and narrow spirit."' (The Art of Thomas Hardy, p. 253.)
51. Johnson, The Art of Thomas Hardy, p. 251.
52. Lhombreaud, p. 96.
53. P. 4.
54. Bernard Muddiman, The Men of the Nineties (London: Henry
Danielson, 1920), p. 52.
55. The Symbolist Movement, p. 94.
56. The Symbolist Movement, pp. 94-95.
57. Poems by Arthur Symons, I (London: William Heinemann, 1914),
58. "Of Lionel Johnson: 1867-1902," p. 858.
59. "The Strain of Mysticism in the English," Post Liminium:
Essays and Critical Papers, ed. Thomas Whittemote (London: Elkin Mathews,
1911), p. 257.
60. Planr, p. 21.
61. Planr, p. 63.
62. Quoted in E11mann, p. 42, who cites an unpublished manuscript
as his source.
63. P. 42.
64. Hone, p. 405.
65. Studies in Prose and Verse, p. 3.
THE POETIC OF THE RHYMERS' CLUB
1. Ubiquitous MIusic
"Poetry is euphony": the Rhymers' poetic could be epitomized in
this simplest of statements. The epitome of euphony being music, it is
that art that figured for the Rhymers as ideal, form, subject, and set-
ting--as the abstraction that shaped and guided their poetry. To call a
poem "perfect music" wcas to grace it with the highest accolade. But
"music" was more than the metaphor preferred by the Rhymers to describe
their poetry, a poetry which dealt with music and which was formally in-
fluenced by its values. The Rhymers aspired to wJrite in a purer lyricisn3
free from rhetorical contamination. Consequently, music, the art whose
content is unobtrusive, was their constant model. Because "music" re-
verberates in so many ways, the wcord itself was the one ubiquitous term
in their criticism and served with its many and even occasionally contra-
dictory meanings as the leitmotif of their poetry.
Sometimes the objective of a Rhymer wcas to write "music" with
words, to subordinate all intellectual considerations to euphony in an
attempt to unify form w~ith content. Dowson wrote many such poems. "O
Morsi Quam amara est memorial tua homini pacem habenti in substantiis
suisl" is one whose title is even more memorable for alliteration, as-
sonance, and sibilance than it is for applicability to his beautiful,
but vacuous, verses:
Consumeth my sad heartl
We must depart,
Now is exceeding sorrow
All my part!
Give over playing:
Cast thy vio1 away:
Thy head my way:
Pritheel give over playing,
Grave or gay.
Be no word spoken:
Weep nothing; let a pale
Prithee'. be no word spoken,
Lest I fail.
Weep nothing: merely lay,
For silent sorrow,
Thine head my way;
Let us forget to-morrow,
This last dayl QgRC, pp. 30-31)
This lyric is neither instructive nor pictorial; it urges nothing on the
reader and images little for him. No rhetoric obtrudes on the purity of
the lyric. Instead, non-discursive values are pre-eminent, as this poem
promises only to be beautiful.
Closely akin to this impulse toward pure form is the desire to
soften speech by setting it to "music," not in the literal sense of pro-
viding melodies for lyrics, but by entitling lyrics "songs" and by using
forms and meters associated with the Celtic or French bardic tradition.
Such titles as "Villanelle of Sunset," "Beatrice's Song," "A Burden of
Easter Vigil," "A Fairy Song," and "B3allade of the Cheshire Cheese," to
name a few from the two Rhymers' Club anthologies, are instances of this
impulse to emphasize the lyrical quality of poetry by associating It with
MIusic was a favorite metaphor among the Rhymers, both in their
criticism and their poetry. In its most literal sense "music" connotes
harmony, euphony, and aural appeal, but if the poet is thought of as a
bard, then this term implies "craftsmanship." By extension music be-
comes'a symbol of the ideal and a metaphor for any perfected or consum-
mate relationship. An instance of the unextended metaphor, in which
"music" is no more than poetic euphony, is Johnson's reference to "the
Lucretian periods, each a line of tremendous music, and the complete
period their concerted harmony." 1 Purely figurative, hearkening back
to the "music of the spheres," is this line of the last stanza from the
same poet's."Plato in London," quoted in the previous chapter: "That
starry music, starry fire." Stars being only visible and music only
audible, a synaesthetic effort is necessary to comprehend the locution.
Here Johnson uses "music" as a key term in an extended simile for the
world of Platonic idealism.
Furthermore, music was a congenial subject for the Rhymers. Symons
was understandably partial to music-hall dancers. Yeats, always interested
in folk tradition, wrote "The Fiddler of Dooney," and Hillier, an opera
lover, included "Orpheus in Covent Garden" in the second anthology; these
are but two instances of their practice. Because music is formal and re-
moved from the substantive world, the Rhymers found it to be a valuable
escape and, accordingly, a subject wcith which they were at ease.
To appreciate the Rhymers' utilization of music as subject, ideal,
critical standard, and more, we must recognize that much of their practice
in this respect was derivative. W~ith this in mind we shall examine their
principal sources (the now familiar Pater, Verlaine, and Mallarme, among
others) before turning, in the last section of this chapter, to their
poetic and its application.
2. Key Sources of the Musical Analogue
The establishment of music as the poetic analogue for the Rhymers'
Club is attributable to the conjunction of several influences, some im-
mediate, some less so: the romantic and expressive tradition that was
already a century old, the apotheosis of music by contemporary German
philosophers, Pater's aesthetic, and the pronouncements in prose and po-
etry of the Symbolists and Decadents, especially Verlaine and Mallarme.
Under the aegis of nineteenth century romanticism the poet came
to be seen as a man apart, expressing himself, rather than as a copyist
furnishing a picture of nature, or as a teacher rendering morality palat-
able. The poet himself became an object of interest, his poetry reflect-
ing the man more than it did the external world. Wordsworth's famous
definition of the poet: as "a man speaking to men" might: be taken as a
reduction of that artist to a democratic nonentity, had the great roman-
tic theorist not qualified what might: otherwise have been a commonplace
by admitting the poet to be a man
endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and
tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature,
and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be com-
man among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and
volitions, and ~who rejoices more than other men in the spirit
of life that is in him; delighting to concompi. ece- .ia 11r
volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the
Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he
does not find them.2
Wordsworth thereby elevated the poet above the common man, stressing the
poet's sensitivity and creativity. What such a man utters is important.
His poetry is valuable more as a product of a finer sensibility than as
a verbal reproduction of a plastic world. With the development of these
attitudes the popular analogy of poetry to art, founded perhaps on the
misapprehension of Horace's "Poesis ut picture" (Poetry is like a pic-
ture) was discarded, as quality of expression supplanted fidelity to cre-
ated objects as a critical standard. Poetry came to be regarded as resem-
bling another art, which told little about the perceptible world, but was
chiefly noteworthy for its innate sense of form: music.
The substitution of music for painting as the analogue for poetry
was thus a part of that larger shift from mimetic to expressive critical
theory, which became evident near the end of the eighteenth century or
the beginning of the nineteenth, a critical tendency which has been bril-
liantly expounded by M. H. Abrams in The Mirror and the Lamp. Abrams'
hypothesis and supporting evidence as to how music became the "type" of
poetry seem completely tenable:
In place of painting, music becomes the art frequently pointed
to as having a profound affinity with poetry. For if a picture
seems the nearest thing to a mirror-image of the external
world, music, of all the arts, is the most remote: except in
the trivial echoism of programmatic passages, it does not dup-
licate aspects of sensible nature, nor can it be said, in any
obvious sense, to refer to any state of affairs outside itself.
As a result music was the first of the arts to be generally
regarded as non-mimetic in nature; and in the theory of German
writers of the 1790's, music came to be the art most immedi-
ately expressive of spirit and emotion, constituting the very
pulse and quiddity of passion made public. Music, wrote
Wackenroder, "shows us all the movements of our spirit, dis-
embodied." Hence the utility of music to define and illus-
trate the nature of poetry, particularly of the lyric, but
also of poetry in general w~hen this came to be conceived as
a mode of expression.3
In an age growing conscious of scientific encroachment on the arts, it
was reasonable not to look to poetry for "a mirror-image of the external
world"; better to appreciate poetry for its rendition of the non-discur-
sivee, as "expressive of spirit and emotion." As an expressive instead of
a mimetic art poetry was less obligated to substance, yet the early nine-
teenth century mind did not regard poetry as an exclusively formal art
any more than it so considered music. The value of each depended upon
its incorporation and transmission of "spirit and emotion," the increments
the creative artist bestowed on his work through imagination.
While the romantic aesthetic posited music as the natural poetic
analogue, it did not establish a hierarchy with music at the apex and po-
etry in the position of a hopeful aspirant to that high station. There
is little humility evident in Coleridge's and Shelley's conceptions of
poetry (if we take two representatively romantic views) that show it as
subservient to any sister art. Coleridge, after making the definition of
poetry a function of his definition of the poet, wrote: "The poet, de-
scribed in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity,
with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their
relative worth and dignity." Shelley could allege that omi h
image of life expressed in its eternal truth" and that "poetry is indeed
something divine."5 Although romantic conceptions of poetry such as those
of Coleridge and Shelley diverge from poesis ut picture and instead imply
poetry's consanguinity with music, it is not the intent of such formula-
tions to suggest music as an ideal to wJhich poetry and, in fact, every
other art should aspire. Pater, however, is famous for just such a dic-
tum in "The School of Giorgione": "All art constantly aspires toward the
condition of music.6
But just as the concept of romanticism was to a great extent of
German provenience, so was Pater's apotheosis of music.7 Hegel and
Schopenhauer, in different ways, are represented in the Rhymers' poetic.
Each contributed to its formulation, the first through his direct influ-
ence on Pater, the second through Wagner to Mallarme, and both, but per-
haps Hegel more than Schopenhauer, by their general influence on the in-
tellectual community of England. A brief examination of their positions
will be beneficial to placing in its intellectual context that proposition
of Pater's cited in the previous paragraph, a proposition cardinal to the
Lionel Johnson has testified to Pater's interest in German theories
of art: "He gave much time to the aesthetic theorists of Germany--
Winchelmmann (si), Lessing, Goethe, Hegel--such speculations as theirs
agreed well with that cogitating and searching spirit strong in him."
Later students of Pater have also recognized the importance of German
artistic theories to Pater. Ruth C. Child, who has written the only book-
length study in English of Pater's aesthetic, summarizes the aesthetic
aspect of Hegel's philosophy and shows where Pater's diverged from it:
When Pater argues .. that music is the highest of the arts
since it has in greatest degree the perfect fusion of form
and content, he is choosing and rejecting from Hegel in ac-
cordance wcith his own emphasis on form. Hegel had held that
music is the central of the modern arts, having the closest
fusion between form and content; but he had considered poetry
the highest, because most spiritual, and therefore most nearly
adequate to express the infinitely complex and substantive
spiritualities of the modern world; in it the content of con-
saiousness becomes separated from the sensuous element and
Pater accepted the uniqueness of music in its obliteration of the form-
content distinction, but he wias unimpressed by Hegerl's criterion of
"spirituality," as Miss Child points out. Before turning to Pater's
adaptation of Hegel's material, however, we will consider a related, if
less direct German influence: that of Schopenhauer.
During the years of the Rhymers' Club, Schopenhauer did not enjoy
Hegel's celebrity in England, His major work, Die Welt als Wille und
Vorstellung (The World as Will and Idea), was not translated into English
until 1883; yet Mark Longaker states that Schopenhauer's philosophy was
a provocative topic even while Dowson and Johnson were attending Oxford,
in the mid-eighties.10 The precocious Johnson had even read him while
still at Winchester, but the young Wykehamist was then passing through a
determinedly anti-rationalistic phase and was therefore resolved to depre-
cate all systems, including Schopenhauer's: "Eschew altogether the miser-
able affectations of Schopenhauer, Hartmann, Comte; hate all systems of
that nature: but love the great idealists, Kant, Schelling, Fichte, Emer-
son. They are not philosophers: they are inconsistent, just as Christ
was."l Schopenhauer's priority among young Johnson's antipathies bears
witness to the force the misanthropic German was felt to exert.
Johnson was right in apprehending Schopenhauer as a builder of
systems. This philosopher's conception of music was subordinated to the
construction of a cosmological edifice built from "will" and "idea." The
result is a coherent cosmology, though not always a fully intelligible
aesthetic. Music is unique: "It stands alone, quite cut off from all
the other arts." All arts (but music) are copies or representations of
Idea; this familiar Platonic concept is fundamental to mimatic aesthetics.
In music, however, "we do not recognize the copy or repetition of any
Idea of existence in the world."1 Yet, in its very uniqueness, music
is the supreme art for Schopenhauer:
Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of
the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity
the Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is so much
more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts,
for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing
Thus music "expresses in a perfectly universal language .. with the
greatest determinateness and truth the inner nature, the in-itself of the
Some of the corollaries of Schopenhauer's theory of music are in-
escapable. Music is a representation of the ideal, and in its fullest
harmony objectifies the entire Will, just as creation does. Second, the
virtue of music is the virtue of form, not content. Third, music as the
objectification of the W~ill is finally ineffable, since it is immaterial
and partakes of the Divine. Comparable ideas, though seldom clearly or
consistently formulated, inform much Rhymers' Club poetry; how the group
used these and other musical concepts w~ill be discussed later.
Oxford aside, Schopenhauer's works probably exerted little direct
influence on the Rhymers. His writings were, however, a seminal force on
Wagner, who, in turn, after his death was accorded a kind of poetic canon-
ization by Mallarme, Verlaine, and other Symbolists. Despite having
little more than a superficial understanding of this philosopher, NJagner
was a Schopenhauer enthusiast, if not always a clear-headed disciple. A
recent scholar has summarized Wagner's susceptibility to Schopenhauer's
As is well known, his ideas took a considerable hold upon
Wagner: among the latter's ownJ-, not always very coherent
writings there are explicit references to Schopenhauer's
views concerning the emotional and philosophical signifi-
cance of music, wJhile the influence of Schopenhauer's meta-
physics is clearly discernible in such an opera as Tristan.15
Not that Wagner wias by any means a consistent devotee; in biographer
Ernest Newrman's words: "Feurbach, Schopenhaiuer, Hafiz, and heaven knows
wJho besides were in turn the one great philosopher the world has known."1
But to the extent that Schopen~hauer's m~usika~nschau ung~u wras reflected in
Wagner's voluminous writings, the philosopher's influence was bequeathed
to poets w~hom some Rhymers regarded as their masters, the Symbolists.
In the mid-eighties, adulation for Wagner assumed cultist propor-
tions among certain Symbolists. Eight of them, including Mallarme and
Verlaine, contributed sonnets to an issue of La Revue SWaenerienne in 1886.17
The previous year Mallarmi had written Richard Wagner, r~everie d'un polite
frangais, an essay containing such Schopenhauerean terminology as "only
the Dance can translate the fleeting and the sudden into the Idea."1
The extent of Mlallarme's obsession with WJagner is described by Wallace
Fowlie, who recognizes the transcendent aspect of that poet's devotion to
The cult for Wagner during the last ten years of Mallarme's
life constituted for the poet the possible beginning of a
new religion. The orchestra leader he saw occupying the
celebrant's place at mass. Wagnerian opera was a newr rite,
as combination of drama and music, and yet it perpetuated
elements of ancient rites by confering upon its listeners a
sacrament of sound.19
For Mallarme, as we shall see, music had a quasi-religious function.
Therefore, it was not thec autotalic art that it was for Pater, nor the
independent art it w~as for Verlaine; but it was a vehicle of mystery, and
if not a representation of the Ideal, at least an avenue to it.