A few evenings ago I called on my friend, Mr. W. B. Yeats, and found him alone, seated
in his arm-chair, smoking his cigarette, with a volume of Homer before him. The whole room
indicated the style and taste peculiar to its presiding genius. Upon the walls hung
various designs by Blake and other less well-known symbolic artists; everywhere books and
papers, in apparently endless profusion.
In his usual genial way he invited me to have a cup of tea with him. During this
pleasant ceremony little was said, but sufficient to impress me more than ever with the
fact that my host was supremely an artist, much in love with his art. With a passion deep
and entrancing he adores his art: "his bread is from her lips; his exhilaration from
the taste of her." The Muse finds in him a tongue to respond to her most subtle
beauties. In song was handed down the great Solar Religions that advanced the people of
antiquity; in song those of a later day received that which caused them to emerge from
their cold isolation and kiss "the warm lips of Helios"; and in these days, too,
we look to the poets for that inspiration which will
"Overflow mankind with true desires,
And guide new Ages on by flights of living lyres."
Tea over, I disclosed the object of my visit. "Mr. Yeats," I said, "I
understand that you saw a great deal of Madame Blavatsky in the earlier days of the
Theosophical movement in England, and so I thought you might have something to say
regarding her, which would interest the readers of the IRISH THEOSOPHIST."
"Yes," replied Mr. Yeats, "I had the privilege of seeing Madame
Blavatsky frequently at that time, and so many interesting little incidents crowd in upon
me, that I find some difficulty in selecting what might be most interesting to your
"Well, I replied, "supposed you begin by giving your personal
"Madame Blavatsky," said Mr. Yeats, "struck me as being a very strong
character. In her ordinary moods, rather combative, and inclined to rub peoples
prejudices the other way. When depressed, she dropped her combativeness and, thrown back
on herself, as it were, became most interesting, and talked about her own life. A clever
American, who was not a Theosophist, said to me once: Madame Blavatsky has become
the most famous woman in the whole world, by sitting in her arm-chair, and getting people
to talk to her."
"I have heard it stated," said I, "in connection with the Coulomb
incidents, that Madame Blavatsky showed great lack of insight into character."
"For so powerful a personality," replied Mr. Yeats, "she did seem to
lack something in that respect. I remember, for instance, on one occasion she introduced
me to a French occultist, whom she spoke of very highly, and even urged me to read his
books. Within a short time he was expelled from the Society for what appeared excellent
reasons. I have had to expel him, said Madame Blavatsky to me; he sold a
love elixir for two francs; had it been forty francs I might have overlooked the
fact. On another occasion she told me, quite seriously, that I would have a severe
illness within six months, and I am waiting for that illness still. Attempts are made by
people very often," continued Mr. Yeats, "to wash humanity out of their leaders.
Madame Blavatsky made mistakes; she was human, and to me that fact makes her, if possible,
the more interesting. Another peculiarity was her evident lack of proportion. An attack on
the Theosophical movement (she did not seem to mind personal attacks) in some obscure
little paper, was to her of as much importance as if it appeared in the Times."
In reply to another question, Mr. Yeats remarked that she had met Demusset a few times,
and Balzac once. She had worked a little at occultism with George Sands, but, to use her
own words, both were "mere dabblers" at the time.
"What did you think of Madame Blavatsky as a talker?" I asked.
"It has been said of Dr. Johnson," replied Mr. Yeats, "that the
effeminate reader is repelled by him; and the same might be said of Madame Blavatsky as a
talker. She had that kind of faculty which repelled the weak, and attracted those of a
stronger temperament. She hated paradox, and yet she gave utterance to the most
magnificent paradox I ever heard."
"As you heard her talk a good deal, perhaps you will kindly relate to me any
interesting sayings that occur to you," said I.
"With pleasure," replied Mr. Yeats, lighting another cigarette. "I
called on Madame Blavatsky one day, with a friend - a T. C. D. man. She was trying to
explain to us the nature of the Akas, and was entering into an exceedingly subtle
metaphysical analysis of the difference between fore-knowledge and predestination - a
problem which has interested theologians of ancient, as well as modern times - showing the
way in which the whole question was mixed up with the question of the Akas, when suddenly
she broke off - my friend not following, and said, turning round, and pointing to one of
her followers who was present: You with your spectacles and your imprudence, you
will be siting there in the Akas to all eternity - no not to all eternity, for a day will
come when even the Akas will pass away, and then there shall be nothing but God - Chaos -
that which every man is seeking in his heart."
"At another time, when I called, she seemed rather depressed. Ah! she
said, there is no solidarity among the good; there is only solidarity among the
evil. There was a time when I used to blame and pity the people who sold their souls to
the devil, now I only pity them; I know why they do it; they do it to have somebody on
their side. As for me I write, write, write, as the Wandering Jew walks,
"On one occasion, too," said Mr. Yeats, continuing, "she referred to the
Greek Church as the church of her childhood, saying: The Greek Church, like all true
religions, was a triangle, but it spread out and become a bramble bush, and that is the
Church of Rome; then they came and lopped off the branches, and turned it into a
broomstick, and that is Protestantism."
In reply to a question, Mr. Yeats said, quoting her own words, with reference to Col.
Olcott: "Ah! he is an honest man; I am an old Russian savage";
and, referring to Mr. Old, she said, with a hearty enthusiasm that, in certain respects,
he was above all those about her at that time.
"Can you remember anything in the nature of a prophecy, Mr. Yeats, made by Madame
Blavatsky, that might be of interest to record, notwithstanding the fact that you are yet
awaiting your prophesied illness?" I asked.
"The only thing of that nature," replied Mr. Yeats, "was a reference to
England." "The Master told me," she said, "that the power of England
would not outlive the century, and the Master never deceived me."
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Yeats," said I, "for the kind manner
in which you have responded to my enquiries regarding Madame Blavatsky; perhaps you will
pardon me if I ask you one or two questions about your own work now. Do you intend, at any
time, publishing a book on Mysticism?"
"Yes; at no very distant date I hope to publish a work dealing with mystics I have
seen, and stories I have heard, but it will be as an artist, not as a
"And what about your present work?" I asked.
"Celtic Twilight, a work dealing with ghosts, goblins, and faeries,
will be out shortly; also a small selection of Blakes Poems," he
replied. "Then, I am getting ready for publication, next spring, a book of poems,
which I intend calling, The Wind among the Reeds; and, as soon afterwards as
possible, a collection of essays, and lectures dealing with Irish nationality and
literature, which will probably appear under the title of the Watch
After due apologies for my intrusion, I bade my host good evening, and withdrew feeling
more than satisfied with the result of my interview.
Mr. Yeats has often been spoken of as a dreamer, and many strange stories are afloat
which go a long way to bear out such a statement. But, in my opinion, he combines the man
of thought with the man of action; he is "whole of heart and sound of head," and
Ireland may, indeed, be proud of one who promises to rank among her most worthy sons.