Autobiography, with Letters

By William Lyon Phelps | Go to book overview
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90
Æ.

ON 9 February 1928 Æ. ( George W. Russell) spent the day in New Haven. He attended my undergraduate class in Browning at eleven, stayed with me at my house until five, when he lectured at the University and then came back with me for dinner and the evening. He said 'I am and always have been a pacifist; but what am I to believe now? Although I have always condemned violence, we got nothing in Ireland by peaceful means. Yes, all the freedom the Irish have attained has been won by fighting, violence and bloodshed.'

I have been fortunate enough to know some of the leading writers that Ireland has given to the world in the twentieth century--Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, St. John Ervine, George Moore, Lady Gregory, Lennox Robinson, Padraic and Mary Colum, Æ., and others; but while Shaw and Ervine are greater dramatists, Moore a greater novelist, Mary Colum a more accomplished literary critic, Yeats a greater poet, the greatest personality in Ireland was Æ. He was a poet, a novelist, a painter, an agriculturist, a journalist, a statesman, a farmer, and many other things; but his chief distinction was as a conversationalist. Toward the end of his life, he was successful as a public speaker.

Johnson said if one wished to find out whether or not a man had a first-rate mind, one must come close to him in intimate conversation. Well, everyone who knew Æ. recognized his unique powers; never have I heard talk that combined so much learning, intelligence

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