The Late Victorian Context
THE NATIONALISTIC FERVOR OF THE LATE EIGHTies had temporarily obscured for Yeats his close links with the English literary tradition which furnished his first formative influences. These influences, to be sure, had come in large part from past stages of that tradition, but with the founding of the Rymers' Club in 1891 Yeats was brought into close contact with its last Victorian stage as embodied in such contemporaries as Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, and Lionel Johnson, the last of whom Yeats had already known for several years. Longer and longer periods of residence in London and increasing publication of his reviews and poems brought Yeats to the attention of literati who were bound to compare him with Tennyson and Browning on the one hand, and with the Pre- Raphaelites and their fin-de-siècle successors on the other. The comparison is necessary for us, as well, if we are to define Yeats' position in the late nineteenth century and separate those portions of the matrix which helped to form his entire artistic generation from those such as the occult societies which encouraged this uniqueness.
In the case of the "great Victorians," of course, this comparison turns out to be essentially a contrast. The Rhymers,