Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Trembling of the Veil

'When I look back among my propaganda of those years I can see little but its bitterness. I never met with, or but met to quarrel with, my father's old family acquaintance; or with acquaintance I myself might have found, and kept among the prosperous educated class...and this I did by deliberate calculation...and was presently to discover that one can grow impassioned and fanatical about opinions which one has chosen as one might choose a side upon the football field...

....The one house where nobody thought or talked politics was a house in Ely Place, where a number of young men lived together and, for want of a better name, were called theosophists...The house had been taken in the name of an engineer to the Board of Works, a black bearded young man, with a passion for Manachaean philosophy, and all accepted him as host; and sometimes the conversation, especially when I was there, became too ghostly for the nerves of his young and delicate wife and he would be made angry...

....At the top of the house..in the same room as the Scotsman, lived Mr George Russell (A.E), and the house was divided into his adherents and those of the engineer; and I heard of some quarrelling between the factions. The rivalry was subconscious. Neither had opposed the other in any matter of importance.

The engineer had all the financial responsibility and George Russel was, in the eyes of the community, saint and genius. Had either have seen that the question at issue was the leadership of mystical thought in Dublin, he would, i think, have given way...I used to listen to him at that time, mostly walking through the streets at night, for the sake of some stray sentence, beautiful and profound, amid many words...he had become, i think, to all his fellow-students, sacred...We derided each other, told absurd tales to one another's discredit, but we never derided him...He wrote without premeditation or labour.

It had, as it were, organised itself...he saw visions continually, perhaps more continually than any modern man since Swedenborg...One might not think him a good observer, but no one could doubt that he reported with the most scrupulous care what he believed himself to have seen...Also at the top of the house, lived a medical student who read Plato and took hashish, and a young Scotsman who owned a vegetarian restaurant, and had just returned from America, where he had gone as the disciple of the Prophet Harris, and where he would soon return in the train of some new prophet...

...When he had gone his room was inherited by an American hypnotist..he professed to talk the philosophy of the Zani Indians, but it seemed to me the vague Platomism that all there talked, except that he spoke much of young men passing in sleep into the heart of mountains; a doctrine that was presently incorporated into the mythology of the house, to send young men and women hither and tither looking for sacred places.....


....I get in talk with a young man who had taken the orthodox side in some debate. He is a stranger but explains that he has inherited magical art from his father, and asks me to his rooms to see it in operation. He and a friend of his kill a black cock, and burn herbs in a big bowl, but nothing happens except that the friend repeats again and again, "O, my God", and when I ask him why he has said that, does not know that he has spoken...I have a young man with me...and I leave him in the reading room with Russell...I return after some minutes to find that the young man has become a theosophist.'

WB Yeats. 1890s Dublin. Autobiographies: The Trembling of the Veil, Chapter XIII