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Essays in Honour of Eamonn Cantwell

Warwick Gould

'Mastering What is most Abstract': A Forum on a Vision

God-appointed Berkeley and W. J. Mc Cormack’s ‘We Irish’ in Europe: Yeats, Berkeley and Joseph Hone (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010), pp. x + 211. A Review Essay

Colin McDowell

Texte intégral

  • 1 Now published (March 2016) by Michigan State University Press, March 2016, ISBN 9781611861914.

1‘We Irish’ in Europe is intended as ‘part of a longer enquiry into the condition of literary criticism in Ireland’, to be followed by Post-Murderism, ‘an account of some Field Day manœuvres’, and a study of Joseph Mary Plunkett, in this book entitled Sweet Enemy but recently published as Enigmas of Sacrifice: A Critique of Joseph M. Plunkett and the Dublin Insurrection of 1916.1 Mc Cormack sees his overall strategy as an assault on the idea of system, and the projected volumes as a whole have the vainglorious Balzacian title, Critique of the Absolute (17, 131 n. 26). The unkind reader might equate an attack on system with an inability to think straight or with an excuse for inveterate maundering, and elect not to give assent to the assumption that ‘systematic’ equals ‘totalitarian’; but important topics are involved here. Has Mc Cormack chosen the most efficient way to raise them?

2I came to this book to see what it could tell me about how Yeats understood Berkeley and what Joseph Hone had to do with it, which is, after all, what the subtitle promised. Readers may be interested in what Mc Cormack has to say about Beckett and Berkeley; but while the excursions on behalf of Synge and George Moore’s The Brook Kerith may well be salutary one has to wade through a lot to get to them. The particularly heroic reader may also appreciate the pages on Adorno and those on Agamben, but even Mc Cormack realises he may be asking too much of his audience. ‘Why’, he asks, ‘should any of this intrude on a study of W. B. Yeats and George Berkeley?’(87). Indeed, but the unrepentant author instead takes it as an opportunity to bemoan ‘lapsed knowledge’—before embarking on a short digression about how no-one now reads Maria Edgeworth.

3Unpacking the book’s title may be helpful. Mc Cormack contends that Yeats’s appropriation of Berkeley’s phrase ‘We Irish’ is illegitimate, because Berkeley did not mean what Yeats wanted him to mean. The ‘Irish’ are European because Yeats and Hone (might have!) discussed Berkeley in Capri and Rapallo—Mc Cormack will later, on p. 160, paraphrase ‘we Irish’ as ‘a short-term politico-philosophical Capri-based think-in of the 1920s’. But the Irish philosophy Yeats supposedly imagined—an idealism whereby the individual is subsumed into the State—apparently found its exemplification in Fascist Italy, the France of the Action Française, and Hitler’s Germany.

  • 2 Blood Kindred: W. B. Yeats, The Life, the Death, the Politics (London: Pimlico, 2005) was reviewed (...)
  • 3 It takes little psychological insight to see that Mc Cormack’s urge to rescue ‘lesser’ authors who (...)

4This book has all of the faults of Mc Cormack’s Blood Kindred.2 Their strategy is to throw mud in the hope that some of it will stick. In Blood Kindred, assertion took precedence over well-researched fact; statements were made, withdrawn, then made again; accusations were whittled down, polished and repeated as mantras to foreclose thought. Irrelevant detail was piled on to disorient the reader. Innuendo was used to cover mere surmise; and if there were two interpretations one could place on behaviour, the less worthy was invariably chosen. Yeats was damned if he did something and damned if he didn’t. Mc Cormack deployed the traps of the professional controversialist. ‘We Irish’ in Europe is based on some initial research but Mc Cormack soon loses interest, filling out the book with whatever takes his passing fancy, all vaguely tied together by his assumption that he knows better than anyone else. Perhaps the digressions reveal that Mc Cormack doesn’t have much that is new to say about Yeats and Berkeley, but he concedes little.3

  • 4 Evanston: Northwestern University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1966, 222–65.

5For the parts of his book where the topic is actually addressed, Mc Cormack relies heavily on Donald T. Torchiana, W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, Ch. 6, ‘God-Appointed Berkeley’ (222–65), as he must.4 But he cannot refrain from the occasional aspersion, such as that Torchiana ‘remains hostage to the terms of Yeats himself in “The Seven Sages”’ (27). In his urge to distance himself from Torchiana, Mc Cormack omits some of the more salient points made in W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland. Coincidentally or not, the omitted passages are those which do not suit his thesis.

  • 5 Mc Cormack, 14, emphasis added. The reader of Mc Cormack must acclimatize to belittling rhetoric a (...)

6Torchiana (222–23) originally identified the soldier who said to Yeats that ‘all the philosophy a man needed was in Berkeley’ (AVB 19; CW14 15; elsewhere recorded as ‘There is all the philosophy a man needs’ (UP2 484, cf. UP2 489; CW10 218, 232). Mc Cormack initially accepts this: ‘it seems likely that Yeats’s informant was Colonel Jephson Byrne O’Connell (born 1886)’ (3). A dozen pages on he writes: ‘The onset of Yeats’s enthusiasm has already been described in some detail wherein the honour of initiating the poet into the mysteries was divided between Lennox Robinson (1886–1958) and an unnamed revolutionary—possibly Jephson O’Connell’.5 Whatever he means by ‘described in some detail’, or where, or even by whom, is unclear, as this is the book’s first mention of Robinson, who bought Yeats the two volume 1784 edition of Berkeley’s works after he had heard Yeats quoting the soldier’s endorsement (AVB 19; CW14 15).

  • 6 The book was originally twice its current size and that the early chapters were removed and others (...)

7A dozen pages on, Mc Cormack returns to the topic, concentrating now on the word ‘young’ in one of Yeats’s retellings: ‘The revolutionary soldier has been identified as Jephson O’ Connell by Donald Torchiana, apparently on the authority of Mrs Yeats; other candidates include Sean MacBride, Dermot MacManus, Patrick McCartan, Ernie O’Malley and Francis Stuart. If the revolutionary soldier’s remark is taken to have been uttered c. 1925, then McCartan and MacManus—and O’Connell?—can be eliminated on grounds of age and military inactivity…. While O’Malley certainly had the intellectual capacity, MacBride must be the most plausible candidate, being very young (b. 1904) and having the reputation as republican firebrand. In favour of O’Malley (b. 1898) is the fact that he and Robinson were on one occasion closeted awkwardly together… with every opportunity to discuss philosophy’ (31n. 37). What to do with a statement like this last one is anyone’s guess. Some pages later, apparently forgetting everything he had previously decided, Mc Cormack claims: ‘[t] he onset of Yeats’ s enthusiasm for Berkeley has already been described in some detail wherein the honour of initiating the poet into the mysteries [some phrases just do seem to write themselves] was divided between Lennox Robinson and an unnamed revolutionary—possibly Sean MacBride’ (64). Further on, the word ‘initiated’ gets yet another working-out: ‘At the end of 1925, Lennox Robinson (we are told) initiated Yeats into the reading of Berkeley’ (90). It is hard to know what to deplore most about all the repetition and shilly-shally, but this is a published book, not an author mulling things over, so the blame must ultimately be laid at the feet of a hapless editor.6

8Of more moment than the question of who first brought Yeats to Berkeley is what Yeats made of him. Mc Cormack tells us he wants to sharpen the reader’s sense of

what Berkeley meant for Yeats in the 1920s or, rather, what Berkeley might be presented as—an exciting, paradoxical thinker in a decade of fudge and compromise, a local and yet intercontinental hero, a philosopher prince of the (reformed) church, a cultic presence unavailable to the latter-day mob, a trans-historic mind’(27)

9Further informing us that ‘[t] he occasional, not to say opportunist, nature of Yeats’s interest should not be underestimated’ (37). Nor, I suggest, should it be exaggerated. Mc Cormack’s correction of ‘what Berkeley meant for Yeats’ to ‘what Berkeley might be presented as’ is most probably intended as a conflation. For Mc Cormack, Yeats’s interest in Berkeley, and one assumes in philosophy generally, ‘was an intelligent but uncritical interest, fuelled by non-philosophical needs or desires—spiritualist, political, would-be absolute-ist’ (175). For those interested in balancing the scales, it may be useful to quote Rossi’s assessment of Yeats’s attitude to philosophy:

  • 7 Rossi, quoted in Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats, 1865–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1942), 422.

Nowhere have I met a more eager interest in metaphysics. Men usually follow only their own thoughts through philosophy. At the end they find themselves just as they were before. But Yeats asked to know. He was searching again and again for an explanation. You could not misunderstand his metaphysical interest for a pose. He sought occasions for thinking, for pitting his brain against metaphysics.7

10Unlike Mc Cormack, Rossi actually knew Yeats; moreover, what he is saying tallies with my sense of what Yeats is doing when he discusses philosophic matters. That Yeats was sincere in wanting to know is demonstrated by the preface he wrote to Essays 1931 to 1936: ‘I wrote always that when I laid down my pen I might be less ignorant than when I took it up’ (CW5 84). This is not the statement of someone who wishes merely to convince someone else of his own intransigent ideas.

  • 8 The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973 (2nd ed., rev. and enl.). I have been unable to consult these ar (...)

11There are questions about Hone and Rossi’s Bishop Berkeley: His Life, Writings, and Philosophy (London: Faber & Faber, 1931) that one might have expected Mc Cormack to address, if not resolve. He does say ‘That Hone shared title page honours with the Italian philosopher is a bibliographical teaser to be resolved on another occasion’ (63), and a chapter section will refer to ‘the Enigma of “Hone and Rossi”’ (56). The question of who wrote what—if that is what he means—is a legitimate line of enquiry, and (if drafts do not exist) I imagine one could look at what Hone published about Berkeley before he wrote the book. Mc Cormack has compiled a useful listing of Hone’s writings in Appendix IV, including some ephemera on Berkeley that do not appear in T. E. Jessop’s A Bibliography of George Berkeley by T. E. Jessop. With Inventory of Berkeley’s Manuscript Remains by A. A. Luce.8 One could also read Rossi’s other writings on Berkeley to see what is repeated in or from what Mc Cormack calls Hone and Rossi’s ‘avowedly collaborative book on Berkeley’ (72). I presume that by ‘avowedly’ he is referring in a roundabout way to the fact that the book alternates, in a clumsy enough fashion, between biography with sketchy philosophical summaries and rather dense analysis, which in itself might be seen as a starting point for examination of the collaborative process. As for the question of why Hone got together with Rossi in the first place, some evidence does survive, although it is mostly ignored by Mc Cormack. In a postscript to his Introduction to Bishop Berkeley, Yeats says:

  • 9 Bishop Berkeley: His Life, Writings, and Philosophy (xxix), a passage that does not occur in Essays (...)

When I had finished these notes I read for the first time what Mario M. Rossi had added to the book. Had I read it earlier—it was not included in Joseph Hone’s manuscript when first I saw it—diffidence might have kept me silent. And now I study with excitement this profound critic of philosophy, this scholar learned in all the schools who can make himself intelligible to the running man. He has given me my first full knowledge of Berkeley the philosopher; my knowledge of Berkeley the man I shall always owe to Joseph Hone’s understanding of the Irish eighteenth century, his mastery of biographical detail.9

12The Introduction itself is dated ‘July, 1931’. Yeats refers to reading Hone’s unpublished book in September 1930 (Ex 322). Then there is the letter in which Yeats tells Hone that:

  • 10 CL InteLex 5409, 20 November 1930: L 779. Mc Cormack quotes it to sneer about Yeats’s assessment o (...)

Lady Gregory has just read your book & is delighted with it—I imagine she skipped the philosophy…. [Berkeley] is of the utmost importance to the Ireland that is coming into existence, as I hope to show in my introduction.10

13We may I think still read this letter—I quote the rest below—as being written before Rossi expanded on Hone’s philosophical portions, given that Yeats’s Introduction is not yet completed. In fact, Hone himself credited Yeats with the whole idea of getting ‘some professional philosopher to look over [my book]. In the end Rossi put in the philosophical commentary’ (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 227). This surely implies that Yeats had a stronger grasp of philosophic adequacy than Hone, and may be part of the answer as to why Mc Cormack deferred his ‘bibliographical teaser’. That Hone himself used his knowledge of Italian culture to choose Rossi as the ‘professional philosopher’ is not under dispute.

14The shilly-shally alluded to earlier about the Irish revolutionary soldier probably occurred because it is of subsidiary interest to Mc Cormack’s principal thesis. Hone, he claims, ‘introduced the poet to Berkeley’s works, even if he was not perhaps the first to recommend them’ (3); alternatively, ‘[t] he introduction was effected, or perhaps consummated, by Joseph Hone’ (28). ‘It was Hone, indisputably’, he avers, ‘who nurtured the interest in Berkeley during the latter half of the 1920s, not least by discreetly keeping Yeats up to date with the bishop’ s reputation in fascist Italy’(3); moreover ‘Yeats wished emphatically to endorse and indeed develop a philosophical recommendation urged by Hone over many years’ (10). The ambiguity of ‘nurtured’ and ‘urged’ is probably calculated: doubtless it simply means that Hone published many articles on Berkeley in the 1920s, but the lazy reader is intended to assume a more direct influence: for which, of course, Mc Cormack offers little evidence (hence ‘discreetly’). While he does admit that it ‘may be taken as non-contentious’ that Hone ‘was by no means the only source of opinion available to Yeats’ about Berkeley (63), the statement appears to function merely as a legal disclaimer, as the whole tenor of his book is that Berkeley was ‘mediated’ to Yeats by Hone (63). He will later say that Hone influenced Yeats ‘despite what one might call the impermeable strength of Yeats’ s own intellect’(95); Yeats’s mind, apparently, ‘was of such subtle power that it could not absorb new influences without converting those novelties into something already compatible with its own essentially irrational cast’ (100).

  • 11 The question of what Yeats learnt from Rossi (as opposed to Hone) about Berkeley’s philosophy rema (...)

15Such remarks allow Mc Cormack to claim that Yeats learned all he knew about Berkeley from Hone, but that at the same time he learned nothing. Referring to Yeats’s Introduction to Hone and Rossi’s Bishop Berkeley, he writes: ‘Always happy to paraphrase other people’s words to suit his own purposes, Yeats particularly commended the Commentaries [sc. the Commonplace Book]’ (4). Elsewhere, he states that Yeats’s knowledge of current academic debates about Berkeley ‘came through J. M. Hone, as he made clear in his Introduction to Bishop Berkeley (1931)’(52 and n. 107). The reference cited is CW5 103–12, i.e. the whole essay minus postscript. Scholars generally do not give blanket references to support a quite specific point: unless, that is, the reference does not support the point made. Earlier, he had emphasized Hone’s influence in alerting Yeats to Johnson’s edition of the Commonplace Book, giving the more restricted reference of CW5 103–04 (33 and n. 43). If you check those pages, nothing remotely like that occurs. Nevertheless, later Mc Cormack will write, as though a given, that Hone had ‘success in persuading Yeats… to study the Commonplace Book’ (151). As with so much of ‘We Irish’ in Europe, this is assertion floating free; it is not scholarship.11

  • 12 One should not underestimate the extent of independent reading. If a subject interested Yeats, he (...)

16A similar slackness infects Mc Cormack’s other main assertion about Yeats and Hone. ‘For more than a decade’, he writes, ‘Hone was a constant mediator between Yeats and the Italian Idealist movement generally’ (155). And, of course, by ‘Italian Idealist movement’ he means the philosophy of Italian fascism, and Gentile more than Croce. No evidence is offered for even the partial truth of this assertion, beyond the fact that Hone published several articles about Italy from the early 1920s onwards, coupled with fact that Yeats knew Hone, so it must be true. But if this is correct—there was Pound, of course, as well as Yeats’s independent reading, assisted by George Yeats’s Italian when needed—why does Yeats write to Hone about things which Hone had supposedly educated him on, as though he is telling him something he didn’t know?12 Mc Cormack himself quotes the letter from Yeats to Hone of 20 November 1930, in which Yeats says:

Gentile & other Italian philosophers found themselves on Berkeley & Rossi has the further advantage of being an authority on Berkeley’s immediate predecessors & contemporaries. You & I are absorbed in Ireland but he sees Berkeleys [sic] European position’ (39).

17Yeats may well have been on occasion absent-minded, but Mc Cormack’s thesis makes him look positively senile.

  • 13 Yeats stated in 1928, whilst attempting to persuade Macmillan to commission Hone to translate Ross (...)
  • 14 Mc Cormack is mistaken in pointing out that the cutting from the Irish Statesman of 7 September 19 (...)

18When Mc Cormack does address the question of what Yeats read and understood of Berkeley independently of Hone and Rossi, which surely should be a large part of a book such as this, he cannot resist a snide comment about ‘Yeats’s (so-to-speak) independent encounter with Berkeley’(29). Unfortunately, the ground covered is less than that already surveyed by Torchiana who, writing long before O’Shea’s A Descriptive Catalog of W. B. Yeats’s Library, noted several books Yeats must have used (Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 225). As well as primary sources such as Johnston’s edition of Berkeley’s Commonplace Book (YL 159, 159a) and the edition that Lennox Robinson gave Yeats, the two volume The Works of George Berkeley (YL 160), there was the Everyman Berkeley, Mary Calkin’s edition of Berkeley’s selected works, and Collyns Simon’s edition of The Principles of Human Knowledge. The last three are not in Yeats’s library and are not mentioned by Mc Cormack. Although Torchiana does not say so, Yeats must also have read an edition of The Commonplace Book earlier than that of Johnston’s 1930 edition, because he had read it by March 1926, when he said that ‘[m] y Berkeley is the Berkeley of the Commonplace Book’(TSMC 80; CL InteLex 4849).13 As for books in Yeats’s library which discuss Berkeley, Mc Cormack’s research is desultory at best, after an initially promising start with Croce’s Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept (YL 444), G. A. Johnston’s The Development of Berkeley’s Philosophy (YL 1025), and A. A. Luce’s Berkeley and Malebranche (YL 1159)—although he says nothing that had not previously been said by Torchiana (225, 239, 252).14

  • 15 See K. P. S. Jochum’s decisive ‘Yeats and the Goethe-Plakette: an unpublished Letter’YA15, Yeats’s (...)

19O’Shea indexes only those works which have Berkeley as their principal subject, which are those mentioned by Mc Cormack, whereas a preliminary listing of works which treat Berkeley, or which prompted Yeats to add ‘Berkeley’ as an annotation, would include Bergson’s Matter and Memory, Bosanquet’s The Meeting of Extremes in Contemporary Philosophy, Charpentier’s Coleridge, the Sublime Somnambulist, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Erdmann’s A History of Philosophy, where an annotation notes ‘On Development of Berkeley’ s thought/Herman [n] Cohen’(YL 638), Gentile’s The Theory of Mind as Pure Act, Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Jones’s Contemporary Thought of Germany, Russell’s An Outline of Philosophy, Vasiliev’s Space Time Motion, and Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World. This last book has a lengthy endnote in part of which Yeats asks, ‘Do we not get very close to Berkeley if as Whitehead advises we accept “naive experience”?’ (YL 2258). Even Gentile’s book is not examined in detail by Mc Cormack. It is reduced to a formula about merging of subject and object, but its explicit criticism of Berkeley is glossed over. After a brief aside on Bertrand Russell’s views on Berkeley, Mc Cormack restricts himself to Tudor Jones so that he may segue into Germany—the Goethe Plakette gets its inevitable workout15—and from thence to Adorno and Husserl (see 1.3, Yeats and German Thought in the 1930s). Apparently a book on Yeats and Berkeley was best served by having Appendix IIA, ‘A list of publications concerning twentieth-century German thought preserved in W. B. Yeats’s library at the time of his death, with details of surviving manuscript annotation’. Despite the impeccably scholarly nature of this title, there are no details—Mc Cormack simply gives O’Shea numbers—and ‘twentieth-century German thought’ includes Eckartshausen (1752–1803), Fechner (1801–87), and McTaggart on Hegel (1770–1831), while A History of Philosophy by Erdmann (1805–92) is not restricted to Germany and obviously does not reach the twentieth century.

  • 16 The Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 1929 (Recent German Literature number). See YL 2146 for O’S (...)
  • 17 Mc Cormack wonders aloud whether the Husserl reference (CW5 435 n. 82) was originally part of On t (...)

20Strangely, the appendix omits what one would have thought an essential article, ‘Recent Philosophy: The School of Husserl’,16 baffling given Mc Cormack’s discussion at length of Husserl on Berkeley at length. He also quotes Yeats’s reference to Husserl from On the Boiler (45–45, 48–55), one can only treat the omission as symptomatic of Mc Cormack’s piece-meal approach to scholarship.17

  • 18 I have taken my quotations of the ‘Seven Propositions’ from Neil Mann’s website, http://www.yeatsv (...)

21Having almost completed A Vision, Yeats came to Berkeley with his own philosophy largely developed. He would have understood Berkeley in the light of that philosophy and judged him accordingly, as Mc Cormack concedes (30, 79, 128). He understood that Berkeley used the term ‘spirit’ more or less interchangeably with a whole range of other terms, such as ‘mind’, ‘soul’, ‘will’, ‘agent’, ‘self’, and ‘person’. He agreed with the Berkeley of The Commonplace Book who said that ‘Nothing properly but persons, i.e. conscious things, do exist. All other things are not so much existences as manners of ye existence of persons [i.e. they are ideas]’ (Commonplace Book, 3–4). For Yeats, this is the thesis that ‘we know nothing but spirits and their relations’ (TSMC 66, CL InteLex 4826), and that reality is ‘a timeless and spaceless community of spirits’ (the phrase is from Yeats’s ‘Seven Propositions’, drafted in 1929. While Yeats further states that ‘Each Spirit is determined by and determines those it perceives, and each Spirit is unique’, he is nevertheless careful to stress that ‘Though Spirits are determined by each other they cannot completely lose their freedom. Every possible statement or perception contains both terms—the self and that which it perceives or states’.18 One might suggest that, in his philosophical reading, Yeats looked at ways of asserting human values, whereas Mc Cormack would have it that he looked at ways of abolishing human values. Berkeley’s philosophy allowed Yeats to maintain his belief in

the old humanity with its unique irreplaceable individuals’ [while seventeenth century science and its modern offshoots—in the process of being turned upside-down by Relativity and Quantum Theory—has replaced human beings by] something that can be chopped and measured like a piece of cheese [thereby leading to] the stimulation and condonation of revolutionary massacre and the multiplication of murderous weapons (Ex 436).

22It is to his credit that Mc Cormack quotes this passage, which one might think he would be tempted to agree with, but it is not to his credit that he immediately obfuscates with syntactical quizzicality designed to cast doubt on whether Yeats actually meant what he seems quite clearly to be saying; he then adds that it is atypical of Yeats anyway (51–2, 54). In A Vision B, Yeats places the word ‘justice’ in a prominent position (AVB 25; CW14 19). It is a concept which is also important to Mc Cormack (99), who does not acknowledge Yeats’s similar concern. Neil Mann quotes an early draft of this passage:

The great tradition of philosophy, all the [illegible] speculation that descends from Plato &, Hegel sets before us the certainty or probability—for Kant only offers us probability—that he who has best imagined justice has best imagined reality’(NLI 30,757) (YA19 189; cf. CW14 325).

23For Yeats, reality includes spirits with differing needs, while justice demands that the needs are accommodated in the manner which best allows each to fulfil his or her own potential. Mc Cormack writes as though Yeats thought in a moral vacuum.

  • 19 A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (eds.), The Works of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne (London: Thomas (...)

24For Berkeley, of course, God and spirits are the primary facts a philosopher must take into account. As Jessop explained, the themes of The Principles of Human Knowledge were ‘... to refute the scepticism that makes the existence of a corporeal world problematic, and to vindicate theism, and by these means to call knowledge back to the service of man, and man to the service of God’; while Berkeley himself wrote that his purpose was ‘to demonstrate the existence and attributes of God, the immortality of the Soul, the reconciliation of God’ s foreknowledge with freedom of men, and by shewing the emptiness and falseness of several parts of the speculative sciences, to reduce men to the study of religion and things useful’.19

  • 20 The Idealism of Giovanni Gentile (New York: Macmillan, 1937), Chapter 5, ‘The Problem’, 111–20.
  • 21 Harold Bloom, Yeats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 372–73.

25Because Berkeley begins from this stance, he was not ensnared in solipsism. Yeats also began, not from an empiricist base, but from the recognition that spirits existed. Gentile’s actual idealism, on the contrary, embraced solipsism, at least according to his expositor Roger W. Holmes.20 But, given Mc Cormack, it is necessary to stress that Yeats was not a solipsist. Harold Bloom has also written of Yeats’s supposed ‘ecstatic and reductive solipsism’, and has suggested that ‘[t] he Higher Criticism of Yeats, when it is more fully developed, will have to engage the radical issue of his subjectivity’.21 Bloom reads A Vision via Per Amica Silentia Lunae, where this characterisation may be valid, but as Margaret Mills Harper’s book title has stressed, A Vision is ‘wisdom of two’. There is no place for solipsism in a marriage. Gogarty’s joke, which is repeated in Rossi’s 1970 book, is perhaps too good to be true:

  • 22 Oliver St. John Gogarty, William Butler Yeats: A Memoir. With a preface by Myles Dillon (Dublin: D (...)

He [Yeats] went round to see George Russell and to try his newly found Berkeleyism on him.
‘Russell, nothing exists but consciousness. The whole world depends on my being conscious of it’.
‘Thank you, Willie’, Russell answered, ‘… I wrote your poetry’.22

  • 23 By “Last Case perceiver’ he means that if all other percipients are removed then only God remains (...)

26Yeats’s response to the charge of solipsism was the one he made to Sturge Moore: ‘The belief that all is experience does not mean that there is no truth unknown to us for there are unknown minds, but it does mean that there is no truth where there is no mind to know it’ (TSMC 86; CL InteLex 4855). One of these ‘unknown minds’ is God. Yeats explained his position to Sturge Moore in March 1926, I agree with what [G. E. Moore] says about the later Berkeley, who was a Platonist. My Berkeley is the Berkeley of the Commonplace Book, and it is this Berkeley who has influenced the Italians. The essential sentence is of course ‘things only exist in being perceived’, and I can only call that perception God’s when I add Blake’s ‘God only acts or is in existing beings or men’. (TSMC 80; CL InteLex 4849) The Blake quotation as used here obviously chimes with the sentiments expressed in the ‘Seven Propositions’ with its ‘community of spirits’, although Yeats early and late will refer to ‘God’ as a separate transcendent being. Mc Cormack will claim that ‘if the Last Case perceiver, God, is elided from Berkeley’s thesis, the result is a diagnosis of solipsism, even group solipsism, or a template for eternal surveillance’ (109), but what Yeats is saying fits neither of these.23 As for the contrast between early and late Berkeley, Yeats will later say, in the Introduction to Bishop Berkeley, that he thought Berkeley may have come to believe what he himself puts forward here as his own belief, but that he dared not say such a thing in public. The following passage from that Introduction is essential for an understanding of how Yeats interpreted Berkeley.

Berkeley wrote in his Commonplace Book—‘The Spirit—the active thing—that which is soul and God—is the will alone’; and then remembering the mask that he must never lay aside, added: ‘The concrete of the will and understanding I must call mind, not person, lest offence be given, there being but one volition acknowledged to be God. Mem. Carefully to omit defining Person, or making much mention of it’. Then remembering that some member of his secret society had asked if our separate personalities were united in a single will, a question considered by Plotinus in the Fourth Ennead but dangerous in the eighteenth century, he wrote, ‘What you ask is merely about a word, unite is no more’. Number had no existence being like all abstract ideas a part of language. It is plain however from his later writings that he thought of God as a pure indivisible act, personal because at once will and understanding, which unlike the Pure Act of Italian philosophy creates passive ‘ideas’—sensations—thrusts them as it were outside itself; and in this act all beings—from the hierarchy of heaven to man and woman and doubtless all that lives—share in the measure of their worth: not the God of Protestant theology but a God that leaves room for human pride. (Bishop Berkeley, xxv-xxvi; CW5 110.)

27There are some interesting questions raised here which might give Mc Cormack pause, but which, given his totalitarian all-or-nothing stance, do not. Yeats’s charge that ‘the Pure Act of Italian philosophy’—read ‘Gentile’ for ‘Italian philosophy’—does not leave ‘room for human pride’ should be noted. It is precisely this charge that is brought against Gentile in Angelo Crespi’s Contemporary Thought of Italy (YL 436). As Yeats has noted, Gentile is also denying that there is a part of spirit that is not act, i. e. that spirit can sometimes be passive. This is a problem that all interpreters of Berkeley must face. If spirit is simple, how can it be both active and passive? For Berkeley, it is the fact that we have ideas which we do not create, i. e. that we are passive in perception, that demonstrates the existence of another spirit who has created them.

28We have seen that Mc Cormack characterised Yeats’s interest in philosophy as ‘would-be absolute-ist’ (175). Yeats came to dislike about Gentile is precisely the absolutism whereby the human mind becomes the be-all and end-all and would have agreed with Berkeley that there was only one spirit whose mind could be described as ‘pure act’, with no admixture of passivity, and that is God (‘the Pure Act or Eternal Instant, source of simultaneity and succession alike’ [Bishop Berkeley, xxi n.; CW5 352n. 25a]). Yeats confessed that ‘I am always, in all I do, driven to a moment which is the realisation of myself as unique and free, or to a moment which is the surrender to God of all that I am’ (Ex 305), whereas Gentile avoided this situation by eliminating God from the equation, declaring that his mind as pure act was capable of accomplishing all that had traditionally been the provenance of God.

29From Gentile’s God’s eye view, history itself became meaningless, and human beings become mere pawns in the unfolding of a totalitarian spirit. Yeats did not agree.

  • 24 Ex 429–30n.; CW5 432 n. 65. Mc Cormack quotes a passage from W. Tudor Jones’s Contemporary Thought (...)

Hegel’s historical dialectic is, I am persuaded, false [Yeats writes] ‘and its falsehood has led to the rancid ill-temper of the typical communist and his incitements or condonations of murder. When the spring vegetables are over they have not been refuted, nor have they suffered in honour or reputation’.24

30Yeats had early learned the distinction between a contrary and a negation, and this distinction lies behind the above sentence, as he explains in A Vision B:

“Contraries are positive”, wrote Blake, “a negation is not a contrary”…. I had never put the conflict in logical form, never thought with Hegel that the two ends of the see-saw are one another’s negation, nor that the spring vegetables were refuted when over.

  • 25 Aphorisms of Yôga by Bhagwan Shree Patanjali, Done into English from the original in Sanskrit with (...)
  • 26 In this assessment of what Yeats is saying in Aphorisms of Yôga, I disagree with Gerald Doherty, w (...)

31Yeats appends a note to ‘logical form’ in which he says that ‘Croce in his study of Hegel identifies error with negation’ (AVB 72 and note; CW14 53). In What Is Living and What Is Dead of the Philosophy of Hegel (YL 448), Croce uses the terms distincts and opposites instead of contraries and negations. Yeats, one should note, called Gentile ‘the Italian Hegelian philosopher’.25 Crespi’s book on Contemporary Thought of Italy (YL 436) showed quite clearly, in 1926, how Gentile’s philosophy leads to the negation of the individual in the interests of the State ‘or, under this name, of any faction or mob which by fair means or foul succeeds temporarily in seizing the helm’ (Contemporary Thought of Italy, 198). There is a difficult annotation made by Yeats on p. 160 of Crespi which is relevant to this topic: ‘I (let us say) negate Swinburne, as part of an historical movement. But as transcendental ego I recreate his world. The transcendental ego may not be dialectical, but only empirical’. While the concept of negation occurs on this page, the annotation appears to be related to the wider context of Crespi’s argument. I suggest that Yeats read further on in Crespi’s chapter and returned to this page in order to make his comment, which seems to incorporate Crespi’s later collapsing of Gentile’s ‘Transcendental Ego’ into a merely empirical one (Contemporary Thought of Italy, p. 175: ‘in such a synthesis the Empirical… does not cease to be empirical…. [or else] the Transcendental [is] a mere abstraction’). I thus take the annotation to mean that Yeats does not follow Gentile and accordingly would reject the transcendental ego if it is not dialectical, if it tries to treat contraries as opposites and thus have the opposites cancel each other out. This may be compared with the passage in the Introduction to Aphorisms of Yôga (p. 19; CW5 179), where Yeats characterises the idea that ‘ultimate reality is the Pure Act’, as that wherein ‘the actor and the thing acted upon, the puncher and the punching-ball, [are] consumed away’. This is not a consummation that he wishes.26

  • 27 Mc Cormack’s characterization of Berkeley as ‘the advocate of tar-water’ (63) is symptomatic of an (...)

32Mc Cormack steers clear of contemporary debates about the status of Berkeley’s immaterialism. Is he a subjective idealist or a realist? An early phenomenalist? A pragmatist before his time? An empiricist?27 Nor does he examine how Yeats draws distinctions between different forms of idealism, both in the Introduction to Bishop Berkeley, where he says that he thinks Kant more an idealist than Berkeley, who was ‘idealist and realist alike’—an opinion with which most Berkeley scholars would now agree—and Hegel and his successors more than Kant (Bishop Berkeley, xxiii; CW5), and in the letters to Sturge Moore, where he discusses realism and idealism at length (e.g. TSMC 77–78, 89,99; CL InteLex 4840, 4856). While Mc Cormack notes that Bradley had his own version of idealism (138), he does not quote Yeats’s scathing assessment of the man, and one presumes, of his philosophy, in A Vision:

Professor Bradley believed also that he could stand by the death-bed or wife or mistress and not long for an immortality of body and soul. He found it difficult to reconcile personal immortality with his form of Absolute idealism, and besides he hated the common heart; an arrogant, sapless man’ (AVB 219n., CW14 159n.).

33Nor does he discuss McTaggart, who is Yeats’s preferred idealist. The perennial problem of the One and the Many is early, and correctly, identified by Mc Cormack as a key to Yeats (17), but at no stage does he quote Yeats’s confession about ‘the realisation of myself as unique and free’, or of ‘surrender to God’ (Ex 305, above p. 439). Mc Cormack also admits that Eastern thought might have similar concerns. One of his main concessions (in a fn.) is worth quoting in full. Raising the spectre of Yeats’s concordance with the ‘Einsteinian concept of space-time’, which ‘revived issues discussed by the ancient Greeks’, he dismisses it by claiming that it is inconsistent with Yeats’s supposed view that all questions must be drawn to ‘a mind-totality in which even the dead and the living enjoyed no distinction one class from the other’. Ignoring the fact that Yeats, like everyone else, drew just such a distinction (where has he ever said that he does not?), he proceeds with some casual Orientalism:

It can be argued that Yeats is not at odds with Eastern Philosophy on this point; the problems arise when he wishes to hold a non-or anti-individuating theory of mind and, at the same time, to act as an individual agent of power in relation to others considered likewise as individuals; to be at once eastern and western, passive (or contemplative) and active. Few occasions or contexts for resolution of these opposites arise without concomitant issues whether defined in moral terms or otherwise (e.g. through mysticism, 46 n. 90).

34This passage is noteworthy in several respects. First, it is one of the few occasions where Mc Cormack concedes what most of his book seeks to deny, that Yeats at any time wanted to act ‘as an individual agent of power in relation to others considered likewise as individuals’. Secondly, it is an admission that there are contexts in which the One can be invoked which do not involve fascistic thought. Thirdly, it acknowledges that attempts to resolve these opposites carry with them other issues. Yeats would have agreed with the last point. The unwarranted assumption is that Yeats wanted to resolve the issue of the One and the many. For him, on the contrary, ‘human reason’ cannot reconcile the claims of the One and the many: ‘Could those two impulses [towards the One or towards the many], one as much a part of the truth as the other, be reconciled, or if one or the other could prevail, all life would cease’ (Ex 305). Doubtless Mc Cormack would see this as an embrace of irrationalism rather than as an acknowledgment of inevitable paradox.

  • 28 What Jessop said about Dr Johnson may be applied to what Mc Cormack says about victim and perpetra (...)

35Mc Cormack’s book is long on rhetoric and short on analysis. He does not give even a minimal account of what was promised at his book’s outset, how the ‘idealism’ of ‘Berkeley is reconceived, misbegotten and generally deformed in the “mind” of Italian idealism as swaddled by fascism’ (8–9). It is simply stated as fact. When Mc Cormack writes that ‘the Berkeley available to Yeats in 1927 was not the model of 1733 (or earlier); it was the complex of Berkeleyan text-in-interpretation advanced by Croce, Gentile, Papini, Rossi and Hone from a place avowedly totalitarian’ (100), that is virtually the extent of the argument. Later, he will say ‘Enough has been said about the transmission, and inevitable misprision, of Berkeley’s thought from the eighteenth century through to the present, especially its Italian phase’ (155), whereas little has in fact been said on this topic. Alternatively, the distinction between the ‘real’ Berkeley and Berkeley as interpreted is ignored and the two idealisms are simply conflated: he will write, for example, of how ‘[t] he idealist of the Berkeleyan-Yeatsian stripe’ sees no difference between perpetrator and victim because ‘[t] he notion of individual minds is an inadequate realisation of mentality for, in Yeats’ s words, there is One Mind only’, and besides, a physical beating is all in the mind (83–84). However, his juxtaposition here and elsewhere (e. g., 40, 100, 104) of Berkeley’s thesis with death camps and beatings by fascist goons no more touches Berkeley or Yeats than did the pain in Dr Johnson’s foot when he refuted Berkeley by kicking a stone; the criticism is at the same level of comprehension, and will win applause only from those who are likewise searching for easy victories.28 But putting aside the placing of blame with Berkeley and Yeats, is Mc Cormack correct to believe that some forms of idealism are complicit with murder or, perhaps more accurately, do not give one a platform from which to denounce such things? Is he also correct to warn about the dangers of a cult of sacrifice for the greater good? Surprisingly enough, it is here, just when you think Mc Cormack is at his most cantankerous and unbalanced, his most unforgiving, that his book may perform a valuable service: his exaggerations and distortions are in fact provoking, and they may prod his readers into clarifying what they think—if they have not been driven to dismiss him completely, which, given his antagonistic stance and writing style, is a very real risk.

36Much of ‘We Irish’, like its predecessor Blood Kindred, is an extended complaint that people in the 1920s and’30s did not see what fascism would become. In other words, it judges people of that era according to post-Holocaust standards, and of course, they are found wanting. Is this unfair? Obviously so, but it is not a futile exercise. Abstractions and ideology predominate in current political debate. Slogans like ‘national security’ and ‘war on terror’ help to condone abrogation of human rights and the massacre of innocents. Mc Cormack is right to excoriate the complicity of the ‘wee Irish’ (vi) and their analogues world-wide in support of ‘greater’ ideologies. When he writes of the situation where ‘even value itself [is] susceptible to conversion into its opposite’ (129), it is a necessary warning. The competing demands of reality and justice are our continuing burden, as Yeats well knew. Mc Cormack chooses to entomb the poet in a cocoon of innuendo and assertion, thereby missing anything of value to be found in his writings.

37The final lines of ‘The Man and the Echo’ can serve as sufficient rebuttal of Mc Cormack:

O Rocky Voice,
Shall we in the great night rejoice?
What do we know but that we face
One another in this place?
But hush, for I have lost the theme,
Its joy or night seem but a dream;
Up there some hawk or owl has struck,
Dropping out of sky or rock,
A stricken rabbit is crying out,
And its cry distracts my thought. (VP 633)


1 Now published (March 2016) by Michigan State University Press, March 2016, ISBN 9781611861914.

2 Blood Kindred: W. B. Yeats, The Life, the Death, the Politics (London: Pimlico, 2005) was reviewed—generously—by David Dwan in YA17 403–07.

3 It takes little psychological insight to see that Mc Cormack’s urge to rescue ‘lesser’ authors who have been hidden under the ‘Yeatsian shadow’ (16–17) is the obverse of the attack on Roy Foster which opens the first chapter. This is regardless of the validity of what is being said. If you want to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, you can do so; alternatively, you can draw attention to the way in which you do it. Authorial excesses do not always lead to the Palace of Wisdom, so a reader cannot be blamed who elects not to follow the winding paths by which Mc Cormack attempts to connect Yeats, ‘resurgent sacrifice’ (chapter 2.3ff.), and a lack of pity for those who lived their lives ‘as though they had not been’ (109). Mc Cormack, of course, thinks it all the fault of the reader: ‘We write, but nobody reads’, he laments in the ‘Epistle Dedicatory’ (v).

4 Evanston: Northwestern University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1966, 222–65.

5 Mc Cormack, 14, emphasis added. The reader of Mc Cormack must acclimatize to belittling rhetoric and the constant half-withdrawal of arguments proffered.

6 The book was originally twice its current size and that the early chapters were removed and others reshaped (v), so perhaps the phrase ‘already been described in some detail’ once had meaning. Mc Cormack is strangely determined to contest Torchiana’s (and George Yeats’s) identification, and to do so inconsistently. He had included a section in Blood Kindred entitled ‘Jephson O’Connell and the National Army Mutiny’ (226–31), but had not mentioned Torchiana in that context. He states, on the authority of MacManus, that ‘O’ Connell was an ordained Catholic priest of an English diocese, no longer exercising his vocation’ (Blood Kindred, 227–28 and n. 451). If so, he may well be the Jephson Byrne O’Connell who can be found in the on-line archives of The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly, under the following 1916 entry for the diocese of Southwark: ‘CLERICAL CHANGES.—The following clerical changes have taken place in the diocese:—The Rev. Jephson Byrne O’Connell, Ph. D., the Professor of Philosophy at the diocesan seminary, has gone to St Edmund’s House, Cambridge, for further study’, If, like Mc Cormack, one is going to guess on the basis of ‘intellectual capacity’, then a professor of philosophy seems an eminently likely person to convince Yeats about Berkeley’s merits. The O’Connell Yeats knew was a former pupil of G. E. Moore, although he was unable to explain Moore’s philosophy to Yeats’s satisfaction (TSMC 166–67; CL InteLex 5430). I leave to others to decide whether he qualifies as the Irish priest who told Yeats that ‘Bertrand Russell is a prig and he is not the big man people think him, but there is a big man behind him—Moore of Cambridge. The pity is that Moore’s mind is analytical and analytical alone’ (TSMC 89–90; CL InteLex 4856). It is an open question as to what Yeats in 1925 might consider ‘young’. One must wonder why Mc Cormack links the soldier and Robinson to advance O’Malley’s claims. All Yeats says is that Robinson later bought him the volumes: he does not imply that Robinson and the soldier collaborated in the matter of Berkeley. John P. Frayne follows Torchiana’s identification of the soldier (UP2 484, 489; CW10 218, 232). Roy Foster tentatively agrees with Torchiana, although he suggests that he ‘could conceivably be Dermot MacManus’ (Life 2, 730 n. 103). A. Norman Jeffares has consistently championed the claim of MacManus (1892–1975); see NC 273, A Vision and Related Writings (London: Arena, 1990), 384) and W. B. Yeats: A New Biography (London: Continuum, 2nd ed., 2001), 225. Fiorenzo Fantaccini follows Jeffares (W. B. Yeats e la cultura italiana [Florence: Firenze University Press, 2008], 77.

7 Rossi, quoted in Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats, 1865–1939 (London: Macmillan, 1942), 422.

8 The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973 (2nd ed., rev. and enl.). I have been unable to consult these articles, but they do seem rather short.

9 Bishop Berkeley: His Life, Writings, and Philosophy (xxix), a passage that does not occur in Essays 1931–1936, nor in E&I. It is given as an Appendix in CW5 290.

10 CL InteLex 5409, 20 November 1930: L 779. Mc Cormack quotes it to sneer about Yeats’s assessment of the future of Ireland (39).

11 The question of what Yeats learnt from Rossi (as opposed to Hone) about Berkeley’s philosophy remains to be studied; I suspect it has much to do with an assessment of Siris. Rossi, of course, published a translation of the Commonplace Book in 1924 (Gli Appunti (Commonplace Book), tradotti, commentati, ordinati, con introduzione, bibliografia e indici [Bologna: Cappelli]). As the title suggests, Rossi arranged the notebooks thematically and did not follow the order of writing. The chances of this book influencing Yeats, even via Hone, are remote, although he did state in 1928 that it provided ‘the only adequate commentary’ (CL InteLex 5165). Torchiana quotes a letter of Rossi’s in which he claims ‘I am, just now, correcting the proofs of my last book on Berkeley, in which I maintain again the views Yeats accepted from me’ (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 227, n. 20). Torchiana quite rightly does not read Rossi as claiming that Yeats derived all of his interpretations from Rossi. Torchiana’s ‘Acknowledgments’ is dated February 1965 (W. B. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, viii), so the book to which Rossi refers is probably Introduzione a Berkeley (Bari: Laterza 1970). Introduzione a Berkeley is not mentioned anywhere by Mc Cormack, although he sketches Rossi’s later career and notes that the Hone family in Dublin have preserved ‘two sets of marked-up proofs, one a translation of Berkeley’s Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge, the other a study of the philosopher in Italian, both Rossi’s work, both dating from 1955’(74). McCormack did not bother to see if the marked-up proofs had been published, although a quick check of A Bibliography of George Berkeley would have been sufficient: Jessop’s book does appear in his own bibliography. The former marked-up proof sounds like Trattato sui princìpi e Dialoghi, trans. M. M. Rossi, ‘Classici della filosofia moderna’ (Bari: Laterza, 1955), while the latter is most probably Saggio su Berkeley (Bari: Laterza, 1955). Neither of these books is mentioned by Mc Cormack. Saggio su Berkeley is described by Jessop as ‘Very controversial—“To save the poor bishop from his admirers”; he was a tyro in philos., and in scholarship a dabbler in secondhand information; his De motu and Alciphron are turningpoints [sic] towards a rationalist emphasis in Siris’. Rossi replied to two of the reviews but I have been unable to consult the reviews or responses (Bibliography, 126).

12 One should not underestimate the extent of independent reading. If a subject interested Yeats, he consulted standard reference works, as his annotations attest. Mc Cormack makes much of Yeats’s reading of W. Tudor Jones’ Contemporary Thought of Germany (YL 1027), but makes no mention of Angelo Crespi’s Contemporary Thought of Italy in the same series (YL 436), despite it being a more than plausible source for Yeats’s information about Italian Idealism. It also endorses a view of Italian Idealism consistent with that taken by Mc Cormack: Crespi calls contemporary Italian philosophy ‘an extreme form of diseases from which we are all more or less suffering’ (vii). Context of course is everything. You can choose to see these two books in the context of fascism; or can you see them as part of a series about contemporary philosophy, along with J. H. Muirhead’s Contemporary British Philosophy, First and Second series (YL 1399 and 1400) or Bernard Bosanquet’s The Meeting of Extremes in Contemporary Philosophy (YL 254). Yeats read Croce and Gentile for himself, and did not need to have them mediated. He apparently told Sturge Moore to read Gentile in late 1925 (TSMC 59; see also CL InteLex 4884, 23 June [1926]). Mc Cormack could have referred to Hone’s W. B. Yeats, p. 368 for Yeats and the Italians, but chose not to, which is odd, given his ostensible topic. There, Hone informs us that Yeats attended Douglas Ainslie’s lectures on Croce’s aesthetics, but gives no date (there is no Index entry for ‘Ainslie’ in Mc Cormack). In Torchiana’s ‘Yeats and Croce’, YA4 3–11, the date is given as 1923 via Virginia Moore (5). Hone also states that ‘some phrase used by me about Gentile had caught his ear’ (the context is educational reform). This doesn’t sound like ‘constant mediation’. Saddlemyer informs us that it was Pound who took the future George Yeats to Ainslie’s lectures in 1914 (Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W. B. Yeats (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 39, 60).

13 Yeats stated in 1928, whilst attempting to persuade Macmillan to commission Hone to translate Rossi’s Gli Appunti, that ‘[t] he only English edition [of the Commonplace Book] is in Frazers complete edition of Berkeley, and there the pages are in the wrong order. I have given some time to trying to understand the “Commonplace Book” and know therefore the great need for explanatory notes and introductions’ (CL InteLex 5165). The Commonplace Book, now known as Philosophical Commentaries or simply as Diaries, was first published by Alexander Campbell Fraser in 1871, in Life and letters of George Berkeley, D. D. formerly bishop of Cloyne; and an account of his philosophy. With many writings of Bishop Berkeley hitherto unpublished: metaphysical, descriptive, theological (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1871). Fraser republished it in 1901 in the first volume of his 4 volume edition of The works of George Berkeley... including his posthumous works; with prefaces, annotations, appendices, and an account of his life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901). Yeats’s quotations in the Introduction to Bishop Berkeley follow Johnston’s wording rather than Fraser’s. Torchiana (Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 225) adduces Yeats’s reading of Calkins and Simon via T. L Dume’s unpublished thesis, but could have referred to the Introduction to Bishop Berkeley, where Calkins is quoted, and AV B 190n., CW14 140n., where Simon is referenced. (In the original Introduction [xxiv] and the reprints in Essays 1931–1936 [40] and the E & I version [406] Calkins is called ‘Catkins’. This is corrected in Later Essays [CW5, 354, 518].) There are several printings of Collyns Simon. The original was The Principles of Human Knowledge | Being Berkeley’s Celebrated Treatise | On the Nature of the Material Substance | And Its Relation to the Absolute | With A Brief Introduction to the Doctrine and Full Explanations of the Text; | Followed by an Appendix with Remarks on Kant and Hume (London: William Tegg & Co., 1878). There were also reprints in 1878, 1893, 1895, and 1899. The ‘Everyman Berkeley’, which Yeats carried in his pocket in 1931 (Yeats and Georgian Ireland references Man and Poet, 267), would have been A New Theory of Vision and Other Select Philosophical Writings, n. 483 of Everyman’s Library, ed. Ernest Rhys, Introduction by A. D. Lindsay (London: J. M. Dent, 1910), or one of the reprints up to 1929 (1914, 1919, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1929). Like Mc Cormack, I have taken bibliographic details for Berkeley from Jessop’s Bibliography, although I have also used the Internet Archive, where many of these books may be found.

14 Mc Cormack is mistaken in pointing out that the cutting from the Irish Statesman of 7 September 1929, Hone’s ‘The Dublin of Berkeley (1703–1710)’, noted by Torchiana as an insert in Johnston, ‘had disappeared by the time Parisious and O’ Shea got to work’(30). It appears as YL 996. However, it is now listed as an insert in Croce’s Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (YL 443).

15 See K. P. S. Jochum’s decisive ‘Yeats and the Goethe-Plakette: an unpublished Letter’YA15, Yeats’s Collaborations, 288–312.

16 The Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 1929 (Recent German Literature number). See YL 2146 for O’Shea’s note: ‘[i] n an envelope inserted in [YL] 1052 [Kant’s Critical Philosophy for English Readers], labelled: Article on recent German philosophy from “Times Literary Supplement” (” German Supplement”) April 1929’.

17 Mc Cormack wonders aloud whether the Husserl reference (CW5 435 n. 82) was originally part of On the Boiler, even suggesting that Hone may have foisted it on to George Yeats, because, of course, it had been Hone who ‘very likely’ has directed Yeats to Husserl in the first place (53 n. 108).

18 I have taken my quotations of the ‘Seven Propositions’ from Neil Mann’s website,, as at 22 December 2013). Mc Cormack chooses to see the idea of ‘spirits and their relations’ through the distorting glass of spiritualism (e.g. 37, 40), as though Yeats pictures the entirety of reality as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and all his cohorts floating around in the ether and getting up to japes. Spiritualism did not exist when Berkeley wrote, although it was very much in the air when McTaggart developed his philosophy. Yeats’s mature view was that popular spiritualism ‘is sentimental make-believe, a pantomime stage where disembodied spirits re-create their human loves and hates’ (Ex 309), which is how Mc Cormack professes to understand Yeats’s own viewpoint. When Mc Cormack writes that ‘Yeats’s motives in taking up the bishop in his exchanges with Sturge Moore include a desire to “prove” psychical phenomena’ (36), it might be suggested that he has got it precisely around the wrong way: Yeats is using psychical phenomena, such as Ruskin’s cat, to further a philosophic point about ‘sense-data’ (to use terminology he disagreed with). If you see a bent stick in the water, you see what you see, and all talk of refraction serves to obscure the fact. Likewise, if Ruskin saw his cat, he saw his cat. As Yeats explains to Sturge Moore, what is at stake is ‘immediate knowledge’ (TSMC 66, CL InteLex 4826). It is what you make of what you see that is important, but it is no use denying what you have seen in the first place. He also explained ‘However I try always to keep my philosophy within such classifications of thought as will keep it to such experience as seems a natural life. I prefer to include in my definition of water a little duck weed or a few fish. I have never met that poor naked creature H2 O’ (TSMC 69, CL InteLex 4830).

19 A. A. Luce and T. E. Jessop (eds.), The Works of George Berkeley Bishop of Cloyne (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1949), Vol. 2, 7.

20 The Idealism of Giovanni Gentile (New York: Macmillan, 1937), Chapter 5, ‘The Problem’, 111–20.

21 Harold Bloom, Yeats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 372–73.

22 Oliver St. John Gogarty, William Butler Yeats: A Memoir. With a preface by Myles Dillon (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1963), 22. There is a less-polished version in As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (Penguin, 1954 edition, orig. published 1937, YL 754), 82: ‘you are as good (or as bad) a Berkeleian as Yeats, who holds that all existence depends on the percipient, or rather he held it until Æ pointed out an objection with, “Very well, Willie, then I am responsible for both your existence and your poems”’. The clumsier phrasing suggests that there may have been some truth in the story, or it might simply mean that Gogarty had not worked up his joke sufficiently. Rossi was treated to Gogarty’s more streamlined version: ‘Oliver Gogarty mi raccontava che quando W. B. Yeats prese il primo contatto con Berkeley e Gogarty stesso gli spiegò quel che Berkeley diceva, Yeats se ne entusiasmò, alla prima, e corse dal famoso scrittore AE (George Russell) a dirgli: “Russell, la tua esistenza e tutto ciò che esiste deve la sua esistenza alla mia percezione…”. Al che AE ribatté: “Grazie, Mino: vuol dire che sono stato io a scrivere anche le tue poesie”’ (Introduzione a Berkeley, 227 n. 34).

23 By “Last Case perceiver’ he means that if all other percipients are removed then only God remains to validate the existence of what is otherwise unperceived. Mc Cormack gratefully filches the phrase ‘group solipsism’ from John Russell Roberts’ A Metaphysics for the Mob: The Philosophy of George Berkeley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 4), but ignores the ways Roberts explains it is not applicable to Berkeley, perhaps because his arguments on this are equally applicable to Yeats.

24 Ex 429–30n.; CW5 432 n. 65. Mc Cormack quotes a passage from W. Tudor Jones’s Contemporary Thought of Germany which states that ‘Hegel introduces alien elements from the natural world and conceives of these as pure thought’ (44). Observing that Yeats has marked this passage, he comments: ‘There is no way of judging from the single bar line in the margin whether Yeats regarded this with approval, curiosity, incomprehension, or hostility’. Obviously, though, you could look at what else Yeats had to say about Hegel. Mc Cormack has clearly examined the volume (O’Shea does not identify the marked passages).

25 Aphorisms of Yôga by Bhagwan Shree Patanjali, Done into English from the original in Sanskrit with a commentary by Shree Purohit Swami and an Introduction by W. B. Yeats (London: Faber & Faber, 1938), 19; CW5 179.

26 In this assessment of what Yeats is saying in Aphorisms of Yôga, I disagree with Gerald Doherty, who says of this passage that ‘Yeats applauds Gentile’. See Doherty, “The World That Shines and Sounds: W. B. Yeats and Daisetz Suzuki”, Irish Renaissance Annual 4 (1983), 68. In his 1937 book on The Idealism of Giovanni Gentile, Roger W. Holmes notes that, for Gentile, ‘even the four-fold division of Croce’ s must go. Any multiplicity, be it that of the mind and something outside of the mind or even a division of the activity of the mind, is arbitrary’ (The Idealism of Giovanni Gentile, 7–8). As Yeats’s annotations to Croce demonstrate (YL 444, YL 446), he would have been reluctant to dispense with Croce’s idea. In A Vision, he writes, ‘The Four Faculties somewhat resemble the four moments to which Croce has dedicated four books’, although he thought that Croce did not go far enough because he made ‘little use of antithesis and antinomy’ (AVB 82 n.; CW14 61 n.). For Yeats and Croce, one should consult Torchiana’s ‘Yeats and Croce’, already mentioned. This is the same as the Torchiana article listed in Mc Cormack’s bibliography as ‘Yeats and Italian Idealism’. Mc Cormack points out that Yeats lost interest in Gentile by 1934 (70), implying that mere fickleness was to blame.

27 Mc Cormack’s characterization of Berkeley as ‘the advocate of tar-water’ (63) is symptomatic of an unacknowledged contempt, although he probably thinks he is merely being entertaining. When he actually expounds Berkeley’s philosophy, he does so via Ronald Knox’s limerick about the tree in the quad (78–79; the phrase merits a separate Index entry under ‘Berkeley’: there are references on pp. 55 and 156 that are not indexed). It is possible that this is a trap for the unwary, although it might signify laziness and a distaste for philosophy unless it has first been mediated—and vetted—by Adorno. However, Mc Cormack does note, via Roberts, that Berkeley never said ‘Esse est percipi’ as it is usually quoted—the reader of Roberts could hardly miss his discussion, as his first chapter is provocatively titled ‘The Berkelian Basics: Why Esse Is Not Percipi’—but he prefers to discuss grammatical fine points rather than follow up on what Roberts has to say about the topic (151, 168). While his Bibliography does include several modern works on Berkeley, Mc Cormack only discusses those which have a predominantly literary focus. He appears to have learnt little about Berkeley’s philosophy from David Berman, whom he thanks in the Acknowledgements.

28 What Jessop said about Dr Johnson may be applied to what Mc Cormack says about victim and perpetrator: Johnson may have kicked the stone, but he missed the point (quoted by Luce, Berkeley’s Immaterialism, 80).


Retired several years ago after what he describes as ‘a long and undistinguished career in the Australian Public Service’, during which he has been the mainstay of this journal’s commitment to ‘Mastering what is most abstract’ in A Vision, with numerous closely-observed elucidations of its system and its textual puzzles. He continues to read widely, review questioningly, and to write essays on Yeats. Email:


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