• Michael Steinman


When William Butler Yeats described Blake as “… crying out for a mythology, and trying to make one because he could not find one to his hand”, he described himself.1 Separated from traditional national heroes and an orthodox religious mythology by sensitive skepticism, Yeats made a personal mythology of four heroic figures: Oscar Wilde, Charles Stewart Parnell, Jonathan Swift, and Roger Casement. These four were essential, rather than others he celebrated, because they resembled Yeats’s heroic conception of himself, and in the artistic ways he chose to re-create their images. They were all distinguished by singular personality, which often approached idiosyncracy or eccentricity. It usually revealed itself in aristocratic pride, their disdain for the common, as they defined themselves outside the accepted social, artistic, or political laws, creating worlds to suit themselves. This defiance of common expectations often led to their ruin, an inevitable result of their heroic conceptions of themselves. When facing their tormentors, they were proud and gallant: Wilde on trial, Parnell in Committee Room Fifteen, Swift as the Drapier, Casement’s mad audacity. All had almost conquered England: Wilde, art’s prophet, Parnell, Ireland’s uncrowned King, Swift as the man whose arrest would require ten thousand men, and Casement, ready to free Ireland by force.


Private Life Inevitable Result Moral Outrage Common Expectation Intellectual Freedom 
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  1. 2.
    William Makepeace Thackeray, English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, rpt. in part in Jonathan Swift: A Critical Anthology, ed. Denis Donoghue (Baltimore: Penguin, 1971) 117.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    T.S. Eliot, “Yeats”, in Yeats: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. John Unterecker (Engelwood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963) 62–3.Google Scholar

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© Michael Steinman 1983

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  • Michael Steinman

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