[Lawrence Wilson, brother of the Ulster Irish poet R. N. D. Wilson.] Unpublished Typescript Memoir titled '”There were giants............” | Memories of an Ulster boyhood.' With accounts of W. B. Yeats, Paul Henry and others.

Author: 
Lawrence Wilson, brother of R. N. D. Wilson [Robert Noble Denison Wilson] (1899-1953), Ulster Irish poet, son of Rev. W. A. Wilson of Coleraine [W. B. Yeats; Lennox Robinson; Paul Henry; AE]
Publication details: 
Foreword dated 5 July 1973, from '9 Chemin Calendrini, Conches. près Genève.' On title-page: 'Begun Jan. 17th, 1965.'
£450.00
SKU: 21920

This unpublished memoir was produced for circulation within Wilson's family. The only other copy found on either OCLC WorldCat or COPAC is in the National Library of Scotland. It is well-written, entertaining and conversational, and describes a privileged Ulster upbringing, the author's mother being a member of the Taylor family of Coleraine whiskey distillers, and his great-uncle being the MP Daniel Taylor (1825-1889). Lawrence Wilson's father was Rev. William Andrew Wilson (1869-1918), Minister of New Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine, and his brother was the poet Robert Noble Denison Wilson (1899-1953). Of particular interest is the final section, which concerns Wilson's meetings with W. B. Yeats, and acquaintance with other cultural figures, including AE, Lennox Robinson and Paul Henry. A total of 61pp of typescript (paginated as [1] + II + 58pp), 8vo. Each page typed on its own leaf of loose typewriter paper. Title-page reads: '”There were giants............” | Memories of an Ulster boyhood. | Lawrence Wilson. | “There were giants on the earth in those days.” | Genesis VI, 4. | (Begun Jan. 17th, 1965.) | For my grandsons, Roger Gavin and Eric.' The title-page is followed by: two-page 'Foreword' (paginated I and II); text of memoir in six chapters, paginated 1-58. The six chapters are as follows: I, '”I hoist my flag and go.”' (pp.1-9); II, '”The Giant.”' (pp.10-22); III, 'Charade.' (pp.23-28); IV, 'The Other Giant's Castle.' (pp.29-37); '”Elegiac.” (pp.38-39); V, 'The Big House.' (pp.40-48); '”Ah, Did You Once See Shelley Plain....?”' (pp.49-58). In the foreword Wilson deals with the issue of the Troubles: 'It is nearly ten years since I began to write down these memories of an Ulster boyhood and in those ten years the sunlit security of childhood has faded. It is true that we all suffered personal losses in the first World War, but in an uncomprehending way. It is true that we later came to loathe the callousness of the Black and Tans and the undisciplined private vendettas of the B. Specials. But there was little treachery and children were not marked down as either targets or agents of terrorism. Like the fainter memories of the Larne gun-running, of Carson's pallid rat trap of a mask rousing the rabble, of the amateurish manoeuvres of the U. V. F., it all had the farcical grotesque-ness of a Ruritanian musical comedy. Little did we know what lay ahead. […] I write these words in a quiet garden overhanging the River Arve near Geneva. The date is July 1973 and there is no sign of the smoke of battle clearing. And yet, and yet.... Catholic and Protestant women and children have prayed together in the Market Square in Dungannon. […] If it be true that on many faces the lines of bitterness and bigotry are engraven ever more deeply, we must acknowledge gratefully these other signs that the Holy Spirit is still active. [...]' The first chapter deals with his childhood visits to the 'earthly paradise' of Donaghmore; the second with his 'Uncle David' – i.e. David Brown, director of the Donaghmore Soap Works, a fine amateur photographer whose collection is not in the RCB Library in Dublin – who 'should be carved in white marble, like his great namesake'; the third chapter concerns 'the bohemian dream world' of the family abandoned by Mr Allen, the works chemist; the fourth chapter concerns his uncle David Brown's twin brother Robert, and other family members; the two-page section '”Elegiac.”' is about his brother's funeral; the fifth chapter concerns the family's Coleraine mansion Ballysally House, with its 'mysterious glamour' and 'stately rhythm': 'I do not know when my great-uncle, Sir Robert Taylor, bought it but I do know that it rapidly became the centre of legendary hospitality. Robert and his brother Daniel, respectively distiller and general merchant, owned the two country houses nearest Coleraine down river from the town: Daniel, at Millburn, just over a mile out, and Robert at Ballysally “the townland of the willow wood” three quarters of a mile further on. Daniel, married and with a family of three boys and four girls, represented the borough of Coleraine at Westminster, and was succeeded by the then Sir Hervey Bruce of Downhill (a collateral of the Earl-Bishop.) […] Joe Chamberlain had been at least once a guest at Millburn but I doubt if my uncle achieved much celebrity at Westminster beyond introducing his brother's whisky to his fellow members. The whisky, in fact, was eventually marketed as “Coleraine H.C. (House of Commons) Brand.' Representative of the conversational style, among the family anecdotes in the fifth chapter, is: 'My grandfather was killed in a railway accident: no-one ever told me, but I suspect it was suicide after being outbid for the estate he had farmed – possibly Moneydig, though there were several properties involved over the years – my mother being born at Moore Lodge on the Ri[v]er Bann and brought up at the Hermitage, Garvagh, but the family home had been Gills. | My grandfather's death drove the final nail into the coffin of our fortunes. Theh rot had begun in the previous generation when my great grandfather, like many an XVIIIth century squireen, gambled and drank too heavily in the County Club.' The last section is of particular interest, as it gives personal recollections of William Butler Yeats, with reference to Wilson's acquaintance with Paul Henry, Lennox Robinson, 'A.E., the hairy fairy', Darrell Figgis ('A dapper little Captain Kettle of a man'), Sarah Purser, James Stephens, Dr. T. R. Henn. He writes that he 'had the privilege of meeting Yeats on four occasions only: once at his house in Merrion Square and thrice when he and his wife and children were staying at Rosses Point in County Sligo', and explains that he owes these meetings to his brother (R. N. D. Wilson), 'who, after his demobilisation, had gone up to Trinity College, Dublin, in the Hilary Term of 1919 where, although reading History, he had already made a name for himself in literature […] Very soon he became an habitue of A.E.'s Sunday afternoons and Sarah Purser's teaparties, tramped the Dublin mountains with F. R. Higgins and Tom Mc.Greevy and shared weekends in a Wicklow cottage with another young poet, Francis Stuart and his tall, strangely beautiful wife Iseult Gonne. […] There was one time when my brother used to shave hurriedly and dash off to Paul Henry's studio where Grace Henry was painting his portrait.... “As a tramp”, he confided to me.... and I would sit on reading amid the teacups and breadcrumbs. As like as not Arland Ussher, (we called him Percy in those days), would climb the stairs, pour out and drink the stewed dregs of the teapot, and then shave himself with my brother's unrinsed razor and cold lather. | “Where shall we go now?”, he would ask me. I knew: The Zoo. And in the zoo, the Monkey House.' His account of his first visit to Yeats at 82 Merrion Square begins: 'If my memory isn't playing tricks, we were joined by two officers of the Free State Army and all four of us were admitted together. The house, as I recall it, seemed sparsely furnished. There were enough comfortable chairs in the stately first floor drawing room but I cannot remember any book cases, and the expanses of white wall were islanded here and there by a few paintings. A fire twinkled in the huge marble grate round which we were gathered. I cannot say who it was brought our coffee – if, indeed, it was coffee we drank.' He is struck by the poet's appearance, the portraits he has seen having led him to expect 'a willowy, even weak, character'. Instead, what he 'now saw was a big handsome man with a fine head of white hair that contrasted with the rebellious black eyebrows above eyes framed by horn rimmed spectacles. The features were good and regular, and a somewhat pouting lower lip overhung a determined chin – the figure and lineaments, in fact, of “a sixty-year-old smiling public man.”' Yeats recounts how he went to Mirabeau, near Poitiers, with Everard Fielding and Maude Gonne, 'to investigate the phenomenon of certain oleographs of The Sacred Heart which had begun to bleed'. Wilson's version of the story adds an incident which 'Hone does not relate', the humour of which struck him 'even then as cruel'. 'Was I, that evening, to hear anything about his writing? Well, in a sense, yes. […] Just before we left he started to tell us with considerable excitement how he had met in the Kildare Street Club a well known physicist, a refugee from Germany, who spoke to him about the imagery of the “Gyres”, the bobbin-like inverted cones which occur in a number of his poems typifying the winding and unwinding of fate and destiny. “He told me”, said Yeats, “that this was a symbol used by Einstein in his Theory of Relativity”. Believing as he did in a universal unconscious reservoir of meaningful images, this was, of course, gratifying news to the poet. “I came straight home to tell my wife. 'George', I said to her, 'tomorrow morning I must go out and buy an Algebra!'”' He describes a further meeting with Yeats the following year in the west of Ireland. 'It was on the shore at Rosses Point that we met one lovely summer morning. I cannot remember whether by arrangement or by chance. I remember only the happy, lyrical quality of our walk.... I with the children, Michael and Anne, playing on the sand, finding precious treasures.... […] Robert walked with the poet. Blue sky, sparkling sunlight on the little waves, the resilience of the turf, studded with crowsfoot and sea-pinks, the lark in the clear air: a perfect day.' There follows a dinner with Yeats and his wife at his brother's 'small country house near Clogagh, five or six miles east of Sligo': 'We were not unaware of the hazards of giving such an invitation. Yeats, we knew, was moody and if he were bored was quite capable of showing it in the same way as, I'm told, King Edward VII showed it, by drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair.' The poet is 'in gracious mood' and 'reminisced about his Pollexfen relatives and their export trade from the Sligo quays.' The evening is 'memorable for what I might dare to call a small adventure. Hearing that Lough Gill was visible from the top of a steep little hill nearby, W. B. Yeats asked to be taken there. The distance was not great, but to gain the summit meant scrambling over some dry stone dykes. The poet was a large man and had already begun to suffer from the myocarditis which eventually killed him. It was, therefore, with some apprehension that my brother pulled from in front and I pushed from behind in order to help the great man to get to the top. But by the grace of God we hauled him there safely and he stood for a long time surveying the scene.' He describes a last meeting with the poet and his wife 'in their little hotel at Rosses Point.... an evening which produced for me one embarrassing and utterly unforgettable moment'. After dinner he is 'pinned against the wall with Yeats next to me and my mother and brother and Mrs. Yeats in a wider arc beyond. The poet, surveying his glass of whisky in a highly judicial manner, was at his most august. […] “I hear”, said Yeats, turning to me, “that, like your brother, you are interested in the creative side of literature. Pray, who is your master?” He does not wish to answer with the name of Yeats himself. 'Panic-striken, I cast around in my mind and stammered something about having recently been stimulated by the Dialogues of Plato. It was lame, but it staved off disaster. | “Ah yes”, replied the Master, “there was a time when I, too, got much enlightenment from the Socratic Dialogues of Plato; but now I find my greatest inspiration in meditation on the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” | Saved! I also had read the little book by Sir James Jeans popular just then and had remembered enough to ask the right questions to launch him on a dissertation. I sat back and enjoyed myself.'