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Victor Plarr on "The Rhymers' Club": An Unpublished Lecture George Mills Harper Emeritus, Florida State University Karl Beckson Brooklyn College, CUNY ON 20 DECEMBER 1910, Victor Plarr (1863-1929), appointed Librarian of King's College, London, in 1890,1 delivered a lecture at a meeting of the Poets' Club on the subject of the Rhymers' Club, both of which he had been a member. In 1908, T. E. Hulme was a founder of the Poets' Club, but in the following year, he left it to advance, with F. S. Flint, the idea of Imagism as the basis of a new poetic principle, a radical departure from the exhausted lofty rhetoric of Victorian verse. Nevertheless , the Poets' Club had attracted to its meetings such former Rhymers ' Club members as Plarr, Ernest Rhys, John Todhunter, and G. A. Greene, for whom the Poets' Club was the Rhymers' Club's spiritual successor . Indeed, the Poets' Club published its members' poetry in volumes with titles reminiscent of the earlier Rhymers' anthologies: The Book of the Poets' Club (1909) and The Second Book of the Poets' Club (1911). In his lecture, Plarr is uncertain when the Rhymers' Club was founded—no doubt because the Club developed without any rules, minutes of its meetings, or coherent aesthetic principles. The generally accepted year for the Club's beginnings had been 1891, but in the Oxford edition of Yeats's letters, a letter to Katharine Tynan is dated by the editors from internal evidence as around 18 May 1890, in which the following appears in Yeats's eccentric spelling: "... a literary club that Rhys[,] Rolleston & myself have started at the old inn called the Cheshire chease.... It is called the 'Rhymsters.'"2 The May 1890 date for the Club's founding is confirmed by T. W. Rolleston, who published his "Ballade of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese" in the Academy (17 May 1890): In a letter to G. A. Greene (who functioned as the Club's honorary secretary), Rolleston 379 ELT 45 : 4 2002 wrote on 18 October 1891 that his ballade commemorated the initial meetings at the Cheshire Cheese, that "sacred spot."3 As to the "members," the Rhymers listed in their two anthologies, published in 1892 and 1894, indicated only those who were contributors: John Davidson, for example, who was regarded as a member, did not contribute to either anthology because, according to Rhys, he "did not care to be ranked as one of a coterie."4 At the end of Plarr's 1914 memoir of Ernest Dowson, Guy Harrison cites ("from a list in the handwriting of Dr. G. A. Greene"), in addition to Davidson, thirteen poets who contributed to the Rhymers' anthologies and the names of seven "permanent guests."5 From various reports, the Rhymers' meetings were often dull, each attendee expected to bring poems recently written to be read and commented on. In a letter dated 5 February 1891, Lionel Johnson, who was living with Herbert Home and Selwyn Image at the quarters of the Century Guild in Fitzroy Street, describes a characteristic meeting to his friend Campbell Dodgson: "We entertained the other night eighteen minor poets of our acquaintance from Oscar Wilde to Walter Crane, with Arthur Symons and Willie Yeats between. They all inflicted their poems on each other, and were inimitably tedious, except dear Oscar."6 Wilde attended a few Rhymers' meetings but only—it is said—when they were held in private homes or at the Century Guild. The presence of so many Celts in the Club inevitably led to an association with the current Celtic Literary Renaissance, in which Yeats figured prominently: the result was his founding of the Irish Literary Society (London) with such Rhymers as John Todhunter, on the committee , and T. W. Rolleston, appointed secretary. On 4 March 1892, Lionel Johnson wrote to Rhys: "You have shamefully abandoned the Rhymers of late. . .. The Celts were in force last night: inaugural meeting of the 'Irish Literary' and the Welsh dinner."7 In April 1892, Yeats published in the Boston Pilot an article entitled "The Rhymers' Club," which mentions (with the exception of Richard Le Gallienne) only Celtic poets, ending his discussion with Todhunter's Irish subj ect...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 379-385
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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