I was always of the opinion that WB Yeats was a rather serious, impractical, pedantic man, sometimes lost in the unreal world of the fairies. However, Roy Foster’s epic biography of the famous poet *shows that like many of his contemporaries, WB was a very witty conversationalist.
He can’t have had a huge amount of love for George Moore who said unkind things about him and his circle, including Lady Gregory and her nephew Sir Hugh Lane, in his wicked comment on the Irish literary scene Hail and Farewell.**
There were times when WB hugely enjoyed Moore’s company, as is evident in his story of dining one afternoon with Moore at Galway’s Railway Hotel, now the Meyrick.
- “He and I went to the town of Galway for a Gaelic festival that coincided with some assembly of priests. When we lunched at the Railway Hotel the room was full of priests. A Father Moloney, supposed to know all about Greek art, caught sight of Moore and introduced himself. He probably knew nothing about Moore, except he was some kind of critic, for he set out upon his favourite topic with: ‘I have always considered it a proof of Greek purity that though they left the male form uncovered, they invariably draped the female.’
‘Do you consider, Father Moloney,’ said Moore, in a voice that rang through the dining rom, ‘that the female form is inherently more indecent than the male?’
Every priest turned a stern and horrified eye upon Father Moloney, who sat hunched up and quivering.”
* A life of WB Yeats in two volumes, The Apprentice Mage (published 1997 ) and The Arch Poet (2003 ).
**Hail and Farewell, by George Moore, published 1920.